Offering the right apparel to customers can go a long way toward making a sale—but for it to really pay off, club’s pro shops need to take distinctive approaches to providing value and special services.
When a member or guest shops in a pro shop, a club’s logo is often the only thing differentiating a shirt or hat from one they can buy online or at a “big box” retailer. Aside from the logo, clubs often have to find other ways to go above and beyond and set themselves apart.
For Colin Gooch, PGA, Director of Golf Operations at the Lexington Griffin Gate Marriott Golf Resort & Spa in Lexington, Ky., that means being willing to pretty much match any price that’s out there.
“I’d rather the customer buy from us and sacrifice a little margin than not get the sale at all,” Gooch says. “If a member or resort guest wants something and we don’t have it, or don’t have an account with the vendor, we’ll open one to get the sale.”
Through Griffin Gate’s relationship with Marriott, providing Bonvoy loyalty points with any purchase is a nice incentive that a customer can’t get anywhere else, too.
For Robert Nava, Tournament Director at Tulare Golf Course in Visalia, Calif., breaking golfers’ habits of going to a local big-box store for golf-related items was the key to having sales slowly start to grow at his property’s shop.
“We started from ground zero, even with a course built in 1957,” Nava says, explaining that a new owner purchased the club in 2017 and made wholesale changes to the operation.Tulare’s biggest asset, Nava says, was starting a club repair service, which brought in golfers for other reasons but then drew them to the apparel and other soft goods offered in the pro shop while they were on property.
“Now you have this customer learning to check out the local pro shop for club work,” he notes. “Show them the clearance table—they are already opening their wallet and might spend the $24 they saved on a polo. If they continue to build this habit, maybe you have some new irons in your future, or you can get them to buy something they can’t get at [another retailer].
“Every box store has Nike or Adidas, but where else are they going to find Travis Mathew?” Nava says. “I’ve learned that I can never ‘take down’ a big box or corporate store, but I have something they don’t. Our customers are a ‘trapped audience’ and especially vulnerable to impulse purchases.”
He also counts on his team’s ability to provide upselling service when meeting customers’ needs.
“If they need shoes because they forgot to pack them, maybe they also need socks or a belt that matches the new shoes,” he notes. “If I sell correctly, they’ll get both. I carry golf-specific products in both of those categories. Our belt has a ball marker and divot tool included with it, and Cuater, a Travis Mathew brand, has some fun novelty socks.
“Sure, Adidas has beautiful belts and plain-Jane socks,” Nava says. “But are they memorable? Do they create a story?”
Battle of the Sexes
Tulare GC’s first challenge when the club added apparel in its shop, Nava says, was the women’s market. He admits to approaching the issue somewhat “naively.”
“Assuming there was no market for women’s apparel simply because we had never offered women’s clothing hurt us,” he says. “I met with the Tulare Women’s Club and worked directly with them to bring in styles and colors that they hand picked. Exactly zero sales went to these ladies, possibly because I didn’t order the correct sizes, or the product looked different in the catalog.“Not more than three months after the product was on the wall, I had the ladies ask when we were ordering again, so they could pick more clothes,” Nava adds. “The silver lining to this dark cloud is the special-order customers that we picked up. The majority of my ladies’ clientele now fall into this category.
“It does come with unique challenges, but it is by far the superior option for us,” Nava says of the special-order approach. “We have started using the catalog and online sites as a method to allow more excellent choices, with less upfront cost to the pro shop.”
At Griffin Gate, Gooch says, the ratio of men’s-to-women’s apparel is 60/40.
“If we keep our members’ wives or the wives of resort guests happy, then everyone’s happy,” he jokes. “We want women to feel comfortable when entering our golf shop and never have to ask, ‘Where’s your ladies’ apparel?’”
Holly Taylor, PGA, Head Golf Professional of PGA Golf Club in Port St. Lucie, Fla., believes that women’s apparel and accessories offer the best opportunities for future pro shop sales.
“There are so many new styles and fun prints and fabrics,” she says. “Dresses and skorts are doing amazingly well. There are all sorts of new vendors to try.”
Seasonal changes influence the balance between men’s and women’s apparel at Circling Raven Golf Club in Worley, Idaho, says David Christenson, PGA, Director of Golf.
“Our general strategy is to have more men’s apparel in the spring and fall, when the temperatures and weather patterns are cooler and less favorable,” he says. “Men will still tend to play during these shoulder seasons, [while] women tend to play more during the summer season.
“Also, we examine what events are pending, and if they are skewed more towards men or women, we will rebalance our mix of products, so we don’t miss opportunities,” Christenson adds.
Shelly Dalton, Golf Shop Manager at Prestonwood Country Club in Cary, N.C., sees variety as an important key to successful sales.
“Diversifying the product mix that we carry in the golf shop will help stimulate sales,” she says. “Lifestyle brands that can be worn on- and off-course have become our best sellers. By having a variety of non-golf specific items, we are able to attract our other membership classifications to shop with us.”
Making the Sale
At Griffin Gate, Gooch uses resort voicemail blasts, social media and mobile-app push notifications to help get the word out on promotions, relay special messages and drive pro shop sales. He also asks those who matter the most for their opinions.
“Survey your members and frequent guests on what they’d like to have in their golf shops,” he advises. “Always follow up with a member or guest inquiring about a sale until they tell you no. Don’t give up after they say, ‘I’ll think about it.’
“Lean on your vendors for better terms or incentives to pay early to help your margins,” he adds. “Send back product on wheels at the end of the year, so you’re not stuck with a bunch of it. You don’t know unless you ask your rep.”
At Prestonwood CC, Dalton has adopted another approach for making a sale without hurting profitability.
“I allow for a portion of my open-to-buy to be allocated for closeouts,” she says. “Our vendor partners have aggressive pricing when seasonal lines close out. It provides me with an opportunity to offer our special pricing on members’ favorite lines, without compromising our margins.” C+RB