Interview with Lisa Langas, Director of Sales/National Sales Manager of Sport Haley, Inc.

August 23, 2010

Lisa Langas is one of the best in the golf retail business. She is fresh off of a 16-year career as a golf shop retail consultant in her own company. She is now the Director of Sales/National Sales Manager of Sport Haley, Inc. During her 16 years of operating Lisa Langas Golf Retail Consulting, she offered comprehensive retail consulting services from financial services to visual merchandising, staff training and operations manuals. She worked with some of the finest clubs in the country including The Chevy Chase Club, Wee Burn Country Club, Hudson National Golf Club, Colleton River Plantation, Brook Hollow Golf Club, Castle Pines Golf Club, Wichita Country Club, Preston Trails Golf Club, Canterbury Golf Club, La Quinta Resort and Club, and Nantucket Golf Club. Although no longer in that role, the knowledge never goes away and Lisa has been very kind to give us her time to lend us her incite and perspective on the retail component of our golf operations.

Lisa, thank you so much for your time. Can you please introduce yourself to the readership and give a synopsis of your background in golf retail? How did you get into golf retail? What opportunities led you to getting your foot in the door with the golf arena?

My name is Lisa Langas and I am the Director of Sales/National Sales Manager for Sport Haley, Inc. I have been working in the golf industry since starting as a buyer at Lakewood Country Club in Denver in 1993. I started at Lakewood CC after being laid off as a buyer for May Company Stores when our division was merged with Foley’s out of Houston. I love buying and wanted to continue in that retail occupation, but at the time most corporate buying positions were moved out of Denver and the golf arena was one area that I found that fit what I was looking for.

I worked at Lakewood CC for just under 2 years and realized that golf retailing is very different than department store retailing and even boutique retailing. I had a lot to learn in terms of the game of golf and the products necessary to play the game. This included the nuances of timing of deliveries, shelf life of products, customer/member needs, visual display techniques, inventory control, assortment planning, etc. I reached out to my assistant golf professional staff to learn what I needed to in order to understand the game of golf better and in turn I taught them about retailing basics. At that time, I realized that the industry lacked resources for golf professionals to learn more about retailing and how to apply retailing fundamentals to a golf shop operation to be more successful. So, I started my own consulting company called ShopPro, set up a computer and just cold called on clubs in Colorado. One of my first clients was Castle Pines Golf Club. In 2011, I accepted a position with Sport Haley, Inc. as their Director of Sales/National Sales Manager. I am so appreciative of the opportunity to have worked with hundreds of golf shops over the years as well as teaching seminars for the AGM, PGA National Merchandise Shows, PGA Sections, NGCOA, CMAA, and PGM programs. I can honestly say I learned a lot from my clients and students and incorporated new ideas as much as possible into my consulting.

What are some ways Assistant Professionals can be better "salesmen" in their pro shops?

I think that assistant professionals can be better “salesmen” by just being themselves and talking about their passion – golf! However, in order to do this a few things need to be done to set the right tone in working with customers: 
  1. Don’t think of it as selling. You are providing a solution to your customers/members to help them play this sport better, look and feel better while playing, and encourage them to support a business which is important to them. 
  2. Get out from behind the counter and work with the merchandise. This includes being involved in displaying and setting the floor with merchandise so it makes sense to be easily shopped by your customer/member. When you are working with the merchandise people will want to talk to you which makes it much easier to help them select products that they are looking for. 
  3. Conversational selling works great in a golf shop. You have the opportunity to really get to know your customer and develop a relationship with them. Make it about them and what they need and they not only ask your opinion/advice, but actually act upon it. 
  4. Be knowledgeable! You need to know what inventory is coming in each month, what your customer service expectations are, why merchandise is priced the way it is, and learn about the vendors/products being sold in the shop so you can explain features and benefits and be an expert. People are willing to pay a premium for the right solution when they feel they are working with an expert. 
  5. Invest in your self in terms of selling techniques, customer service standards, visual display ideas, etc. You can do this by reading your PGA magazine best practices e-mail, check out books on the topics, look at other golf shops and see why you like a shop or not, take photos of shops that you like the displays or flow of the merchandise. A great resource is the Association of Golf Merchandisers which is focused on the education and training to be successful golf retailers.
In your extensive experience as a merchandising consultant to pro shops, I'm sure you have seen and worked with your fair share of assistant professionals. From your perspective, what sets the great ones apart from the "not so great" ones?

We can be very conservative and afraid to rock the boat in this business. It is a game steeped in tradition and sometimes that very nature of the sport creeps into the operation and how we do our jobs. Assistant golf professionals have the opportunity to think outside the box and be creative in doing their jobs better and more efficiently. Great assistant professionals take the lead where ever they can. They look to contribute to all areas of the golf operation and are willing to take risks. I know it can be difficult if you are working for a seasoned golf professional who may not like to change things, but I would encourage stepping up and having discussions about new programs, new methods, and new initiatives with the head professional. At a minimum he will know you are interested in the business and want to make a difference. Anything you can do to show you are more involved than just punching a time clock will set you apart.

