ORLANDO, FL. – The biggest show in golf wrapped up on Friday at the Orange County Convention Center, and the 69th PGA Merchandise Show was a bit different than the previous 68 stagings. The pandemic forced cancelation of the show in 2021 and the two-year hiatus took its toll
Normally the show has about 1,000 brands showing their products for three days at the OCCC. This year there were only about 600. The event’s Demo Day — an outdoor attraction at Orange County National the day before the OCCC opens its doors — had only a sparse crowd this time, in part because of cold, rainy weather.
While most all of the major equipment manufacturers were absent, the show was by no means a downer. Zero Friction, the Oak Brook Terrace-based company that was a big hit at the show two years ago, didn’t miss a beat with the big companies gone.
“I was extremely disappointed to not see the large brands, the ones who consider themselves to be the leaders of the industry, to take this opportunity to back out,’’ said John Iacono, the Zero Friction president. “I don’t think you’re a leader of much of anything if you’re not on the front lines. Here it’s the rest of the industry – the small brands like ours. Everybody had difficulties keeping their businesses going during the pandemic. The bigger brands, who profited heavily in this industry, didn’t take time to have a smaller presence here, and I feel that’s sad. It’s a sore eye for the golf industry when the leaders aren’t leading at all.’’
How the show, which has been closed to the public but still drew 40,000 industry members annually, will change in 2023 remains to be seen but Iacono is optimistic about his own company’s growth.
Zero Friction started as a manufacturer of wooden tees in 2006 and expanded to other golf products in 2012. Both its line of tees and gloves were recipients of Industry Honors by the International Network of Golf at the 2020 show, and since then the company opened sales offices in Charlotte, N.C.; Kansas City and London added its own distribution center in Melrose Park.
With many of its products produced overseas, a quality control director based in Indonesia was added to the staff. The gloves are now sold in 26 countries, and Iacono believes that the newest model of tees will be a big hit. This model has a divot repair tool built in.
“A tee product that can be used to repair a green that can be put in every player’s hand – that’s a must have,’’ said Iacono.
The company’s newest product, the Wheel Pro golf bag, was one of the biggest hits of this year’s show. It’s a three-in-one bag. It starts as a push bag. If you want to walk and carry, you pop the wheels off. If you want to ride you stick it in your cart. That’s one versatile golf bag, and it carries a retail price of $349.
In May Iacono plans to introduce a completely recycled golf ball called the Eagle Z. The covers of old golf balls will be scraped off, recycled and put on the cores of the old balls. Ball prices figure to be soaring because of problems obtaining surlyn, a key ingredient.
“The pandemic gave us an opportunity to structure differently for long-term growth,’’ said Iacono. “We’ll grow as long as we produce interesting new products that show technological advancement and are priced fairly.’’