Your obsession with margins is hurting your Pro Shop sales

Some things never change…at your local pro shop.

$55-75 dollar shirts don’t sell, they collect dust.

Trying to move twelve new r17s Drivers a month after the local Dicks Sporting Goods store received an entire rack with every loft and every shaft available…is a tough sale, made tougher knowing they have a new launch monitor and digital simulator on hand to razzle-dazzle your members.

Did I mention they take trades?

When are you going to stop trying to make 40-60% (only to have to mark it down a few months later) on the same shirt Golf Galaxy, TGW, Edwin Watts, and the aforementioned Dicks sells…at a discount?

Buying power schmuying-power…you can compete with the dot coms and jumbo nets, but you will have to forgo the circa-1960 merchandising model.

Here’s how:

1. Going forward, you need to think of your Pro shop as an extension of your marketing. By that I mean, margins aren’t as important as getting your name out into the public space. This isn’t a trick question…but would you rather make $110 profit in twelve months on four shirts or the same amount on eight shirts? Eight shirts x four hundred members = a lot of exposure. If you give your members a (financial) reason to wear your clubs logo every other day, I bet they will.

2. Start taking trades. Before you start thinking of what a pain this will be or how your employees will screw this one up…remember, the local jumbo net shops already do this with people they hired the day before. If you take late model, high-demand equipment (i.e. Cameron putters, last year model drivers, or current model irons) and add 10-20% to the ridiculous value the PGA guide allows, you can turn the items around at worst for cost and at best for 20-25% on ebay. A listing on ebay takes about two minutes to create, roughly the same amount of time it takes an employee to “like” a few posts on facebook. The goodwill and pain you save your member(s) will more likely equal increased sales of hard goods that are today, increasingly harder to move.

3. Stock brands the dot coms, jumbo nets, and mall stores don’t commonly sell. I’m half-embarrassed to include this one, but you would be shocked to see how many Pro shops sell the same brands everyone else sells (for more money). Peter Millar is my favorite high-end brand, and they only sell to green grass shops. Check. Cutter and Buck produces a great line of mid-priced apparel, as does Page and Tuttle. I would both on my short list. What about Gear for Sports? They make a fantastic lower-priced line of clothing that doesn’t look low-priced.

4. Creatively cross-market to drive even more revenue. Creatively what? Have you ever bought a new driver and got a free thirty minute lesson on how to use it? Me neither. Have you ever purchased a set of irons and received four free cart rentals? That would be a new one to me. When you bought your last shirt at full price, I’m guessing you received a free lunch right? I could think of ten more of these, my guess is..yours would be better.

5. Use email, facebook, or signs in various places at your club to promote hot items. Did you just get a load of new shirts in? Why not post pictures of them on facebook? Did one of your members get a hole in one with a club purchased in your shop? Congratulate them via email and everyone will know where they got their seven iron. Do you change your signs in your cart or above the urinals frequently? You should. People read them. And if the call to action is compelling enough…they will buy.

6. Partner with your brand manufacturers twice as often. I’ll bet you get a sales rep every week wanting to increase his/her sales in your Pro shop, but how many actually actively help you sell? One demo day per year (if that) isn’t going to cut it any more. Wouldn’t early spring be a great time to have a trunk show with the Peter Millar rep? If your Footjoy rep really wanted to move more shoes, why not have them bring in a shoe fit specialist with multiple sizes and colors to stimulate the register?

The truth is, you probably aren’t going to see the big boys go away any time soon, but to have your members buying from them…that has to stop, and can, with a few tweaks.

Relaxed standards…membership boom or bust?

One of the funniest (and true) stories that often gets thrown around when the topic of Country Clubs is discussed is that of Groucho Marx, who famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.”

Long, long ago, before the Great Recession and the Tiger Boom, supply and demand as it relates to pricing and the number of golf courses, both public and private…was at its equlibrium. I say this subjectively and with some data to back it up when you look at the estimated golfers per capita over various decades from 1940-1997 (give or take a few years).

Back in those days, there were few “semi-private” courses available, as many public and private clubs were born out of true demand, not to sell homes…”and out of the leftover land we’ll create a golf course”.

One of challenges many private clubs have faced since the great recession started has been the adoption of relaxed standards/rules in the admission and retention of its members.

I say this, not as a nod to reinstate the world view of the the Judge Smails’ of the world, but more to the sheer number of people that believe, “I paid my money, I can do what I want” mentality that has permeated many clubs since few have the guts to have current members sponsor new ones.

“Seriously, we have a hard enough time getting members as it is, surely you aren’t suggesting in a down economy we go back to the dinosaur age”.

Actually I am.

On my way to a tournament this spring at Musgrove Mill in Clinton, SC, I had the fortunate experience to ride with a member of Biltmore Forest, a wonderfully preserved Donald Ross Classic. We got on the topic of conduct of varying degrees and how his club handles incidents between members. The conversation was eye-opening to say the least, in large part because 1) Biltmore Forest still has an initiation fee, 2) Prospective members are sponsored by at least two current members, and 3) They have zero tolerance for unruly behavior, especially between members.

Is that to say all members get along like ladies and gentlemen at all times? For the most part…yes, at least within the confines of the property.

Does this practice sound too “old school” or “Stepford”? I’d like to think of it as simple courtesy. Following a code. It is acting as members should act, with decency and respect towards one another, even if they don’t break bread every Sunday over brunch.

Could reinstating the practice of sponsoring new members bring back the exclusionary days of private clubs? Without a conscientious board of directors and written policy for the interview process, I suppose, but what is the alternative?

I read through countless club newsletters every month and am always…intrigued, by the number of times I read the friendly, “for the sake of our club, please keep carts 50 yards from all greens and refrain from driving on par 3’s” requests. Do you think a club like Biltmore has to waste space in their newsletter to discuss this?

Aren’t you tired of members throwing clubs and acting like they are on a Naval ship being bombed every time they miss a green?

What about members having to be separated in the grill room because a $10 skin was won by a well-known sandbagger?

When established members are tied, literally, to new members, both act more responsibly…for the good of the entire membership.