Next time you are shopping for golf equipment (or for clubmaking shops fitting and selling new products) it is important to understand pricing and performance of today’s graphite-shafted clubs. For instance you may wonder how XYZ-brand can sell their newly released driver for $299 with a shaft that retails for the exact same price. Does that mean they are throwing in the head, grip and assembly for free? Not a snowball’s chance in H E double hockey sticks. Remember, they had mark up the club for the retailer and still make money to cover their costs and overhead. So what is behind the pricing strategy?
It’s all about the head isn’t it?
Club manufacturers are all about touting their club head designs. For instance, they want to demonstrate that their latest driver will launch the ball higher (and usually with less spin), longer and straighter than their competitors or even their previous year’s driver models. Hireko is no different, after all that is what we design, test, tweak and then manufacturer.
But if you have noticed over the past few years the shafts the major club manufacturers are using were once considered upgrade shafts as their stock offerings? So is it the shaft, the head or the combination of the two that is creating the benefit? Consider this the last thing a major club manufacturer wants to tout is the shaft. After all, that is the responsibility of the graphite shaft manufacturer isn’t it?
Defining manufacturer’s stock shafts
Let’s start out with the shafts that you can see in a number of clubmaking catalogs or websites including Hireko’s. The vast majority of the shafts we sell are referred to as aftermarket shafts. You will see graphite shafts ranging from $15 for entry level shafts to $200 (or more) for performance based shafts. They are available from well-known shaft manufacturers such as Aldila, Fujikura, Graphite Design, Grafalloy, Project X and UST Mamiya. Plus there may be some that are from lesser known but still quality manufacturers like Apollo, New Image and SK Fiber.
The shaft manufacturers design these in-house using their own R&D resources, potentially using the world’s best golfers to help validate their designs. They promote these to golf suppliers everywhere from major name brand club manufacturers, custom fitting and repair shops down to the end consumer. Some of the exact same shafts you see on Tour and in Hireko’s catalog end up in major manufacturers clubs.
Many graphite shafts can be considered commodities. What I mean by that is they can be found at numerous locations while others shaft manufacturers’ products can be found only from select vendors or from the manufacturer themselves. The latter tend to be more expensive as there is less competition to keep the pricing down.
A shaft made specifically for use by a club manufacturer is called a proprietary shaft. These shafts are not available to component clubmakers and clubs to be re-shafted with the exact same shaft must be sent back to the manufacturer or to an authorized repair center for replacement. They may also have on them the name of the shaft manufacturer like Aldila or Fujikura. Examples of proprietary shafts are the TaylorMade REAX 65, Ping TFC 149D and Callaway Diablo Octane among others.
It used to be commonplace for manufacturers to offer a proprietary shaft in all their stock woods as a way to differentiate their products from their competitors as there was an aura or mystic about the shaft. But now the trend is for most manufacturers to offer those in their stock fairways and hybrids only.
The third type of shaft is referred to as “Made For” or retail shafts. These are variations off of aftermarket shafts. Some experts may lump these as proprietary shafts, which by definition they would be true. However, the consumer doesn’t know or is confused between the difference of a “Made For” shaft and an aftermarket shaft the way they understand the difference between the manufacturer’s house brand proprietary shafts.
Why “Made For” shafts?
There are quite a few serious golfers who like to re-shaft their driver with the latest high-performance shaft out on the market – sometimes without even hitting the original shaft that came with the club! So that golfer heads for to their local clubmaking shop or perhaps re-shaft themselves with the popular shaft at the moment which they might have seen their favorite golfer hit on TV or read on-line how it added 15 yards to an anonymous poster on a golf equipment forum. The fact was they assumed right, wrong or indifferently the stock proprietary shaft was inferior to aftermarket shaft they coveted.
Now the golfer paid full retail for the driver, plus the cost of a new shaft and yet had to pay someone to install it (if they didn’t do it themselves). That $299 for a brand name driver just got a lot more expensive. The manufacturers caught onto this and soon began offering aftermarket shafts or variations off of the aftermarket shafts instead of just offering them as custom options at a premium price. The golf club manufacturers could now ride the coattails of a hot new shaft or brand. Not convinced then look at the average price for a new driver as it is now $399. But also take notice and see what shafts are in them.
To tell the difference if a manufacturer is using an aftermarket shaft or a “Made For” shaft is to look closely at the graphics. There should be no difference in color or anything on the silkscreen like numbers that are different (55 vs. 60 indicating weight) or the name. Aldila makes a series of shafts called R.I.P. and come in different versions (Alpha, Beta and Gamma), but the Sigma version is a “Made For” shaft. So too would be a Cobra R.I.P. 55, but in this case you know who it is manufactured for.
Do the Math
Another way to tell the difference is to add up the retail cost of the aftermarket shaft to the proverbial $299 driver. If it is more than $399 or the retail cost of the new driver, then expect a difference in the “Made For” versus the real aftermarket shaft. The club manufacturers want you to think you are getting the better end of the deal.
You may get arguments that club manufacturers have an economic advantage. They do, but only to a point. Businesses rely on margins as a percentage. For example, if a shaft costs $60 more, they are not simply adding $60 to the cost of the club; rather they are adding $60 plus a reasonable margin such as 40% making it a $100 add-on. But wait, the retailer has to make a reasonable profit (30%) too. That $100 add-on over and beyond a $299 driver means the shaft can be no more than $45 over their normal stock option if the club manufacturer doesn’t want to lose margin.
Manufacturers buy in bulk and can expect a lower price
That is true even among professional clubmakers who will get a discount rather than paying full retail. This is no different than a contractor who can purchase lumber, nails and roofing materials cheaper than Joe Public buying the exact same items at Home Depot. You have to image the discount is more on a $200 shaft than it is a $50 or $20 shaft.
By offering a “Made For” shaft, often times it benefits the shaft manufacturer as well as the club manufacturer kind of like “if you scratch my back I’ll scratch yours”. Shaft manufacturers may discount the cost of the shaft as they can write off some of that as marketing expenses to gain market exposure in what could be a widely popular club. Both are getting a better deal, but at the end of the day, both parties still have to make money. Shaft manufacturers want to make money just as well as club manufacturers, but I can tell you the shaft manufacturer usually gets the short end of the stick – no pun intended.
What is the difference between “Made For” and aftermarket shafts?
This can vary from a little to a lot. Once you slap some paint and polyurethane onto a graphite shaft and silkscreen on a name, the consumer has no idea of what is underneath. There is no kicking the tires unless you were able to hit two identical heads shafted with one being the real aftermarket shaft and the other the “Made For” version.
The only way to offer a similar type shaft at a lower target price dictated by the club manufacturer is to change from the same premium materials and not makes the tolerances as tight as the true aftermarket shaft. These two things will change the performance and the feel of the club.
No nonsense approach of Hireko
At Hireko, we give you the option to purchase whatever shaft fits your budget. If you end up paying for a premium shaft, you know it will be the real deal and not a watered down version. This is why it is important for customers to understand the differences between the costs and performance of shafts so they can truly compare apples-to-apples to get the best bang for their buck. Lastly, if it is only the upgrade shafts that are making all these major manufacturer’s drivers hitting the ball straighter and further off the tee than ever before, then maybe all you (or your customers) need is one of the many premium shafts we stock in one of Hireko drivers.