I’m originally from Canada — just north of Toronto, but have managed to work in a few different spots for ECCO. I’ve worked for ECCO for just over five years starting in Canada. Spent two and a half years working at our headquarters in Denmark in our golf division, reporting directly to our Global Head of Golf and most recently have come on board in the US as the Product Manager for Golf & Sport for ECCO Americas. I started working in golf when I was 13 years old in the pro shop at a local private course. I stayed there for nine years while I worked my way through university and eventually became a pro shop assistant. My education is in sports business and I am lucky enough I get to work in an industry I am passionate about and surrounded by people with the same passion.
Coming from someone in the golf footwear industry, the immediate instance that comes to mind is when Fred Couples wore ECCO Golf Street at the 2010 Masters Tournament. This was the introduction of the first hybrid golf shoe and to do so on such a big stage was not only huge for ECCO, but for the entire market. This was crucial for the golf industry for a few reasons. It opened up the door for an entirely new footwear category where spikes were no longer a factor. A blank slate for new designs and styles. The second was the overall style shift. Freddie’s cool factor combined with the sneaker-style of the Golf Street helped jump start the casual golf apparel movement that has now taken over much of the market. Fast forward to today and hybrid golf shoes make up almost 50% of footwear offerings.
MATT WARD: What separates ECCO from your competition?
TOM DIXON: There are a few things that make ECCO unique. We are a family owned company that has been around for over 50 years. We own the entire process of making a shoe and are completely vertically integrated. We have factories and tanneries all over the world and everyone working in those locations is an ECCO employee. All the leather we use in our golf shoes comes from tanneries we manage and control. Beyond ECCO shoes we also sell our leather to some of the most important and influential brands in the world. Since we own the entire process we keep a very close eye on quality, which is held to the highest standards. ECCO was founded on the principal of comfort and we still hold true to that today. Every golf shoe we make has to have outstanding comfort properties.
MW: In approximate percentages what are the sales for ECCO among retail outlets, online and green grass shops?
TD: We have a pretty even split between off course and on course sales. We have great partners in each area who the support the brand really well. On top of that we have a solid and growing business in the online space, with both our partners and our own website. The last piece is our own retail stores. They carry every division we have at ECCO, as well as golf, and they have a nice consumer base.
MW: Does having endorsements from the key tours — PGA, LPGA, Europe — matter to customers and what role does it play for ECCO and your brand development?
TD: Endorsing players from all tours has always been important to us. Having players at the top level who compete and believe in your brands helps to bring a lot of credibility and adds trust for the consumer. Golf fans always want to know what the players on tour are wearing and the reasons they choose that brand. We don’t like to consider them endorsements deals — but think of them more as partnerships. We partner with players who are a good fit for ECCO and the message we are trying to get across. It’s a partnership because everyone sees the benefit in working together and both sides gain from the relationships we build. We also work with a few developmental tours and upcoming players as well. It’s important to support the growth of the game anyway we can and give back to the industry we are all so passionate about.
MW: Describe the ECCO customer and what they aspire for in your brand.
TD: The answer to this lies in our four dot logo that you’ll find on all our golf shoes. The dots stand for quality, comfort, technology and style. This is what every one of our customers expects from our shoes and what we believe we should deliver. As a brand, we always push ourselves to be innovative and find ways to improve our products and the golfers’ experience in them. Alongside that innovation — we remained focused on providing our customers with those four elements.
MW: Define customer service and how you specifically attain it?
TD: We are a service oriented company and extend that to all aspects of our business. We treat customer service the same in every channel, whether it’s our retailers or end consumers. We stand behind the quality and craftsmanship of our products and believe we should always go the extra mile to help fulfill customer needs. We also make sure this happens with our retailers. Similar with our tour players — all our relationships are partnerships. We want to make sure everyone is seeing a benefit to working together and our customers see a benefit from playing in our shoes.
MW: How do you solicit customer feedback and what role does it play in your efforts?
TD: We have a few ways of doing this, through spending time at events and in stores, online feedback and consumer research. We do a lot of events at courses around the country every year. Speaking directly to our consumers is the best way to hear about what they like and don’t like. Not only do you get a lot of insight into their general perception of the brand, but also how we compare to competitors. If we hear the same message a few times from a few different people we know it’s time to address it. All the comments and feedback we receive is relevant and helps determine how we develop future collections.
MW: What product innovations are you working on now?
TD: We have some great new products coming out later this year and early next year. We have started to work with different materials on the uppers to create a unique story that still holds true to our manufacturing process. We will continue to expand our spike shoe offering with some really innovative footwear that doesn’t currently exist in the golf market. We are well-known as a hybrid brand and we want to maintain it, so our designers and R&D department have done a great job at pushing themselves and coming up with new technologies and designs in this area.
MW: You can change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be?
TD: Conventionalism. Golf has strong roots and traditions that I believe need to be respected and followed. I grew up working at a private golf course and still follow all the etiquette, dress code and unwritten rules today. However, to grow the game I think we need to start to relax on some of these traditions and rules. Golf doesn’t need to be 18 or 9 holes to be a round, can it be 6 holes? Instead of not talking in anyone’s swing, install speakers with Bluetooth on every cart so you can listen to music. The dress has definitely improved, but people want to be able to transition from one activity to another, would Millennials wear a “traditional” golf outfit to the coffee shop or movies after their round? I think we are getting there as an industry, but need to find ways to transition the high number of latent demand golfers to active players.
MW: You wake up in the morning — what drives your passion to go beyond what you have already done?
TD: I’m lucky that I ended up working in a an industry that also happens to be my favorite sport and hobby. Beyond working for a great company and with passionate, driven people, helping to grow the game of golf and make the industry strong is what drives me. Having a passion for your company and work is one thing, but being able to personally relate to your industry helps push people even further. Again, I’m very lucky that I have that every day.