In 1931, during the midst of the great depression, my father and grandfather, Harold MacNeill, worked tirelessly from our home basement, where they engineered a variety of products and parts. In the 1940s, we introduced the SURE-LOCK golf spike, which quickly became the choice of the world’s best players, including the legendary Byron Nelson. The Hall of Famer suggested the company adopt his nickname, “CHAMP®,” for marketing purposes and that is how the brand was born.
Once we got into golf, the company soared and we are now recognized as The World Leader in Sport Cleat Technology®. Over the past 85 years, we’ve introduced a variety of innovations into the golf industry, one example was in 1988 when we launched the first ‘soft spike.’ This ushered in a paradigm shift that focused on green-friendly designs and player comfort.
Being the third MacNeill generation to guide this company, it’s important to keep our sights on future expansion, while maintaining the premium quality we’re known for. In the past 20 years we’ve had tremendous international growth and have vastly expanded our product offerings in golf to include performance tees, grips and other accessories, as well as going beyond golf and becoming more active in football, soccer, baseball, logging and more.
MATT WARD: What separates CHAMP from others in the golf category?
HARRIS MACNEILL: What most people probably don’t realize, is that CHAMP stems from an engineering background. Engineering is at the core of everything we do – demonstrable technology, exhaustive testing, in-depth research & analysis and most importantly – manufacturing expertise. While these are qualities that define CHAMP, they are more importantly what differentiates us from the other brands. Our designs are unique, original and most importantly performance-driven — that is our DNA.
MW: How have non-metal spikes evolved over the last few years?
HM: Non-metal spikes — like everything in the golf industry, are constantly evolving. Staying on top of new materials, creating unique designs and improving manufacturing methods allow us to maintain and grow our position as the World Leader in Sport Cleat Technology®. Most recently, we released our new SLIM-Lok® fastening system which allowed shoe manufacturers to create thinner, lighter outsoles on golf shoes. Many of the top shoe brands in the industry were quick to adopt the system because it allowed them to make a noticeably better shoe and give golfers a boost in performance.
MW: How long is the testing phase before going to full production?
HM: Product testing is an ongoing process at CHAMP. The amount of time we spend testing a product before bringing it to market varies on a number of things. Footwear brands will test our spikes for anywhere from 3-6 months before choosing to use them in their shoes and we would have tested it for several months before it even gets to that point. The entire development process usually takes between 18 and 24 months and much of that time is product testing – either in lab, on a simulated walking path or actually on the feet of golfers with different skill levels. A holistic approach to product testing is very important to us and what helps us deliver the quality and performance associated with the CHAMP brand.
MW: How do you solicit customer feedback?
HM: Customer feedback is very important to us and we solicit it a number of ways. We have an extensive group of product testers all over the world that will use products and will report back to us using Product Testing Forms we’ve created. We also receive a lot of customer feedback through social media platforms. In the coming months, you will see us combine the two to launch a global testing program through our website allowING for golfers to sign up to test products for us before they come out. Stay tuned for that.
MW: What role does it play in future development efforts?
HM: We value the opinions of all. Feedback from consumers and PGA pros is treated the same. Trends in the feedback we receive are a major consideration when we are briefing new products or creating fresh concepts and you often see it reflected in the final products that we bring to market.
MW: Do endorsements from professional players on the PGA and LPGA Tours matter?
HM: When the best players in the world use your products, people notice. CHAMP has been very fortunate that many of the top players across all Tours and regions choose CHAMP because they recognize the performance that they get from our products. At the current time, we don’t pay any players to use our products; however, we do have a great staff of reps on the different Tours to help service them and make sure they are getting what they need. One of the key benefits of our Tour reps is that they are a direct line of communication to the players. Tour professionals often help us test and offer feedback on products which plays a major role in the development of new designs.
MW: Describe the marketing effort CHAMP uses to broaden its overall visibility.
HM: With golf participation trending strongly with younger generations, we have begun to transition our marketing to include more digital content. Over the next 12 months you will see an increased presence from CHAMP on social media and other digital platforms across the globe. Our goal here is to broaden our visibility and increase our reach to include the up and coming generations while maintaining our communication with middle-aged and older consumers.
MW: What advantages does a family-owned company have over those publicly held?
HM: CHAMP has been in business since 1931 and is still family owned within an industry dominated by large, global brands which are predominately public companies or owned by equity groups. Being a family-owned company obviously allows us to have some freedoms and benefits that you may not see in larger corporations; however, we have the scale, expertise and a team in place that allows us to compete with them. Being a smaller, family-oriented organization, we feel, allows us to maintain very close relationships with our customers, shoe brands, distributors and retailers worldwide. They don’t need to worry about calling our office and getting someone new each time and if there is ever a question, project, accolade or complaint, it is easy to reach anyone, including me, the owner.
MW: You have a mulligan to change one thing from a company perspective — what would you do differently?
HM: Over the many decades we have been making golf spikes, there have been many fastening systems: starting with the traditional metal thread and growing through 8-10 additional systems. It has been our goal to create an industry standard in order to simplify the process for golfers buying and changing their spikes. To date, it has been a difficult task to accomplish.
MW: What trends do you see happening in the next few years and how is CHAMP planning for that?
HM: One of the major trends we see is the transition of players from spikeless, or molded bottom shoes, to more traditional set-ups includes replaceable spikes. There was a short time where the industry was moving towards spikeless footwear but it seems to have corrected itself as golfers realized they weren’t getting the traction or performance they were looking for with molded bottoms. To prepare for that, we continue to design, develop and manufacture spikes with demonstrable performance features that can be seen by golfers of any and all abilities.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?