Thursday, October 05, 2006

Text of 10/4/2006 Augusta Chronicle on Ping Article


Ping begins rebate offer for military
By David Westin | Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
In a ground-breaking move, active-duty and reserve members of the U.S. military now can receive rebates on Ping golf equipment.

It is the first time Karsten Manufacturing Corp., which makes Ping clubs, has offered a discount of this nature. The Phoenix, Ariz., company was established in 1962.

The company announced its "Thank You Troops" rebate program Tuesday. It is retroactive to Monday, said Bill Gates, Ping's director of distribution and associate general counsel.

According to Bonaventure Discount Golf owner L.D. Waters, who has been in the business since 1955, this is the first time a golf-equipment company has offered a mail-in rebate.

Mr. Gates said the mail-in rebate is a dollar amount based on the purchase price. For instance, he said there would be a rebate of $80 on a set of eight Ping irons.

The cost of that set at Bonaventure Discount Golf is $748, so the rebate is 10.6 percent off the retail price.

Mr. Gates said there is a $30 rebate on Ping drivers, but the rebate on wedges and putters is still being determined.

The rebate plan helps defuse a controversy that started last week which involved Bonaventure Discount Golf and Gordon Lakes Golf Course. The two golf shops revealed that Ping discontinued their accounts because they violated their unilateral policy with Ping by discounting their clubs below the brand's improved fitting, Internet transactions and pricing policy. The discounts were given only to the military.

The public outcry, which was spearheaded by Mr. Waters, a former Marine who served in two wars, resulted in Ping's creation of the rebate program.

According to a statement from Ping Chairman and CEO John Solheim, the rebate is a continuation of Ping's support of the military.

"For the last year, we've been looking for additional ways to support the troops," Mr. Solheim said in the statement. "On three occasions we've sent hundreds of free clubs for the troops to enjoy during their limited leisure time, but we wanted to provide them additional benefits.

"The reaction of some individuals to the issue reminded us it was time to do more," Mr. Solheim added.

Mr. Solheim disputed some media reports that the military was targeted because of the discounts, but added that "a lot of good is coming from the issue. We have the highest admiration and respect for those fighting for our country."

Under the mail-in Ping rebate, the military customer would send in his receipt with a copy of his military photo identification card to a fulfillment house. The house processes the rebate and returns the discount "typically within two to three weeks," said Pete Samuels, Ping's director of communications.

Mr. Waters said Ping's response "was better than nothing" but took issue with the way the rebate is being administered. He thinks the merchandiser should give the rebate immediately to the customer, then be credited on future purchases.

According to Mr. Gates, Ping wanted to go the mail-rebate route because "we don't know what the retailer may be charging for the product. We want instead to provide the rebate from Ping directly. So it doesn't matter what they're charging out there."

C. Britt Beemer, the chairman of the consumer behavior marketing firm America's Research Group, said in an interview Tuesday that only about 30 percent of customers take advantage of products they buy that offer rebates. He said the percentage grows as the price of the item goes up.

"After $50 or more, it changes significantly," Mr. Beemer said.

He said some companies prefer mail-rebates over coupons because it saves them money.

Mr. Gates said Ping wants to get the word out about the rebates to the military immediately.

"It's our plan to have company executives meet with military personnel to figure out the best way to communicate this program to the troops," Mr. Gates said.

However, military golf course pro shops such as Gordon Lakes, which had their accounts dropped, will not have them re-opened at this time, Mr. Gates said.

The rebate won't affect Mr. Waters. He said he'll never carry Ping products again, and is currently liquidating his $100,000 stock.

Through Tuesday, he's sold more than $60,000 of his Ping merchandise.

Reach David Westin at (706) 724-0851 or david.westin@augustachronicle.com.
From the Wednesday, October 04, 2006 edition of the Augusta Chronicle

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