Interview with Cory Crelan from Vineyard Vines

November 15, 2010

Cory is an account executive for the Golf Division of Vineyard Vines. His territory has him calling on 8 states in the New England region of the United States. Cory has a unique perspective as he was once a club professional and moved to the sales side. He has been kind enough to lend us his perspective of crossing over and the intricacies of Vineyard Vines and the sales world.

Tell us about your background in the golf business. How did you get into the golf business and what clubs did you work for in the Met Section?

I graduated from the Ferris State PGM program in late 1995. I grew up in New England, but ended up landing my first job in the Met Section at Ardsley Country Club in Ardsley-on-Hudson, NY. I worked for Jim Bender there for three years before moving close by to Scarsdale Golf Club in Hartsdale, NY. I worked for Bill Smittle there for three seasons before moving onto The Vineyard Golf Club. I was friends with Gene Mulak from our Ferris PGM days. He got the opportunity to be the first head pro at the brand new Vineyard Golf Club on Martha’s Vineyard. Gene always helped me with my game in the winters and told me what an opportunity this was going to be on the Vineyard. Lastly after three summers on MV, I worked one season for Charlie Bolling out at Fresh Meadow Country Club on Long Island.

In a circle of life story, last September I was fortunate enough to get married to my wife Monica. Our wedding reception took place on the terrace of Ardsley Country Club.

Let’s talk about Vineyard Vines. How did your relationship with VV begin?

Tim Gerges started the golf division of Vineyard Vines. His father is a member at the Vineyard Golf Club. Shortly after I left the club, Gene let me know that they were starting a golf specific division and put me in touch with Tim. At the time, Tim wasn’t sure how things were going to turn out as this was brand new for them. I got the chance to work the one season with Charlie at Fresh Meadow and we kept in touch all that year in 2006. The golf line did really well that summer and I started that Thanksgiving. It really helped out that Jim Bender, Bill Smittle, and Gene Mulak were all big early supporters of Vineyard Vines.

Considering that you're a former club professional, are there other former club professionals on staff at VV?

I am currently the only former club professional working at Vineyard Vines. There are only currently three golf specific employees that work out of our Stamford, CT office. I know they would not hesitate to hire another club professional. If we continue to have the success we did this year, we will need more staff in the not too distant future.

Can you briefly describe VV’s mission and vision as it relates to the golf division?

Our company philosophy is quite simple, we make quality products that people like to wear and offer the best customer service possible. On top of that we have fun and we know our customers do too. On the golf end of things, we got our start selling custom silk ties to some of the best clubs in the country. Of late, our custom belt business has really taken over where the ties began. The golf line now includes: men’s, women’s, youth, and custom products. We are trying to make classic golf wear that’s found at the best private clubs and golf shops.

How does VV relate so well to the golf professional? Golfers?

This question could really be answered from a couple of different points of view. The professionals that do well with our line would be the first ones to say that we have the best margins in the golf business. There are so many unprofitable things that eat up professionals’ open-to-buy that we really stand out in that regard.

In regards to the line itself, I think the line resonates with a lot of people because it is a lifestyle brand and not strictly golf specific. You can wear our polo and shorts as easily to go play golf or go the grocery store. We’ve had a very good response to our ladies golf line because it is not outfit driven. Unlike a lot of ladies lines, you can easily mix and match our tops and bottoms for on the course or off.

I think a lot of professionals lose sight of the fact that their members wear and buy clothing outside of the club. As a company, we know the parts of the country and demographic where our line sells well. In many instances, it is just a matter of whether the golf professional in those particular areas want their members to buy our line from them or some other way which may be online, through the catalog, or at a local specialty shop.

It is a huge perk for golf shops to offer the ability to use tournament credit, to offer member discounts, and to have the ability to put purchases on the member charge. A normal retailer can’t offer that kind of service. If you charged something on your member account and then paid your club bill with a credit card, you would effectively be given up to 60 days to pay for that golf shop purchase.

When you got out of the green grass side and hooked up with VV, can you describe the training program VV walked you through and the general transition process as it relates to VV?

I was able to shadow my boss Tim Gerges a lot during my first year. Tim is the company’s 9th employee and has seen all the changes and expansion with the company over the years. He made me feel comfortable with my role at the company and provided a lot of guidance along the way. Initially, I spent a lot of time getting familiar with the line and our golf accounts through working in inside sales position.

Is there anything you can tell us about VV that is not well known? Any behind-the-scenes aspects that make VV so unique in their approach?

Most of all, I will say that it is just a very fun place to work. It shows when you meet our employees or even call the office. We have a great team of passionate, talented people working at VV. The entire operation is under one roof here at our CT headquarters. There are graphic designers, apparel designers, wholesale teams, customer care representatives, photographers, accountants and college teams all in our building. It is not your typical office setting. A lot of our local accounts enjoy making the trip to the office to write their orders.

