- Bridgestone adds weekend shifts to its Covington, Ga., factory.
- The factory is now running 24/7.
- Overall production capacity is up by 30 percent over pre-COVID levels.
Good news if you’re a fan of Bridgestone golf balls.
Bridgestone is kicking its golf ball production into overdrive this month. The company says it has boosted production capacity at its Covington, Ga., ball plant by 30 percent as of Feb. 1.
That tally, by the way, is a 30-percent increase over 2019 levels, not 2020 COVID-related adjusted capacity levels.
“Through January, we had been running three shifts five days a week,” says Bridgestone Golf CEO Dan Murphy. “Starting in February, we added two 12-hour shifts on Saturdays and Sundays so we’re running 24/7 now.”
Bridgestone Golf Balls: Full Tilt, Full Time
Murphy, who returned to Bridgestone Golf as CEO nearly three years ago, says the additional weekend shifts are intended to be permanent, as the company has hired new workers to handle the extra load.
“We wouldn’t do it temporarily or lightly,” he says. “We’re confident the industry will continue to do well and we still think there’s plenty of pent-up demand for golf.”
Bridgestone, like many other manufacturers, shut its plant last spring. Once the plant reopened, Bridgestone returned to round-the-clock Monday through Friday shifts to meet demand.
“Our production cycles were just a little bit off last year,” Murphy says. “We had the shutdown but we pushed hard at the end of the year. On top of that, we added some ways to increase production in those existing hours.”
Bridgestone Golf Balls for Export
Bridgestone makes its Tour B and new e12 balls in Covington as well as the e6 ball. Most of those are sold domestically but Murphy says the plant is also helping meet Bridgestone’s worldwide demand.
“We do quite a bit of production for overseas. The Korean market is increasing and the UK market had been growing. I expect good things to happen in Canada when they open up again in the spring.”
Murphy says Bridgestone has been building 2021 inventory through the fall and winter. Shipments to retailers started in January and will continue hot and heavy into March.
“It’s Year Two for the Tour B ball but the second-year lull hasn’t really happened yet,” Murphy says. “We’re seeing really encouraging orders for that ball as well as for the new e12.”
A Future for Bridgestone Clubs?
While Bridgestone tries to reclaim golf ball market share, the company hasn’t released a new golf club in more than a year. And, as far as we can tell, no releases are in the pipeline for at least the first part of 2021. Is Bridgestone going to say “so long” to its golf equipment business?
Murphy insists the answer is “no.”
“We’re really, really good at golf balls. We have great clubs, too. But from a business perspective, golf equipment is a little more complicated. With quarantines, lockdowns and all the craziness we’ve experienced, we felt it was smart to stick to our strengths.”
Off-course sales stats dating back to last summer show Bridgestone as virtually non-existent in the wood, iron and wedge categories. Murphy says Bridgestone will bring on some new gear eventually but it’s clearly not a priority.
Longtime Bridgestone staffer Fred Couples recently switched to PING although he still games Bridgestone balls. Brent Snedeker has also left the fold, leaving Matt Kuchar as the only Bridgestone staffer still gaming the company’s clubs: a JGR Tour B driver, 2015 vintage J15CB irons and an even older J40 52-degree wedge.
When viewed through that lens, it’s probably best to keep expectations for Bridgestone’s golf club business fairly low.
The Market Share Game
Bridgestone is in a “win some, lose some” golf ball market share battle with Srixon for fourth place. Both companies are on the heels of third-place TaylorMade and all three are looking up at Callaway and Titleist. Bridgestone’s sales mix is interesting. Its top-selling single ball is the $20 per dozen e6 and the rest of its market share is spread equally among all its other balls. The Tour B series makes up roughly 25 percent of its off-course sales.
For his part, Murphy remains confident the golf boom of 2020 will continue into 2021 and beyond.
“The factors that led us to the COVID boom are still there. People are still working from home and they’re still socially distancing. And if working from home becomes more permanent, going out and playing a late-afternoon nine is going to become more common.”
For more information, visit Bridgestonegolf.com.