A Windham man has created what some are calling one of the best professional golf shoes in the sport, and the online ordering business is already competing with major established brands.
Sqairz, which is also based in Windham, launched in January at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., and has so far sold thousands of pairs of its uniquely-designed shoes.
Its flagship shoe, the Arrow, was selected among Golf Digest’s top 54 golf shoes of 2020, and professional English golfer and on-air analyst Sir Nick Faldo endorsed the product and became an early investor after discovering it during his own search for a superior golf shoe.
Bob Winskowicz, Sqairz founder and CEO, said he first got the idea for the product after discovering the improvement to his own game while wearing square-toed dress shoes.
“One of the challenges I had as a golfer was establishing proper setup to begin the golf swing,” Winskowicz said. “I had to be wearing square-toed dress shoes.”
Common golf shoes in the market angle the toes to the center of the shoe, Winskowicz said, and lately the market trend has been emphasizing comfort over performance-related traction and balance.
Winskowicz, who left a career as a senior vice president of sales and marketing at Arnold Palmer in 2011, hired two prominent footwear designers from Massachusetts, Jon Morris and Joe Napurano, to create the shoe of his dreams.
They incorporated the square toe, and a strong traction pattern with six cleats, four of which are colored red and located at the four primary pressure points on the human foot.
The shoe has seven patents issued and pending, including one pending for a locking system for the shoelaces the company branded as “Sta-Put” laces, which stay tied and tight for a whole game, Winskowicz said.
All of this means an unparalleled connection to the ground, he said, which is key to playing golf.
“Ground connection equals torque, and torque equals swing speed and swing speed equals distance,” he said.
Many shoe companies have been trying to make golf shoes more comfortable, sometimes at the expense of traction. Winskowicz called a lot of the golf shoes on the market “sneakers with nubs.”
He also said the shoes are made to be breathable and waterproof.
A pair of Sqairz shoes retails for $199 and are so far only available through ecommerce, and will likely remain so for the foreseeable future, Winskowicz said.
They are manufactured in China. Winskowicz said he looked for a place to make them in the U.S. but could not find a company that had the level of expertise needed for such a boutique and high-end product in small batches.
Travis York, the co-founder of York Athletics, a local sports footwear company that also sells its products online only, said specialty footwear has been a growing trend and one of the faster growing ecommerce categories.
“Interestingly, almost 20 percent of athletic shoes sold last year were direct-to-consumer,” York said.
Lately, even products that were historically “try-on” products like glasses, clothes and mattresses have been increasingly purchased online.
For footwear companies, York said it often makes more sense to focus on direct-to-consumer sales because it makes it easier to control branding, the relationship with the buyer, and gather the data necessary to make sales projections. The profit margins are also higher than selling them through retailers.
“One of the more expensive things for a direct-to-consumer company is the inventory, and footwear is not inexpensive to produce,” York said.
He said York Athletics similarly focused on a narrow specialty market when it launched its line of fighting fitness footwear for boxing, martial arts and certain exercise routines. York said doing that is more cost effective and provides company owners guidance on what direction to grow the company.
One of the biggest challenges for direct-to-consumer startups, York said, is creating effective messaging that differentiates the product from the big brands in a way that resonates with people.
Winskowicz declined to say how much the Sqairz has earned in sales so far, but said sales have been very good since launching the company.
“We just received our second shipment of 10,000 pairs,” Winskowicz said.
So far, he has been operating the business out of his home office in Windham and using a Londonderry logistics company, Northeast 3PL to warehouse and ship the products when orders come in.
Soon, he said the company will be setting up a new headquarters at an office space on Enterprise Drive in Windham.
In addition to Faldo, Winskowicz said the company attracted other investors from golf veterans such as David Curran, a Golf Channel alum who was brought on as the vice president of marketing for Sqairz, Jim Remy, a past president of PGA of America, and Eddie Carbone, who runs the U.S. Senior Open for the PGA Tour.
The company is running ads on Golf Channel now and are coming up with new designs for women and shoes with a more contemporary look for younger players.
“Now that we’ve established the technology, we’ll come out with some really cool designs,” Winskowicz said.
He said the new designs are expected to drop in Spring 2021.