Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Culture




Do what you do so well that they will want to see it again and bring their friends.                                                   
                                                                                -    Walt Disney

The culture of a golf facility is the quality that arises from a concern for service, protocol, and atmosphere. Creating The Culture takes vision, passion and total commitment. It is the sum of attitude, education, enthusiasm and language that distinguishes one facility from another and that is precisely why it is worth the effort.


There are many unique competitive differentiators in the golf industry. Buyers worry about green grass only distribution. They produce private label product in an effort to build their own brand and make their selection of goods exclusive. Clubs move to “Mill River” and modifications of same to produce pricing structures to inspire customer and member loyalty, but the hardest and most meaningful competitive advantage for golf facilities to duplicate is to create an organization that consists of highly engaged associates who are totally focused on the customer. All definitions of culture point out the development of the intellect and the resulting enlightenment from training and education. Hopefully “The Winning Golf Culture” manual will help to educate and inspire you and your staff to become such an excellent organization and rise above your peers.

Everyone has been to clubs where the atmosphere was decidedly negative. The staff walk around with a scowl and members spend an inordinate amount of time venting. It’s hard to determine in such an atmosphere what came first, the grumpy members or frustrated staff but placing the blame wouldn’t make the culture any more pleasant.



It seems in this case that a Leader with a totally rejuvenated outlook or a new Leader is needed. More to the point, someone needs to stand back a little and reevaluate the culture because once the course is built, the business plan and marketing put in place, the superintendent hired and the fertilizer and sand purchased the two variables that most shop owners/managers and/or head pros control are the merchandising and the culture.

Or consider the course where players arrive anticipating a pleasant, enjoyable round of golf with friends to encounter staff telling them at the bag drop where they can and can’t park, at the counter they only take coupons on Tuesdays and don’t take American Express. The starter hands them a list of do’s and don’ts and the marshal stops by a number of times to inform them how they are doing with time. Of course everyone is just doing their job and none of these individual incidents is necessarily a problem, but cumulatively the rules and the attitude with which they are delivered has the group convinced by the turn that they won’t be hanging around after the round, they won’t be buying anything in the shop to remind them of the experience. In fact, next month when they take a day off for golf they are going back to that course that had the water in the cooler on the cart and everyone including the maintenance staff wanted to know if they were enjoying the day and was there anything they could do for them – the “country club for a day” atmosphere.

Conversely, I had the pleasure a few years ago of being part of the team that opened a high-end club in North Carolina. My position on the team was two-fold. I was there to quarterback the opening of the shop and my other role was that of head cheerleader at the training session. We had the luxury of three full days to indoctrinate the staff about the culture the Leader envisioned and everyone’s role in its execution because we were able to organize it two weeks before the Grand Opening.

We invited the appropriate key vendor reps to give product knowledge seminars about their products and they were all outstanding; going through all the features, benefits and buzzwords needed to intelligently talk to people about their various categories of goods both as apparel and equipment. The question and answer afterwards was more of a discussion with the staff about how to fit people, how to sell the tough customers, how their respective companies were thrilled to be working with them and how unique this session was in what in some cases were long careers.

I spoke about shirts and the appropriate product knowledge involved with the different brands and fabrications. Since it was October, I finished up the session with a football analogy. We had just had three days of training camp, obviously opening day was coming right up and if everyone played their position the way we had been describing it we would win the members and their guests as fans. We could think of ourselves as going to the playoffs if, in a few months, people were talking about the warm, friendly atmosphere at the great new Tom Fazio golf course ……. they were. We could consider ourselves as getting to the Super Bowl if and when we were nationally recognized as a place you need to play …… this also happened.

This was a fulfilling opportunity for me but one that can be duplicated anywhere there is a Leader with a desire to take their level of service up a few notches, to raise the bar for their staff and create as a result a more meaningful culture.



Customers/members need to plan a day of golf anticipating an environment that appreciates their business and where there is camaraderie with the staff as well as their foursome. They need to feel it is fun to hang out a bit at the 19th hole and by the end of the day they want a memento from the shop that will remind them of the experience and tell others that see them wearing the logo what a great place they thought it was to spend a day. They need to be made more than satisfied and they need to view your facility and its culture as their provider of choice.