You've consulted with some fantastic clubs throughout your consulting career. What kinds of things can assistant professionals expect to learn from a merchandise operations aspect at clubs of this stature versus clubs of a lesser cut?

Assistant golf professionals should expect to be part of a retail team from day one. This would include training in all areas of the golf shop. Customer service standards, point of sale training, visual merchandising standards, financial goals, key vendors, and sales initiatives are all key areas that you should be made familiar with so you can perform your job successfully. If you do not receive the training you feel you need, speak up and ask for it! Additionally, the team should be knowledgeable about the buying procedures utilized to determine how much inventory to buy, when to bring it in, how to display it and shown how business is analyzed monthly. My top clients are diligent in ensuring their team is all on the same page with retailing and have the resources available to them to be successful in the golf shop.

When it comes to sales representative and retail consultants, I believe Golf Professionals can often get stuck in always thinking, "What can my rep/consultant do for me?" or "What do I need from my rep/consultant?" I want to flip the script and ask you, what do you want from us golf professionals? What can we do for you?

I love this question! I know most golf professionals feel that vendors/sales reps/consultants do not understand their business. What I find is that most professionals don’t understand their business and thus cannot communicate their needs effectively. It is so important that the golf professionals knows sales trends, vendor performance and profitability, how to best utilize the golf shop selling space for displays and fixture placement, who their customer is, how to price their inventory, and monthly compare actual financial results to plan so that they can react and improve business. Each vendors/sales reps/consultants should sit down with you with a list of basic questions to review your business so they can determine if they are even a good fit for a business relationship. With poor information, the vendors cannot adequately forecast inventory production, pricing, delivery schedule, etc. It is a cycle that needs to be repaired so that in the end the customer is being presented with the right selection of merchandise, at the right time, and at the right price.

Going from the department & specialty stores to the golf arena, did you see a difference in how you had to approach working with golf professionals as opposed to department & specialty store managers/employees? If so, how have you managed it?

I had a completely different approach in golf retailing vs. department & specialty stores. I worked for large retailers or chains and was provided unbelievable retail training from open to buy procedures, to customer service standards, to employee training procedures, and visual merchandising directives. This was great as this provided me with a great retail toolkit to be successful. I did not have to find resources, I had them all. My job was to make sure the business was executed per plan and if I didn’t meet plan, I did not have a job!

With golf retailing, there was no consistent golf retailing toolkit out there. Every golf shop and every staff is completely different. Some shops are very well run with great expertise and others, well let’s say getting them to understand why they need to take merchandise out of plastic is a challenge! With that said, I worked with every shop and team focusing on strengths and weaknesses to get a plan in to place that is easily implemented and provides proven results. Once we got the plan moving, the assistants and I work together and they no longer dreaded retailing but actually liked it! They feel successful for the first time and most importantly take the retail practices I show them and apply them to other areas of the golf operation.

As Assistant Golf Professionals, when we are finally called upon to take over a golf shop as a Head Professional, from a retail perspective what do you suggest we do as our first steps in the transition?

As you move into a head golf professional position running a retail operation you need information. I would suggest a list of questions both financial and non-financial related. For financial what type of sales are occurring, what is mix of business looking at soft goods and hard goods, how profitable is the business, who are the core vendors being carried, what is the markup by category, how much inventory is carried on average in all categories, etc. For non-financial what are visual merchandising standards, customer service program, back office procedures for ordering, receiving merchandise, ticketing, establishing correct retail price, etc. Once you have a basic understanding of these things, you can then look at what direction you want to take the golf shop. Grow retail sales, improve profitability, implement an open to buy, focus on employee training, do a minor visual face-lift, whatever you feel is 1 to 2 things you can change in the first year and show the customer/member that you are serious about the retail component of the golf operation so they will increase their support.

Do you have any good reads you could share with the Assistant Professional readers of Pay It Forward Golf?

I have a few suggestions here:

Internet - National Retail Federation - This is a great resource that you can use for mainstream retail information. There are daily e-mails that you can subscribe to called smartbriefs. I get the leadership, entrepreneur, workforce, and general retail information. On the NRF home page down at the bottom left is a box called retail news by smartbrief. That is where you can subscribe. Check out the rest of the website for online learning webinars and additional information.

Paco Underhill - this is an author of a great book called "Why we Buy". It talks about what motivates consumers to spend, key indicators for turning shoppers into buyers, how to display effectively, etc. I am anxiously awaiting a new book from him called "What Women Want". Not released as of yet, but all I know is I am a woman and I don't know what we want!

Seth Godin - Lots of titles from him as well as a great blog on marketing and what it takes to be successful. The Dip is a great easy read and was the first book I read by this author and very applicable to the golf industry.

John Maxwell - leadership books that are small and again easy reads with great concepts. At some point assistant professionals want to be head professionals and being a good leader is critical to being successful in this role. I like "Developing the Leader Within You" and "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership". He has a lot of books to choose from!

Thanks Lisa. Your perspective will go a very long way towards helping assistant professionals along their career path.