Carry On: The Inspiring Comeback Story of Jones Golf Bags
Photo by Empire Green Creative
When the Lemman family bought the Jones golf brand five years ago, Dean Lemman and his sons Matt and Tim had a mission to restore a once-beloved golf-bag brand to its former glory days. For more than two decades, in the 1970s and 1980s, the single-strap Jones carry bag was the "It" bag for elite amateur and college golfers, "dominating 90% of the market," says Chris Carnahan, a partner at Jones Sports Co. And in the short time the re-born company has been up and running—since 2011—the Jones team has not only revived the name and brought back the classic bag (now with an optional double strap), but it also has expanded the line. In fact, the company is on something of a growth spurt.
Matt and Tim Lemman—along with Carnahan, who joined the Jones team as creative director to help re-launch the iconic bag—are the ones who oversee Jones’ daily operations, e-commerce site and expanding sales force (Jones bags are now sold in Japan, Canada, Australia and the U.K. in addition to the U.S.). Dad Dean, a retired entrepreneur, is the acting GM of the company, and, as Carnahan says, "a great asset to the team with his years of business experience."
Photo by Empire Green Creative
Carnahan attributes the success of the Jones bag re-launch to several key factors. One is that the five core team members in the business are all golfers. In fact, Carnahan and Matt Lemman both played competitively as juniors and in college together at the University of Oregon, and briefly took a spin on the professional mini tours. "We are out there playing with the bag and traveling to play golf so we know what golfers want and need. It's all about the balance of the bag. We ask ourselves, Are we making this as streamlined as possible?" What's more, as a small company, the team can easily respond to customer feedback. "The customers call and actually get us on the line," says Carnahan.
Perhaps just as important to the company's success is the Jones legacy itself, which has a deep history and heritage among passionate golfers, and particularly among the local golf community in and around Portland, Ore., where the company is based and where in fact it all began, in 1971. This personal connection enabled the partners to consult with George Jones, the founder of the company, who had sold it 1990. Back then, the new owners changed the branding and look of the bags and sales plummeted. Jones, according to Carnahan, was deeply upset about the company’s decline, so when the Lemmans and Carnahan bought the name and were re-launching the bags, he was happy to give them his feedback. "He’s an incredible thinker and was the innovator behind the stand and the straps that are now ubiquitous in golf. He loved the company so much. He was, I think, pleasantly surprised, even thrilled, that we were dedicated to carrying on his legacy."
"When we started the company, all that was left of his mini bag empire was its heritage and history," says Carnahan. No inventory. No production facilities. "Everyone knew what the bag looked like, but we had to start from scratch.
Being in Portland, a lot of our family and friends had the old bags, so we were able to gather them and rebuild the Jones bag to the exact specifications but using modern materials."
A key strategy in the first few years of the company was to solely sell the iconic version of the Jones bag and make the best product possible. "The three-year plan gave us a lot of time to make our stamp," says Carnahan. And they did. "We didn't want the bags to be a billboard. The logo is small and the quality of the product is what speaks." The company doesn’t pay players or celebrities to promote the bag, but look closely and you'll see plenty of Jones bags at the AT&T pro-am and other high-profile events. "It's a hit with MLB and MLH players," says Carnahan, "and with tour pros when they’re out playing for fun. They buy it because they want it, not because we’re paying them to carry it."
In 2016, the company expanded to introduce the Utility Series, which includes a line of duffels and totes, all designed with the golf lifestyle in mind.