This may seem obvious and a “goes without saying” description that everyone in the industry agrees is the experience they provide, however the execution does not always follow the hype. As Tony Robbins points out often and in many different ways “There are no decisions really made until there is action.” When it comes to making it a reality, enthusiasm tends to give way to confusion.

In Summary – Culture is a work in progress:

• Management must make the decision to proactively create customer loyalty and to measure the success of these efforts by the customer’s feedback.

• Management needs to institute an orientation program that involves more than a tour of the facility and a primer on keying a sale. It needs to indoctrinate, as soon as an employee is hired, the facility’s principles of customer service and its vision for the future.

• Management needs to establish policies that are customer-friendly and do away with any rigid guidelines.

• Management needs to educate and empower employees to make their facility and culture the best in the area.

• Management needs to institute the “ten foot rule” that all golf staff within ten feet of a customer will look them in the eye, greet them and ask if they need any assistance.



More specific actions:

Establish at the season’s first staff meeting that this season’s primary goal is to be perceived by everyone who plays here as the most customer friendly place to play.

Provide every player a 4x6 preprinted index card that thanks them for spending the day and asks for feedback on their experience.

Have weekly staff meetings and ask at each what was the most customer friendly thing that happened since last week’s meeting.

Set bi-annual evaluations with each staff member to discuss their contribution to the culture.

Make the “ten foot rule” second nature by mentioning it often. It is a practice now employed by almost every industry.

Challenge all employees on a regular basis to submit ideas for service efforts successfully employed elsewhere and not necessarily by other golf facilities.



This is the first chapter of “
The Winning Golf Culture which has been well received by all who have purchased it and made required staff reading at many facilities. The rest of the table of contents is as follows:

Table of Contents


The Culture


The Leader

The WOW Factor

The Intimacy Factor

Salesmanship is Service
a. Pre-servicing
b. Shop Salesmanship
c. Follow Up

Hire to the Culture

The Result

Blog Entries
a. Pump up the staff for the new season
b. Gentlemen’s (and Ladies’) Night
c. The Nordstrom Touch
d. Phil Owenby on “Cutting Edge Service”


Monday, July 18, 2016

Right to the Bottom Line



The electronic payments industry has continued to grow and evolve with new technologies, but the risks have grown substantially too. This is an important part of green grass retail which rarely is discussed. Although new technologies enable business owners to accept electronic payments in new ways to grow their revenue, the requirements of businesses to protect card data and the risks of fraud, breaches and chargebacks have grown even more. As the payment processing marketplace has become more risky, it’s also become more competitive. Profits have eroded from traditional pricing methods causing a proliferation of “unbundling” of discount rates, new fees to be introduced and new pricing methods. Unfortunately these market changes have increased the potential for merchants to have poor experiences with providers due to information being explained poorly or not at all.

Technology continues to drive growth in non‐cash payment acceptance and helps create new opportunities for merchants to grow sales, revenue and enhance their customers shopping experience. One current trend we’re seeing is the increase in mobile processing using smart phones and tablets. The cost is often significantly lower to start up when compared to older technology using wireless POS terminals. This is largely due to merchants often already having smart phones or tablets, which eliminates the up-front equipment and recurring monthly service costs of wireless coverage. Today, it’s more important than ever for business owners to select the right business partner to provide their payment processing needs. The “right” partner should really act like a “true” partner, to not only identify opportunities to leverage today, but also prepare merchants for the future. It's unfortunate many merchants focus on their “rate”, only to find later they’re paying more on other billing items that offset the savings they were expecting. As a result, too many merchants have processors impose questionable billing and contract terms, don’t help merchants leverage technology to grow revenue and aren’t guiding merchants along the turbulent path of securing card and business data. 


Greg Lecker at Sawgrass Country Club and myself had an opportunity to meet with Scott Knabusch who is a managing partner of Merchant Pro Express and discuss this aspect of the business. This entry is an effort to transcribe the essence of what was a rather long but fascinating conversation.


