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Miura Golf was founded in 2003 after three Canadian hockey players who had starred on Japanese teams were introduced to clubmaker Katsuhiro Miura. Miura’s hand-forged irons had a following at home but occupied only the tiniest of niche markets internationally: major equipment companies purchased them a few sets at a time to rebrand as their own lines or prototypes. The new Canadian company aimed to establish Miura as a stand-alone brand, and increase sales in the process.
For the first several years, progress was slow, says Bill Holowaty, executive vice-president of the company. The partners identified pro shops as the most promising distribution channel, but the “green grass” category, as that market is known, was in decline. Meanwhile, low sales volume precluded the kind of marketing that’s common in the golf world. “We can’t give a pro a quarter- or half-million dollar endorsement deal, then spend that amount again just telling people that we are endorsing him,” Holowaty says.
But the evolving industry offered opportunities. The rapidly expanding ranks of high-tech club-fitting and swing-analysis facilities needed exclusive products that suited their image and emphasis on performance. Miura’s policy of selling by the club (instead of in full sets) made the company’s clubs more price-competitive as players needn't pay for long irons that they were going to replace with hybrid clubs anyway.
The company faced two hurdles before it could grow: raising brand awareness and expanding distribution channels. As recently as 2009, Holowaty says, Miura clubs weren’t available in more than a third of North America’s 50 biggest markets, “with cities as large as Atlanta, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh among the missing.” Miura hired seasoned American golf industry veterans to find target outlets for expansion.
A year later, Miura named Adam Barr the new president – a 12-year industry editor of the Golf Channel, adding a recognized name to the brand. Legally trained, and with prior business experience, Barr was well suited to his executive role, says Holowaty, but he also brought a vast list of industry contacts and a unique ability to attract attention and tell the Miura story.
In the past two years Miura has added more than 50 dealers to its distribution network, and has even broken into big box outlet Golf Town. Last year was already shaping up to be a blockbuster year when K.J. Choi won the Players Championship while playing with Miura irons, sparking a wave of editorial coverage. Sales rose about 50 per cent that year, says Holowaty, with a further bump of 10 to 15 per cent in 2012 (a number that would have been higher, he say, if not for softness in the European retail market). Score Golf magazine named Miura its Canadian golf company of the year in 2011.
With a better distribution network in place and an established brand name, Miura will focus on supporting its dealers, who would love to sell the irons in higher volumes. “We’ll try to use social media and other channels to send people to their doors,” Holowaty says. Meanwhile, Europe, which was a strong market during Miura’s early years, will be an object of renewed attention. “If we can extend the North American template there, that will be good for us,” Holowaty says.