Some of the most valuable members of properties’ golf staffs have nothing to do with playing the game—but plenty to do with maximizing the sales power of the pro shop.
Successful clubs and resorts frequently tout the accomplishments and prestige of their golf professional staffs. But the truth is that some of the most productive members of golf departments never set foot on the course or the lesson tee. The success of these important contributors is measured by inventory turns, not hip and shoulder turns; by sell-throughs, not follow-throughs; and by higher scores, not lower ones.
More properties that are serious about maximizing the performance of their pro shops are turning over the decisions about what to buy, and how to merchandise and display it, to retailing professionals who often have expertise gained from outside the golf business. The success delivered by these specialists demonstrates that today’s successful pro shop can, and should, employ the same purchasing and inventory know-how as any department store or other high-end retail operation. As noted by Felecia West, a retailing specialist for Troon Golf, buying is a business in its own right—when it’s done right.
Here’s a closer look at the buying and merchandising tactics used by three retail sales pros who are on top of their games in their properties’ shops:
Laura Robinson, Pinehurst Resort
As Director of Retail for North Carolina’s famed Pinehurst Resort, Laura Robinson is responsible for not just the pro shop at the main clubhouse, which serves the first five of Pinehurst’s eight championship courses, but 12 other pro shops and retail outlets, both on and off property. With so many outlets to stock and merchandise, Robinson has learned to keep it simple.
“When it comes to apparel, the key for us is to have three varying price points,” she says. “We have the philosophy of ‘good, better, best’ in each category. We basically group them as private label, our core mix, and our higher price lines.
“Several years ago, we took all of our vendors and compared them, and we have a very tight vendor matrix now, with ten brands in the matrix and a certain amount of vendors in each product,” she adds. “Basically what I require from a vendor is a certain sell-through percentage at the end of the year. In five years, I’ve only had to drop two vendors. People say all you have to do is put the Putter Boy [Pinehurst’s signature logo] on anything and it will sell, but there’s a lot more to it than that.”
Robinson is well-prepared to understand the preferences of both buyers and sellers of the products in her shops. After spending seven years at Pinehurst and working her way up to a retail buyer position, she spent more than four years working first with Ashworth Golf and then adidas, before returning to Pinehurst in her present position in 2012.
While the pro shop in Pinehurst’s main clubhouse accounts for 80% of the resort’s retail business, Robinson notes that the other on-property shops, as well as the off-property store called The Vault in the village of Pinehurst, provide opportunities to audition new brands and products for the chance to be featured in the main clubhouse shop and other outlets.
“Take [the apparel brand of] Travis Mathews, for instance,” Robinson says. “We tested them in an outside store and now they’re in three of our stores, including the big store.”
Robinson and her team may try to limit the core brands in Pinehurst’s shops, but those decisions about which apparel lines to carry, along with other products to fill out the shops, don’t come easily.
“We use both the Las Vegas and [Orlando] Florida PGA shows,” Robinson says. “Reed [Expositions] has set up a program of one-on-one, 20-minute meetings. It’s a fabulous idea for me, because we get so many calls from vendors. I’ve probably picked up six or seven brands that way that we wouldn’t have even given appointments to otherwise.
“I also use AGM [Association of Golf Merchandisers] newsletters and new-brand seminars, as well as PGA Best Practices notifications,” Robinson adds. “Outside of the golf industry, we attend a show in Atlanta for non-golf gift ideas that has been very helpful for new and unique product ideas.”
Regardless of the product lines featured in the shop, Robinson says the key is to keep things fresh, which is no small task at a property with 13 different retail stores.
“We have 5,500 member families,” she says, “and we want them to see something new every time they visit the property. A store is getting a change-out every day, and we’re constantly rotating products around the room. For the total shop flip every two months, we change the decor, tables, all kinds of things.”
Gail Rankow, BallenIsles Country Club
Refreshing the shop with a new look is a goal for most club and resort retailers. But at BallenIsles Country Club, Retail Specialist Gail Rankow finds herself challenged by not only a new look, but an entire new location. The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., club is in the process of renovating its entire main clubhouse, causing the golf shop to be relocated in the interim to a freestanding trailer at the club’s nearby sports complex. The shop was moved to the trailer in May, and will remain there until clubhouse work is completed next September.
