Marketing classic style on new media platforms like Instagram, a multi-generational team of alumni and golf enthusiasts from the University of Oregon revived Jones Sports golf bags, a once-revered brand that went dormant in the early-2000s. Today, with golf prospering amid coronavirus shutdowns, the company is thriving and celebrating the 50th anniversary of the brand’s original launch.
On the strength of the classic bag design, Jones Sports Co., based in Portland, is now manufacturing and designing a broad-range of carry bags, stand bags, apparel, and coolers, among other products. The company has shown strong annual growth in recent years, but the past year has been exceptionally strong.
Crucial to the reinvigoration of the brand was the leadership, vision, and business acumen of Dean Lemman, who graduated from the University of Oregon in the 1970s with a business degree. Also making a difference are Lemman’s two sons and fellow Duck alumni Matt and Tim Lemman.
And that’s not all. The Duck roll call at Jones Sports extends to chief operations officer Chris Carnahan, an avid golfer with experience making his own wedges and who graduated from UO in 2003 with a degree in sociology. Additional Ducks on board at Jones Sports include Sulman Raza, a professional golfer and national champion who played golf at the University of Oregon for four years, and U.S. sales manager Max Carter, who graduated from UO with a degree in business and applied economics. Nigel Lett—a student athlete who graduated in 2017 with a degree in crime, law, and society—plays an important role in warehouse and embroidery.
Matt Lemman, who graduated from UO in 2009 with a double major in business and economics is now CEO, sales director, and partner at the company. He said what binds together the Jones Sports team is a passion for golf. Or as Lemman puts it, Jones Sports is “golfers making golf bags. We all have input. It’s been a fun ride.”
In the heyday of the Jones Sports brand in the 1970s and ’80s, the company dominated roughly 90 percent of the market for single-strap carry bags. Eventually, the brand was sold, and over-time, the quality declined. Matt Lemman said when his family bought the Jones Sports brand in 2011, there wasn’t much left.
“Just the name, that was all,” he recalled.
Brand recognition for Jones Sports, however, remained strong among veteran golfers, and when the company first brought back prototypes of the old-style golf bag, eyes lit up at high-end country clubs across the country.
Based on that success, the company revived two classic Jones Sports products while developing sales accounts, overseas manufacturing relationships, and a strong wholesale supply chain. Before long, Jones Sports Co. was making new products, maintaining the simple, understated aesthetic for which the classic brand is known.
Helping the brand bridge the old and the new were such social media channels as Instagram, which launched at about the same time the Lemman family bought the business. (Lemman’s father Dean, and brother Tim, a 2011 UO sociology graduate, have since divested themselves from the company.)
“Instagram,” Lemman said, “was really helpful with connecting to the younger generation that didn’t know us.”
The company now has roughly 50,000 followers on the platform.
Looking forward, Lemman said Jones Sports will bring out two new lines this year to commemorate the half-century mark for the brand: one classic and one that Lemman describes as “futuristic” and a little “techier” than normal.
More than anything, though, Lemman is thankful sales have remained strong despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were all really nervous in March last year,” Lemman admitted, “but golf never really shut down. In fact, it grew.”
“It’s never been like this before,” Lemman continued, describing the overall prosperity of the golf industry. “Business is good.”
—Will Kennedy, Lundquist College Communications
Photo courtesy of Jones Sports Co.