Scott, I hear a lot about risks from accepting credit cards and have seen multiple breaches in the news. But isn’t security better today than in the past and wouldn’t fraudsters target big companies versus the regular “mom and pops”?

In short, yes, security is better today than in the past, but technology has also helped fraudsters develop new tools to commit fraud and hack into systems to steal credit card data and cardholder identities. Protecting cardholder data is now a responsibility shared by all three players, credit card processors, merchants and cardholders. The days of merchants relying entirely on the credit card processor to provide security alone are long gone. Remember, if fraud or worse, a data breach occurs, the reputational damage alone could put a merchant out of business before even factoring in any financial impact from fines and penalties. So let’s look at the three players responsible for protecting data and what each can do. First, most have already heard about “chip cards.” The chip embedded in the card creates a unique code for each transaction using an algorithm which protects the cardholder at time of purchase. Essentially the only way a fraudster could commit fraud with a chip card is to steal the actual card. In comparison, the information stored in the magnetic strip can be loaded on a blank card and used to commit fraud. In Europe and Canada, EMV chip cards use “chip and pin”, a 4 digit pin number much like a pin for debit transactions. However, the U.S. standard is “chip and signature” currently with pin likely to come as an enhancement in the future. As of October 1st, 2015, the card brand associations (Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express) regulations shift the liability on fraudulent transactions from the bank that issued the card to the merchant.

So now merchants carry the risk and financial liability of potential losses if they aren’t processing using chip reading equipment or POS software. This is not a required regulation, but a shift in liability and only applies to card present transactions today. So merchants can still swipe the traditional magnetic strip. They just take on the added risk of losses should they have any transactions determined to be fraud and they didn’t process via a chip. Two additional security solutions that the industry is slowly adopting include tokenization and point‐to‐point encryption. Tokenization protects data at rest, such as while stored in a payment software application and point‐to‐point encryption secures data in motion, such as during transaction processing. Arguably the most important point is to think of these three security measures like a bridge and you need all three security measures for the most secure and stable bridge. Without anyone of them, the bridge becomes unstable and is not secure. The ideal payment partners in your market will provide education on security as it relates to your specific business, what you’re already doing well and where you have potential risks. The role of the payment partner is to identify opportunities to improve securing card data, discuss the cost implications with the merchant and help guide the merchant to make the best decision for their business.


When I ask multiple business owners how they select their payment provider and keep their costs down, many cringe suggesting it’s all too complicated and confusing. Why do you think that is and how can merchants select better partners and understand how to minimize their costs?

Craig, unfortunately many merchants have had poor experiences and it’s typically caused from the same few repetitive issues. For example, some providers have very confusing agreements and billing, while even those that don’t, they may have a sales representative that isn’t trained well or is intentionally avoiding sensitive questions for fear of losing a potential sale. The first suggestion would be to select a partner with a sales rep who is industry certified to hold the highest standards of education and integrity. This certification is called, CPP or “certified payments provider”, and is much like other industry’s that require passing a test to help certify a degree of integrity and credibility.

One common risk to avoid is the long contracts sometimes required. They can be for terms as long as 3 or 5 years and include expensive termination fees, worse yet are the fancy formulas called “liquidated damages” resulting in thousands of dollars when cancelling with those providers. Use common sense, if everything is disclosed openly and discussed freely, then you’re probably working with an honest and educated sales rep. However, if terms are hidden on the back side of agreements in fine print or not disclosed at all, then you need to avoid these providers and sales reps. Unfortunately, some merchants get fooled by sales reps who only show savings from part of the billing, but don’t show other costs that may be higher than the merchants current provider and result in less savings than promised or none. One way to prevent this is to request “interchange and assessment pass through cost” with a small, but fixed mark‐up. The mark‐up is called out, clear and the rest should be cost. You also want to specifically ask that no “surcharges” of any kind are included in your pricing. It’s not uncommon to have these fees included that are pure profit to the processor, but communicated to the merchant as if they’re “just cost”.

