Importance of the Retail Component to Assistant Professionals

by Brian Dobak
June 14, 2010

A retired golf professional was once explaining to me how decades ago, pro shops were minimally merchandised and the retail component of the golf operation was virtually an after-thought. Golf professionals used to leave shirts in their plastic packaging and lay them out on a primitive table with no method to the madness. Pro shops largely used to carry only the basics needed for a round of golf, i.e. balls, tees, gloves, clubs, and just a few sku’s of shirts and pants. My how golf shop retailing has changed! As time has passed, the retail component has moved to the forefront not only for its revenue producing potential to a club but its ability to add value to a member/guests experience. We are in a new age of golf shop retail and Assistant Professionals need to take heed.

Take the following trend for example.

If appropriate for their market, golf shops are going lifestyle now. In the competition for the consumer’s disposable income, many golf shops are tailoring their merchandising to meeting the lifestyle needs of its members and guests. Many high-end clubs and resorts contend if they already have men as a captive audience, they might as well make them shop by offering an array of goods men either need or want. Which explains why so many golf retailers are stocking items that have nothing to do with the game. You’re now seeing everything from boxer shorts and fleece blankets to silver cuff links and crystal wine glasses. But that’s not all. Brookfield Country Club, outside Buffalo, N.Y., has sold fur coats. Kinloch Golf Club in Richmond, VA doubles as a tailor, replete with fabric swatches to make customized slacks for its members.

It is a retail trend, some industry experts say, that is transforming golf shops into the 21st-century men’s boutique. “Golf pros are becoming haberdashers of sort, and many are finding it is just as important to offer cashmere sweaters and dress slacks as it is the latest in utility woods,” says Todd Martin, president of golf apparel-maker Fairway & Greene. So-called lifestyle items have found their way into golf shops for the past several years, especially as lifestyles – and dress – have become more casual. But the practice is accelerating. “It is the wave of the future,” says Craig Kirchner, a Maryland-based consultant to golf retailers.

The reasons for the trend’s growth are many?

Club professionals are embracing soft goods because they provide better profit margins, and their sales aren’t contingent upon rounds played, which have been flat. “It is also a question of providing a service to my members,” says Eden Foster, Head Professional at the Maidstone Club in Easthampton, N.Y., and Calusa Pines in Naples, Fla. “If my members or guests can get slacks, sunglasses or street shoes from me as well as balls and gloves, then I am providing a better service to them.”

Retailers also say men are more inclined to buy in pro shops, which they describe as a more comfortable retail habitat. That sense of familiarity becomes even more of an advantage with the “malling” of America – chain stores that essentially carry the same merchandise in virtually every city or town. “Independently owned men’s stores don’t exist as much any more, so when my male members want a new blazer or dress shirt, they now come to me,” says Tim O’Neal, head professional of North Shore Country Club near Chicago.

There also is the convenience factor for the shopping averse and time-stressed. "They don’t have to go anywhere else to shop, they can put whatever they buy on their club charges, and they can support their club pros in the process,” says Scott Mahoney, Chief Executive Officer of apparel-maker Peter Millar. Fashion houses, like Peter Millar, are fueling the trend, too. Companies as large as Ralph Lauren and as small and ambitious as Vineyard Vines are paying attention to pro shops because they view them as a viable retail frontier.

“Club pros have gotten better at merchandising themselves in that way,” says Claude Brusse, director of golf at the Yeamans Hall Golf Club outside Charleston, S.C. “We’re not just bringing in the club-fitting vans these days. We are also doing (apparel) trunk shows.”

Don’t forget about the female members either. Generally speaking, ladies have the checkbook. Most of today’s female golfers are baby boomers that had a career, they have money saved through retirement plans, and now they have an income and time to buy things for themselves and their husbands. Pro shops are catering to this demographic by creating trunk shows, fashion shows, and getting creative with their product mix. Many pro shops carry an array of lifestyle bags such as Vera Bradley and Amy Butler. Many pro shops are carrying candles, lotions, shampoos, conditioners, bath gels, and fine home fragrances. Sea Island Golf Club has been consistently carrying and selling through Lady Primrose products for years now. And it is all an attempt to cater to their female resort guest and member.

Considering how much pro shop retailing has evolved, it is more important than ever to understand consumer buying habits, demographics and lifestyles. We are competing for our members and guests disposable dollars, period. Who are we competing against? We are competing against the Golf Galaxy’s, the Dicks Sporting Goods Stores, the PGA Tour Superstores, and other smaller, localized, non-chain shops. But just like all the other services consumers purchase, we need to make sure we capture their attention and our share of their daily spending. Merchandising can be one of the most powerful tools to capture the attention of our members and guests and influence buying decisions.

Take, for example, the hospitality industry; the successful and memorable clubs do a really good job at merchandising by paying attention to all elements of service to ensure that their members and guests have a superior experience. That’s the business we’re in. When you think about the hospitality industry and the clubs that really do it right, one of the things that sets them apart is their merchandising EXPERIENCE.

You’re not only selling the shirt, you are also selling the service that you give and you are selling the experience of the golf shop. The shopping experience is one of the most important areas of merchandising a golf shop. Create theater with colors and scents. When I visited Oakmont Country Club last year, I couldn’t help but notice the prevailing scent throughout the clubhouse. I inquired about it with the clubs gracious staff and they informed me that they have an air freshening scent made specifically for Oakmont CC. In addition, remember the importance of facility lighting, cleanliness, and employee appearance. Your member or guest is taking in the entire experience and observing (whether consciously or unconsciously) all of these things.

Pro shop retail is not one big thing, rather it’s all the little things that go into it. Merchandising is about conveying your value to the member or guest, and it starts the minute they drive inside the gates. Think about it. We increase our shops growth when members and guests drive away with a smile on their face. The retail component of golf shops has now become a major player in providing that experience. In today's competitive golf retail environment, you cannot afford to underestimate the importance that merchandising will have in your career as a golf professional. Everyone is competing for your member or guests dollar. There are more choices out there for consumers than ever before. Merchandising is more than simply the arrangement of products on the shelf. It is an integral component of the clubs image, your golf operations image, and your image as a golf professional.

Are you seeing how important merchandising has become? The industry is not what it used to be and we need to make sure our retail hat is ready to go when we’re called upon to take over a golf shop. Your golf shops business has to be about the member or guest. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in; if you can get it right for the member or guest and stay clearly focused on trends and changes in the marketplace, you will win.

Be ready when your called upon to take over a golf shop!

Portions of this article were taken from Golf Week Magazine.