Despite any inconvenience arising from the temporary digs, Rankow—who honed her retail skills with the Marshall Field’s men’s sportswear department in Chicago and Bloomingdale’s women’s fashions in South Florida before joining BallenIsles—will continue to try to make sure that the club’s shop is stocked with lines its 1,400 members want. In both the current temporary quarters and the new shop, Rankow augments the in-shop merchandise with special orders based on her members’ selections from catalogs.
“You have to know your members [and] their likes and dislikes, which you do by listening to your membership,” Rankow says. “Particularly where we’re located, sun protection is a huge thing with our members, and it seems like everybody is putting some of those types of products in their lines.”
If Rankow’s members don’t see what they want in the shop, Rankow does her best to help them get it; special orders account for 12% of her shop sales. During the club’s busy winter season, she hosts up to three trunk shows a month, some of which feature repeat items and some that available shop space just can’t accommodate. New lines, like Tee2Sea’s golf dresses that can be worn everywhere and the Tzu Tzu clothing line, have been particularly big trunk-show hits, Rankow reports.
Typically, Rankow says, she makes buying decisions for the bulk of her store inventory twice a year, with refills and supplementary buys made throughout the year. She attends the January PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, but generally skips the smaller fall show in Las Vegas. During the slower summer season, she reviews the various product lines, to determine which ones have been profitable and which have generated the highest sell-through rate.
“We can’t carry every style or line, but I’ll give members a chance to go through the catalog so we can special-order something for them,” Rankow adds. “We can’t buy every size, but we work with members to find out what they like.”
Rankow gains further insight into members’ likes and dislikes by getting out from behind her desk and the sales counter.
“I love to be on the [shop] floor and mingle with members,” she says. “I like to change my floor constantly. You can move things around and they’ll think it’s new. We completely change the shop out every two weeks, maybe to create a new story or theme.
“One thing we do is always put the golf bags on a ledge above the shelves, rather than setting them on the floor,” she adds. “We like to keep the shop very clean-looking on the counters so we don’t crowd things. The other thing we keep in mind is that it’s not just a golf shop—it’s a lifestyle shop as well.”
Felecia West, Kapalua Resort
While Laura Robinson oversees multiple shops that are virtually all located on the Pinehurst Resort property, Felecia West is responsible for the operations of not only her home shop at Kapalua Resort on Maui in Hawaii, but nine additional mainland properties in the Troon Golf portfolio.
Overseeing the buying and operations for shops at ten different properties creates its own set of challenges. But Troon’s list of preferred vendors gives West a preordained vendor matrix from which she can make the majority of her shop purchases.
“We work with Troon’s preferred list, but each property buyer is given 20% to buy specific items from off the beaten path of vendors for each property or region,” she explains. “We find that certain things work on the mainland, but not on the island.”
In Kapalua’s shop, the resort’s well-known butterfly logo is ever-present, and plays a key role in resort sales.
“We logo everything,” West says. “What drives sales is the logo. One of our brands started to heat-seal the logo, and it is precise every time. A lot of other brands have started to heat-seal now [as they strive for] anything to make your brand pop. Some brands have in-house embroidery, but third-party embroidery may not have the quality you want all the time.”
West’s shops also thrive on fresh looks. The Kapalua shop changes every week, she says, while the mainland properties she oversees change every two or three weeks.
“We have constant restocking of the floor, especially in our busy season,” West says. “We have a staff of six, and we have to have [that many] to keep the shop looking fresh. A lot of our guests aren’t looking at price tags, but we do have to keep the selection fresh.”
While West has two main buying seasons, she also buys throughout the year, always looking for different things.
“If I find something unique, I’ll buy the minimum required for items to be logoed and customized,” she says. “You build relationships this way—they want to be here, and we want their item. One reason I think I’ve been successful is that I see buying as a business in its own right.”
West is also not afraid to look outside of the traditional golf-shop buying events for hidden gems, including trips to the Las Vegas market show in January and July.
“We went to the Vegas market show and it was a gold mine,” she reports. “They had all kinds of small gift items that I asked if I could have custom-logoed.”
In addition to golf apparel, West understands that not all of Kapalua’s guests play the game—and recognizing that there are few better ways to spend some of the time a spouse is on the links than with a little shopping, she buys accordingly.
“Some golf brands have gone into women or kids clothes, but they still look ‘golfy,’“ she says. “We have resort wear for ladies that’s logoed, but done discretely.”