One of the biggest changes for me was working around a younger age group of people. Most of the coworkers are still under 30 years old! Summer time in the office is just what you would imagine it to be here- shorts, flip flops, and summer hours. My dog Speeder has been known to make an appearance here on Friday afternoons.

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

I think it is important to just acknowledge that “sales skills” are vital and not optional in just about every aspect of a golf operation. Teaching, club fitting, apparel, tournaments, outings, and simply selling yourself all have a sales aspect to them. In order to be a successful professional you must have a handle on selling.

One of my favorite quotes is, “People don't like to be sold, but they love to buy.”

In your extensive experience on both sides of the golf business (green grass vs. sales), 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?

From my experience, the best professionals (head, teaching or assistant) all have great rapport with their memberships. You could probably boil it down and say they all have superior people skills. It is obvious when observing the way great professionals interact with members, guests, and their families. Those professionals make each person they deal with feel like they are the most important person in the world. I know that you can’t be each and every member’s best friend, but the truly great professionals make each member feel as though they can count on them as being a friend/confidant.

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

I currently call on accounts in eight states. This past year, our team was out after the PGA show having drinks and we ran into a large group of assistant professionals. I knew a number of them and started talking to one particular group which included a pro from Merion G.C. in Philadelphia, one from Knollwood C.C. in Chicago, and a third from Northshore C.C. on Long Island. All three started asking each other how they knew me. It was kind of funny when all three responded with, “he’s our sales rep!”

Traveling and setting up appointments is a real challenge with that large of territory. I am super appreciative of people who are able to get back to me as soon possible. If you have no interest in seeing the line, are already bought up for the year or just don’t think it is a good fit for you, please just be honest.

Both our clothing and golf line have expanded tremendously in the past few years. Our golf line offers way more golf oriented products than it did from when I first started with the company in 2006. It can be challenging to get professionals to have an open mind and see what’s new in the line. Unless they are particularly retail savvy and travel to the regional retail marts, they are likely going to be surprised with how far we have come in such a short amount of time. Believe it or not, a number of professionals are still under the impression we only sell accessories and that our products can’t be embroidered.

Throughout your career, what have been the overarching principles that you have stood by, principles you hope rub off on your peers/colleagues?

No matter what job you are doing, it takes no more skill or intellect to be a hard worker. I didn’t know a lot about sales when I first started with Vineyard Vines. However, I knew that if I was diligent about taking care of the “easy” things the rest would fall into place. The things I consider “easy” are oftentimes overlooked by a lot of sales reps and professionals for that matter. These tasks require no specific skill or aptitude other than caring about doing a good job: getting back to people right away, answering voicemails & emails quickly, being honest, owning up to mistakes when they happen, and being able to put yourself in other people’s shoes.

In the different roles you have played in your career, what have been aspects of your positions, that if you didn't do them well, it would be detrimental to your operations?

I am going to take a different spin on your question. I think the one thing that assistant professionals should never overlook/neglect is their playing ability. I am not trying to suggest every assistant should be a tour player. It’s just been my experience that playing with the membership is the single best way to get to know members on a more personal level. The easiest way to make a good impression with a member is by holding your own on the golf course. It is the one aspect of the job that separates you as a golf pro from any other profession. I think it even helps my credibility as a sales rep when I am out there trying to qualify for the Met Open alongside my accounts.

For a green grass professional interested in getting into sales with a company, can you describe the transition from green grass to sales? In what ways, if any, did you have to approach the transition? What might a young pro sacrifice when going from green grass to sales? What have you found are the biggest differences between green grass and sales? Are there pro's and con's to the sales side and what might they be?

I think the transition to working in sales was easier than I thought it was going to be. I think my accounts appreciate the fact that I was once in their shoes. My accounts know that they can trust that I am not going to inundate them with merchandise and will guide their buying in the right direction. I don’t think there is a tremendous sacrifice anymore seeing you can keep your PGA membership working as a sales representative.

In my case, I gave up my membership so I can play in amateur tournaments around the New York City area. For me, the biggest attraction of this side of the business was having weekends off and being able to live in one place year round. Also, I now have a bit more time to explore interests outside of golf.

Since getting my amateur status back, I have discovered how spoiled I was before. As a professional, you never think about paying for greens fees, equipment, range balls, practicing, tee times, etc. It is a tough pill to swallow the first time you have to pay $8 to hit 45 balls off mats at a lousy driving range!


There you have it readers. Cory Crelan from Vinyard Vines. Hopefully his unique perspective will help you sharpen your skills and sales ability in the golf shop and beyond. Look forward to more perspectives from the golf industries best professionals, only at Pay It Forward Golf.