Sunday, June 14, 2015

Imperial Powered by Coolcore

I recently spent time in Bourbon, Missouri with the management team at Imperial Headwear. I was invited by David Shaffer who is the Director of Marketing to tour their facilities and discuss their move from Denver to Missouri. After the purchase in October of 2012 by Paramount Apparel International the subsequent conversion of internal systems, etc. culminated with this move, and like all such moves, requires patience and dedicated expertise to accomplish. The team at Imperial were rightfully proud as they explained to me that “not only is the transition complete but we are better poised now than we have ever been to service the golf market.”

The other partnership that we were getting together to discuss was described to me by Mike Wrightson (General Manager of Imperial Headwear) as “a game changer in golf headwear” is the proprietary relationship with CoolcoreÒ to launch a line of caps that can lower surface temperatures up to 30% without chemicals.

I was impressed with the tour, the team, the partnerships and the potential of a “game changer” and so I am excited to have an opportunity to publish some of that conversation.

David, Mike – sitting in this showroom, having toured the facility and heard the details of the transition and the breadth of the Paramount umbrella is frankly a lot to take in. Go over the more important points of what this new latitude means to Imperial’s green-grass distribution.

Mike –Imperial is now owned and operated by a very healthy corporation.  Imperial’s customers can really benefit from the capabilities of this larger parent company.  Inventory levels are great, production has industry-leading turnaround times, and returns are at record lows.  Our customers are just now starting to see the muscle behind the new Imperial.

It seems that as big and difficult a move and transition as this was that Imperial has not lost its market share with high-end golf shops.

David – I like to say the higher a golf course is ranked the more likely they are to do business with Imperial.  Imperial is THE classic golf brand; we turn 100-years old next year.  Of course there was some attrition during the transition – that was to be expected – but a lot of those customers have started coming back to Imperial.

Coolcore as a “game-changer” is a strong declaration and yet after seeing the fabrication and the demonstration and video I’m inclined to agree with you.

David – Wicking has been the performance story for a long time now in golf apparel. Cooling is the next generation of performance fabrics though, and Coolcore is the best cooling technology out there right now. Coolcore fabrics test so well against other fabrics claiming to do similar things.  And to perform that well without the use of chemicals is amazing -- it’s all in the fiber construction.

Mike – It’s an exciting time for our Company.  There aren’t too many technological breakthroughs in headwear, but this is one of them.  I’m thrilled to be the first company offering this cooling technology to golf customers.

Mike, you mentioned that the fabrication alone won’t make the new line launch a success. You will need a handsome hat design with shelf appeal and perhaps some “outside the box” merchandising ideas in order to create the sell through you feel the product deserves.

Mike – Yes, when we first evaluated the opportunity to develop a line of cooling headwear we decided to design great looking headwear with comfortable technical fabrics.  Otherwise nobody would care about its function.  So we set out to make better performance hats with superior technology.

David, assuming this cool-down benefit takes the headwear category out of the commodity mode and makes it much more brand driven- what are the marketing plans to drive this home?

David – From a marketing point of view this is also a game changer.  We think our cooling hats will have strong consumer appeal.  In addition to designing some great styles with Coolcore fabrication, we’ve set premium price points and increased advertising as well as PR efforts to help drive consumer awareness.

When we put this Coolcore conversation on the blog I’m going to want to put up the video that explains the fabrication. Is there anything else that either of you would like to add to for the reader’s benefit?

David – Coolcore technology is activated by moisture.  So when your body sweats or you dip the hat in water, it triggers the cooling effect through evaporation.  Which is great because the cap only works when you’re hot or want to cool down.  Otherwise it’s just a great hat!

David, Mike – I want to thank you for your time and effort telling this story to the blog's readership and for having me out to Missouri.

Thank you, Craig!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Green Grass E-Commerce

A note from Craig Kirchner:  Vanguard Pro Shop, a team headed up by the principals behind PGA Magazine and Bandon Dunes Resort launched in 2014 an e-commerce solution for private clubs and upscale golf resorts.   More than 50 leading clubs and resorts and more than 30 leading vendors have already committed to move forward on this effort.  Many of these resort and private club solutions are already producing impressive early results. I am part of the Vanguard team and proud to be involved with a solution and platform that I feel is such an important part of the future of our industry.  This article describes why we are passionate about what we have learned to date and what the future might hold.

