The Story of Plating 4 The Lost Decade
In the 1970s, Honma attracted a great many fans, mainly amongst professional golfers. In the 1980s, we followed the trends of the bubble economy, expanding our sights to include upper income groups and businessmen. Though our technology was instrumental here, aggressive marketing strategies were also a critical factor.
For our wood club, we focused on the persimmon, which we polished until it was utterly silky-smooth. For our irons, we instituted our polishing system for 1-5 star grades the year we achieved successful mass production of the gold plating process. Abe, demonstrating the craftsmanship he had developed making European-style dishware, created different styles of decorative plating by grade.
The resultant iron (the LB-280) had a higher loft than previous models to ensure the best carry, and the blade was also polished to perfection to produce maximum positive impact at setup. The result was a wildly popular product.
The combination of high performance with an artistic look for this iron meant that the five-star sold as hotly as the luxury cars of the time, and businessmen everywhere could be heard saying, “Someday I’ll get Honma clubs.” The gold-plated line was expanded, and plant operations continued fuel-scale day-in, day-out.
Due to the impact of the collapsed bubble economy in the early 1990s, however, the golf market began to take an unmistakable tumble over a period of just a few years.
The changing economy was especially hard on us at Honma compared to our competition due to the fact that our clubs were expensive. First, the popularity of the persimmon wood declined with the debut of stainless steel on the market. Honma made the transition from wood to steel about a year after other companies did, but by then the structure of the market had already changed. The demand for golf clubs itself dropped, and newer, less pricy brands appeared in droves.
However, we knew that since we hadn't compromised our quality or our reputation, we would, without a doubt, be able to sell our products if we could only develop pricing strategy appropriate to demand. Using the declining market to our advantage, Honma introduced a continuous stream of new models. Amidst the “lost decade” of Japan’s economy, the twin gears of Honma Golf pricing and production steadily moved toward recovery.
Demand for Honma Golf’s high-grade iron made a huge shift from the domestic to the world market. On the occasion of the launch of the LB series in 1992, the clubs sold like wildfire in neighboring Asian countries including Korea and Thailand. As demand fell at home, Honma made the shift from “Honma of Japan” to “Honma of the world.”
While this new paradigm was developing, Abe worked alone aggressively to polish his gold plating technique. What kind of plating decoration appeals to Japanese people? How about abroad? What type of design best shows off Honma’s unique two-tone plating? In a corner of the research lab at Sakata Plant, the Beres brand was slowly taking shape.