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3M’s Greptile Grip Technology

3M is a $20 billion global, diversified technology company. Among its well-known brands are Post-it Notes, Scotch tape, Scotch Brite scouring pads, and Nexcare bandages. The key aspect to 3M’s success is its commitment to innovation. For more than a century, 3M’s management has given its employees the freedom to try new ideas. This “culture of creativity” has led to the commercialization of more than 55,000 products.

Sports and Leisure Products is a business unit of 3M. This unit recently took an existing technology, 3M’s proprietary “micro-replication” technology, and applied it to a golf glove. The new Greptile gripping material consists of thousands of tiny “gripping fingers” sewn into the upper palm and lower fingers of a golf glove. According to 3M, this technology has created the only golf glove on the market that actively improves a golfer’s hold on the club by allowing a more relaxed grip, leading to greater driving distance with less grip pressure, even under wet conditions. Laboratory tests found that the Greptile material offers 610 percent greater gripping power than leather and 340 percent greater than tackified (sticky) grips. The result: on drives, the golf ball travels an average 10.5 feet farther.

Introduced in 2004, the new 3M Greptile Grip golf glove is made primarily of high-quality Cabretta sheep leather to give it a soft feel. Initially, 3M sold the Greptile Grip golf glove through Wal-Mart and other mass merchandisers for a suggested retail price of $11.95 to $15.95. And now it is also being stocked by golf retailers across the country, such as Nevada Bob’s, Golfsmith, and Austad’s. The golf glove is available in both men’s and women’s left hand versions and in small, medium, medium/ large, large, and extra-large hand sizes. A right hand version for both genders has also been introduced.

The Golf Market

Several socioeconomic and demographic trends impact the golf glove market favourably. First, the huge baby boomer population (those born between 1946 and 1964) has matured, reaching its prime earning potential. This allows for greater discretionary spending on leisure activities, such as golf. According to the National Golf Foundation (NGF), most spending on golf equipment (clubs, bags, balls, shoes, gloves, etc.) is by consumers 50 and older–today’s baby boomers. Second, according to the U.S. Census, the American population has shifted regionally from the East and North to the South and West, where golfing is popular year around due to the temperate weather. Third, the number of golf courses has been growing, totalling about 15,000 at the end of 2004.

Finally, golf is becoming an increasingly popular leisure activity for all age groups and ethnic backgrounds. According to the NGF, golf participants in the United States totalled 37.9 million in 2003, an all-time high. Female golfers now account for about 25 percent of all golfers, while minority participation has increased to over 10 percent. According to the National Sporting Goods Association, sales of golf equipment was $3.1 billion in 2004, an increase of 2 percent from 2003.

The Golf Glove Market

The global market for golf gloves is estimated at $300 million, with the United States at $180 million or 60 percent of worldwide sales. Historically, about 80 percent of golf gloves are sold through public and private on- and off-course golf pro specialty shops, golf superstores, and sporting good superstores. However, mass merchandisers have recently increased their shares due to the typically lower prices offered by these retailers. FootJoy (46 percent) and Titleist (9 percent), both owned by Acushnet, are the top two golf glove market share leaders. Nike, which recently entered the golf equipment market with Tiger Woods as its spokesperson, has vaulted to a 7-percent share of the golf glove market. These golf glove marketers focus on technology and comfort to create points of difference from its competitors, such as the recently introduced FootJoy SciFlex™ glove ($18), the Titleist Perma-Tech™ glove ($19), and the Nike DriFit glove ($18).

3M’s Approach to Innovation and Future Growth of the Greptile Grip Technology

Since about half of 3M’s products are less than five years old, the process used by 3M to develop new innovations is critical to its success and continued growth. Every innovation must meet 3M’s new product criteria: (1) be a patentable or trademarked technology; (2) offer a superior value proposition to consumers; and (3) change the basis of competition by achieving a significant point of difference. Another important criteria for 3M with regard to innovation is whether or not it can be extended to other applications and other markets. Accordingly, 3M has launched a premium-priced golf glove consisting of the highest quality Cabretta leather which sells at retail for between $16.95 to $19.95. It was also created versions of its Greptile Grip golf gloves for the Japan and Europe markets, the second and third largest golf markets behind the United States. 3M has also developed baseball and softball gloves. And, now has extended the technology to golf club grips and bat grips. Still, the company is investigating other applications for the technology within the sports and leisure markets and to new, unrelated markets.

Case Questions

  • What other applications do you envision for the Greptile technology within the sports and leisure market?
  • What new market applications (outside of sports and leisure) do you envision for the Greptile grip technology? Justify why you think these new market applications are warranted.

Compose your answers to the case question as a MS Word document (Arial, 11 pt, 1.5 spacing). Your submission must be 3 pages in length.

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