Derek Thompson the senior editor at The Atlantic wrote an article titled "Death of the Salesman" discussing the decline of big box retail and department stores such as Sears and JCPenney as well as the decline in the retail job market in general. The article byline is "More Americans work in retail sales than in any other occupation, but these jobs are threatened by technology." He makes the point that - "Twenty years ago the shoppers went to the stores. Today the stores go to the shopper. Increasingly there seem to be two kind of stores - those in a race to the price bottom and those closely guarding the patina of a shopping experience."

The article only alludes to Arthur Miller's award winning play by its use of title. It never mentions Willy Loman and the death of the American Dream as seen through Willy's dysfunctional existence. It does however leave us with this thought "Cheap prices and cheap workers - that is our vicious cycle and the ultimate American shopping bargain. We are getting exactly what we pay for."

Golf shop retail is typically the first and last chapter of an amazing experience - a round of golf. As such we are already "those guarding the patina of an experience." While many of the brick and mortar stores discount their way into oblivion there is obviously an opportunity to vanguard a new shopping environment playing on the strength of the relationship to the game as well as the club or facility while incorporating technology into the equation as an extension of the shop and its image. We speak often in this space about upgrading retail salesmanship through training and enhancing the ambiance of the experience with smart buying and smarter merchandising. The time has come to extend the shopping experience beyond the walls of the shop and endear members/regulars to shop a myriad of goods that are not typically available. The only way to provide this opportunity to your customers is to customize e-commerce to your facility.

At this moment, 98% of green grass retail is brick and mortar and is being cannibalized to some extent by e-commerce. This is a general statement and certainly isn’t true of all categories of goods or all shops, but is by definition true of the industry as a whole. What is more significant to me than the lost revenue represented by this is the loss of interest on the part of the consumer. I’m not talking about the consumer who is giving up on their favorite stores and enjoyable shopping experiences with retail staff that have become respected friends. I’m talking about consumers who are becoming used to being able to support these same stores from their laptop at home or computer at the office or from their phone for that matter. I’m talking about consumers who are also interested in more selection of brands, sizes, and product categories than would normally be carried in the shop. This is more the mind-set of today’s consumer and certainly the member at high-end clubs. The industry needs to realize that encroachment is coming at it from every quarter on the internet and provide the customer the avenue to frequent what has become one of their preferred modes of shopping.

The shop at a progressive facility should be looking to take advantage of the opportunity that e-commerce provides by giving their customer the following on-line service to utilize:

1.      Any e-commerce solution must be able to take advantage of the affinity that the members of the club already have for their club, for their PGA Professional, for their favorite buyer and for their club logo. It has to be a customized shopping experience that reflects an extension of the ambience and quality of the brand and product that has been established by the existing shop.

2.      An expansion of the product and vendor availability, especially to include more ladies and lifestyle goods than most shops are able to provide. This selection changes and updates itself so as to stay interesting but doesn’t need to be owned because of a drop ship partnership per vendor. Women are the shoppers of America, we must make them a bigger part of the golf club shop customer base.

3.      Both logoed an un-logoed options that aren’t available in the shop. This can include color and placement of logo obviously but also the availability of multiple logos including, for example, tournament, historic or member-only logos.

4.      The ability to send gifts drop-shipped to friends and family without calling the shop, using  staff time to hunt down what is needed, possibly special order it into inventory and then ship the order where it needs to go.

5.      A shopping spree as a tournament favor and customized to the tournament or outing budget so as to give the member, guest or corporate player an opportunity to pick their own gift, have it shipped to an address provided and patronize the club.

6.      The access to this service 24/7 – 365 regardless of season or weather.

7.      The site must be easy to use, professional in appearance, secure, and private (for members-only if for private clubs) and it must be able to offer custom pricing options that allow for special Mill River or similar member pricing.

Most internet research on e-commerce will immediately take you to articles that want to match traditional brick and mortar against new up and coming online shopping. I’ve never seen it as a contest or as an either/or, but always as how the aspiring golf shop can incorporate e-commerce as part of its service to its members, guests, resort guests, etc. If you throw out all the antagonist editorials and the accompanying statistics, you are left with an understanding that online shopping is important to people as a convenience, as a mode of shopping that isn’t limited to time of day or “is it snowing?” and that should continue to evolve and grow.

