CEO Ed Kowachek is a company fixture, having been with the Montana-based firm for 37 years, and he still strives for innovation among its offering of bags, carts and outerwear
Sun Mountain Sports was founded in 1981 by Rick Reimers, who became one of the golf industry’s leaders in invention and innovation. On March 7, he sold the company to Solace Capital Partners of Los Angeles. Sun Mountain’s headquarters remains in Missoula, Montana, and the company management remains in place.
Ed Kowachek, who had been the company president, is now Sun Mountain’s CEO. Kowachek discussed a range of topics in a conversation with The First Call's Mike Purkey.
(The interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.)
The First Call: How long have you been at the company?
Ed Kowachek: It’s been 37 years in February. When I came to work at Sun Mountain Sports, it was going to be on a short-term basis. One thing led to another and here I am 37 years later.
TFC: How is it so far working for a different boss?
EK: It’s been really great. As I've told so many people, I wouldn't have stayed on with Sun Mountain Sports for 37 years if not for the previous owner. Rick Reimers was a great person to work with and for all those years. But at the same time, I am excited, thrilled and come to work with a big smile on my face every day working with the new ownership. They bring some great energy, some great experience from their portfolio of companies. They definitely are very proactive in getting re-involved. We had not spent much money in the past and working with a marketing firm to tell Sun Mountain’s story to really reach out to consumers and our customers to tell the story and get them up to speed about our latest and greatest product launches. So, from a marketing standpoint, it’s fantastic.
They've definitely worked with me in bringing on some additional staff that we have worked without for many years. We have a new national sales manager who comes with a lot of years of sales experiences and is working with our salesforce to get out and reach out to our customers on a much more regular basis, delivering the message about our company. We have a new director of international sales that we’ve never had here in the past to grow our international sales, particularly in the Asian market with Japan as our focus. From there we've just been strengthening all our internal systems to be a better in terms of our accounting department, our IT department, our sourcing department and all the rest.
TFC: During your time at Sun Mountain, the company has been innovators on a number of fronts. Sun Mountain had the first ultra-lightweight stand bag, the first ultra-lightweight three-wheel push cart and innovations in the design of travel covers. Where does the innovation go from here?
EK: Well, I'd like to add to the discussion about innovation. We had the first lightweight carry bag, definitely the first stand bag, the Eclipse, which was in the mid-1980s. The Speed Cart was introduced in 1999. But our fourth major category is outerwear. We were a pioneer in outerwear in the ‘80s, as well. We were one of the first to come out with rain gear that truly was suited to the game of golf. Windshirts, thermal wear ... we had a piece we called the Golf Fleece that had a great silky lining that was non-binding for your golf swing.
Where do things go from here? We have an individual who works with us, Seth Enes, who is our director of design. He has been with the company for 30 years. He came to us while he was attending the University of Montana and worked on the night shift as the supervisor of our assembly area. He started doing some sketches and logos. He has a degree in business and graphic design. Seth is an avid golfer and avid outdoors person, and has a great eye for form and function and great, clean design and colors. Seth is at the leading edge of our design department and he’s always working on the next great improvement to a golf bag or a pushcart. In fact, we have two new pushcarts coming out sometime in the second half of 2023 and one or two more in 2024, as well as some new outerwear. He comes back from trips to our suppliers in Asia and might have the next greatest hip pad for a bag or the next greatest fabric for outerwear. He’s always thinking, always working.
TFC: What will we see new from Sun Mountain in 2023?
EK: We are introducing a new line of golf bags called "Sonnenalp," which is German for "sun on the mountain." It follows another line of bags we had a couple of years ago, called the Metro. The direction in golf bags is going a little bit old school — instead of lightweight nylon, some people are going back to vinyl. We recently came out with Mid-Stripe in the Sonnenalp line. It has a great look, clean design, more of a clean-sheet simple design. It has great colorways, it’s very functional and for vinyl, very lightweight. We’re getting tremendous response from our customers. The Mid-Stripe will be followed by the Baron, which uses a ballistic-style fabric with a clean, simple design. That seems like where the market is going when it looks for something a little different. We have a new cart coming out the second half of next year. We just released our 2023 outerwear line.
TFC: In the last couple of years, have you had supply issues?
EK: We’re no different from any manufacturer who brings product in from factories in Asia. Our supply issues have not been too much from the factory. They have been mostly caused from the ocean shipping and port congestion level. It seems as if most of that is behind us now. We didn’t really have to shut down during the pandemic.
TFC: How has the golf boom of the last two-plus years affected Sun Mountain?
EK: It’s been fantastic, honestly. We had really nice growth in both 2020 and 2021. We are sustaining that. Our sales will increase 4 or 5 percent over 2021. What I see happening in the marketplace is what I’m calling a correction in the golf market. There was such a shortage of golf products in ’20 and ’21 that retailers and golf courses got a little ahead of themselves in the orders they placed for 2022. With the economy and consumer spending off, there’s a large supply of product in stores right now. That’s beginning to be corrected. Our customers made smart decisions with their orders and that’s good for us. We expect to finish the year strong and expect to be strong into next year.
TFC: Given the conditions, where do you see areas for growth?
EK: In our case, we see growth in innovation and new products. We are looking at growth with our new national sales manager. Some people still don’t know we produce travel covers and many didn’t know until 2008 when we introduced the ClubGlider. Then, we came out with the Kube travel cover and that category now represents about 7 percent of our sales when years before, it might have been one-half of 1 percent. We hope to grow our sales internationally and our online sales.