Lastly, many merchants find their monthly billing statement confusing or don’t understand it at all. This is partly due to the significant proliferation of pricing categories, called “interchange”. However, the best industry representatives can educate their merchant rather easily by help identify what costs are within control and which are not. Many merchants remain confused about what they are paying simply because their provider has never offered to review a billing statement with them.


How can merchants today leverage technology to help grow their business and simplify the customer experience?

Technology has been a positive influence on business by offering new solutions to grow sales, lowering costs of older technologies and improving the convenience factor. One great example of this is through mobile processing. Today, most merchants already have a device they can use in a smart phone or tablet or can buy one for hundreds of dollars, not thousands. With a simple wifi signal to connect to, these mobile devices can process payments without all the higher equipment and coverage costs. Today, many golf courses are replacing the costly wireless terminals used on their beverage carts with a mobile device or adding one if they don’t use one currently. Not only does this open the potential for more sales but the cart drivers usually make more in tips on credit card transactions as compared to cash. 


More merchants are beginning to use integrated POS software solutions that tie together multiple applications in one portal or business enterprise solution. The evolution of cloud‐based software applications is driving down the cost, thus many traditional “mom and pop” owners can now leverage these advanced solutions too. This results in simplified solutions for the business, employees and the customer. Growth can come from adding a website to sell products and accept payments from as well. Start these discussions early so you avoid investing in a solution only to find your processor isn’t certified with one or multiple components of your website. A comprehensive reporting tool will help consolidate reporting as needed to manage costs across the entire organization and simply the accounting processes.

What costs or fees are avoidable and how can merchants prevent these from being slipped in on their account without knowing or being misinformed?

Craig, to start merchants should watch for avoidable up-front fees and costs. Avoid paying fees like, application fees, reprograming fees, debit setup fees and other start up related fees. Also, try to purchase any equipment up front if you can spare the capital. Most processors offer a leasing option and some reps push terminal leases hard, because that’s where they earn the highest commissions. However, on average a merchant will pay two or two and a half times the cost of purchasing when comparing to the total lease program costs. Purchasing up front will cost significantly less, again, if you can afford to invest the capital at start up. As a good follow up, merchants should read the messages or notes header on their monthly billing statements for any account updates or pricing changes. It’s also good practice to frequently review the “fees” section of their statement. This section is often where existing fees are increased or new fees are introduced when other unrelated costs go up.

What do you typically say to a prospective new partner who explains that they are using the bank down the street and doesn’t want to confront the bank with losing this piece of the business because of the relationship?

In short, banks no longer process credit card payments in-house, they sub contract this service out to the direct processors. Banks specialize in banking, but are by no means electronic payment experts.



This is obviously an important part of all retail which like everything else has become much more specialized and while abused by some, others like Scott Knabusch, Michael Kintz and Merchant Pro Express have found a niche the old fashioned way with expertise, integrity and exceptional service. Some of the things that stick with me as a merchant are the savings go right to the bottom line; you now have a consultant looking at helping you increase revenue, decrease costs as well as having the vision to secure the future; as opposed to the banks that most golf facilities are using who are just middle men transferring data. My experience is that Scott's proposals based on his study of last months processing statement typically can save somewhere between 12 and 30%. The customer service group have over 30 years experience and actually answer the phone. There are occasions where it looks to good to be true - but is. Anyone interested in learning more about the things that Merchant Pro Express can do for their facility can call or email me or contact:

Michael Kintz
Merchant Pro Express
Partner

O: 678-825-8721
C: 678-896-1849
F: 866-243-5241
MPX: 516-531-2345 (client support)



















Saturday, June 11, 2016

Open to Buy


There is a misconception that seems to be running rampant in the golf industry that a ‘push-button’ open-to-buy plan is the be-all, end-all to insuring success at Pro Shop retail. While it would be nice if this were true it simply is not. Before buying the software or placing your financial future in the numbers this type of reporting provides, let’s tear the concept down a bit attempting to understand both its limitations and plusses.


Saratoga National GC


THE OPEN TO BUY FORMULA:

Planned sales + Planned Markdowns + Planned End of Month Inventory – Planned Beginning of Month Inventory = Open to Buy at Retail

Prudent inventory control is obviously critical to ensuring that there is adequate stock on hand to produce the amount of sales that hopefully can be generated. The above formula can be used as a guideline as to how to replenish that number of units and/or dollars but does not pretend to establish what those levels should be.

Being over-inventoried in total units or dollars or owning the wrong type of inventory will determine markdowns and limit cash flow but is only realized by comparing it to what is healthy and then buying or not according to the formula, or more to the point common sense.


 Being under bought will create missed sales opportunities but can only be properly avoided if the Planned part of the above formula is based on solid principles and an analysis and understanding of the shop’s sale history, space and fixturing.

My point is that most shops would certainly be better run using an OTB formula and plan as a guideline as to the coming month’s inventory needs but only once the proper Opening Inventory Level (OIL) is determined, realized and adjusted according to peaks and valleys during the course of the season. The magic push-button formula is the simplest of math that is probably best calculated by hand and then adjusted according to tournament schedules, special orders, off-price opportunities, fast-selling items, mark up variations and count-and-fill categories. Also most pro shops think through they’re buying as a seasonal activity based on number of turns as opposed to a monthly decision based on what usually manifests itself as partial needs.


Another concept that is tossed around in the industry but rarely understood and properly utilized is that of count-and-fill. The phrase immediately brings to mind the maintenance of the proverbial solid shirt program but redefining and instituting its new meaning across all pertinent categories can lower inventories and insure against loss of sales more effectively than open-to-buy reports.

There are many important categories where par levels can be set conservatively and count and filled often so as to reduce needless inventory but have full size runs of adequate selection when needed. Gloves, balls, shoes, socks, peds, rainwear, basic shorts and of course solid shirts are just a few of these categories with solid shirts worthy of an updated look.

A typical solid shirt program five years ago was three shelves in a wall unit with 8-9 skus or colors of a Fairway and Greene lisle or perhaps a Polo pique folded in stacks of six shirts each with one medium, two large, two x-large and one xx-large. The par level included back up if the business demanded. Par levels are best determined using the two-week rule. Keep on hand all sizes per sku in the number of pieces per size that may be sold in a two week period. Most shirt companies that have sold you on the idea of using their in-stock capabilities will fill in between 7-10 working days, which makes two weeks worth of inventory a good working plan. Someone of course needs to take ownership of the program, understand its significance and call the partner vendor with a fill-in once a week.

Five years later a few things have changed. Solid shirts are still of major importance and now include performance or polyester shirts as a category which are best displayed hung on a four way or perhaps shoulder-out by color on a bar in a wall. There are also actually fewer vendors willing to make the financial commitment to in-stock inventories of basic product.


Mendham Golf and Tennis Club


Many facilities are using the solid shirt category as the key ingredient in an effort to build their own brand with private labeling and add significant margin to these sales. Full-Turn has developed an in-stock program of mercerized Supima cotton that includes basic feed stripes as well as solid shirts and has done away with any complicated rules about fill-ins. You can call in whatever you need, have it embroidered and shipped ASAP and be proud that your highest margin shirt in the shop is not being offered down the street since it is your label and it is made of the finest cotton on the planet.

Selling a rain-suit and immediately calling in an order for its replacement should be SOP. I go to clubs that own size-runs of 6 to 8 different gloves. I’ve never heard an argument for more than two that made any sense to me. Owning 40 pair of shorts at the end of June but being out of 36 and 38 is the same as being out of business – the open-to-buy report however may not provide for this fill-in.

Count-and-fill categories properly merchandised and maintaining all other areas of the shop as they need to be re-merchandised and reloaded is a function of open-to-buy that is not explained by the formula or its reports. All aspects of retail are relative to the shop, its space and personnel but I would not invest in OTB software unless my shop was grossing at least 1.5 million/year. I would however make every effort to understand the concept as the valuable guideline and tool that it is.

The principals involved in determining the Opening Inventory Level (OIL) mentioned above and the importance of creating par levels for the proper categories of goods so as to establish the correct planned inventories are developed in the “Merchandise Buy plan Guide”. The importance of basing these planned numbers on the principle of space and an understanding of a healthy turn is the reason I wrote this guide.