Expand your ladies selection

The ability to provide this enhanced service to members/regulars can only be accomplished with the cooperation of quality vendors who are interested in helping both their green grass partners and prospective green grass partners expand their retail horizons by providing a supplemental and changing product selection that can be customized and drop-shipped. One of the biggest benefits of this type of arrangement for the vendor is the exposure their product gets to the right demographic along with the ability to tell their brand’s story the way they want it told and with the imagery they provide.

Why would any retailer not want to offer more convenient store hours during the holiday shopping experience … but too many golf clubs have relatively little foot traffic at this critical time of year? We simply must deliver better member services or someone else will.  Member and customer convenience and broader selection are only the first two reasons to charge forward and find solutions – there are so many more.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Arrival

The Prairie Club

When someone mentions “exemplary service” as often as I do it is quite common to be quizzed about what specifically that phrase means. Does it mean simply being especially nice to customers? The obvious answer is yes, but exemplary implies pushing the envelope, always looking to make the member/ customer’s experience special in new ways without sacrificing anything that has proved itself well received in the past. Thinking outside the box is an important part of the culture that provides this type of service and should be encouraged as soon as a new staff member is brought on board and reinforced at every staff meeting. You never know where the next great idea will come from.

With this as mantra this posting will discuss a hypothetical staff meeting where this attitude of team thinking is fostered. We will open the theme of the meeting’s discussion with a preface on a particular area of the operation so as to keep everyone’s thought process focused. The introduction by this meeting’s team leader may sound something like this.

“Our customer has pulled his car to the bag drop. An attendant greets those in the car to the facility, assists them with their bags and explains what the next step in the process will be. This constitutes typical service. What can we do to enhance this part of the experience?”

The following ideas surface:

 It would be more personal to (whenever possible) be able to greet this member or customer(s) by name.

At this point all the different tools that could be used to accomplish this are examined.
It is also important upon arrival to differentiate as much as possible between members/regulars and their guests with a particular warm welcome for the guest.
The best chance at creating a new regular and the most prospective new member is a wowed guest.

 It would be great if the greeter could volunteer not just to direct the customer to the next point of call but to accompany them and introduce them to the shop staff.

This is a nice touch and obviously depending on the operation the next stop could be to meet the caddy, the staff member managing the range or the locker room attendant.

 All of what we are discussing would be more seamless if we offered to valet-park the cars.

The attitude is once you are here we will take care of the mundane stuff and you will only have to remember the experience.

 If we start to valet the cars we could offer to wash and detail them while they play.

This is not as difficult as it sounds as it is subbed out to a contractor, takes a corner of the parking lot, is incredibly well received by most and of course has margin built in for the facility. This idea has the facility adding dollars per round before the customer has left the bag drop.

 Shouldn’t we be inquiring as early as possible if there is a particular beverage we can load into the six –pack cooler on the cart, we don’t have anyone play here who isn’t interested in hydrating or dehydrating as it were?

How many times have you waited until the fifth or sixth hole before the beverage cart makes an appearance? Maybe more to the point, once regulars are aware this service exists there will be no reason to bring your own.

 Should we inquire at arrival whether anyone could use balls, gloves, shoes or apparel so as to plant the seed and get them to the appropriate staff member to best help with their need?

Geneva National

Typically the first staff member exposed to the newcomer is a young person who either takes the bag from the trunk or retrieves it from the bag room and their conversation and social skills are often revealing as to the overall service attitude at the facility. While they should not sound scripted or rehearsed, they could be practiced, at the very least these young people should be at this meeting.

 We think of preparation to play as an opportunity to warm up at the range and to have the rules and peculiarities of the course explained; most people seem disinterested and even put off by me reading this recitation at the first tee, particularly if I am the first staff member to introduce myself and strike up a conversation.

This comment made by the Marshall working the first tee is making the point that while this is probably important to pace of play, etc. no one came here today to listen to the rules, they came for camaraderie, golf and a good time.

 We should explain to customers when they arrive what they need to do to depart. Many people get done playing and are confused as to what to do next. We could explain where they drop the carts or how to retrieve their car. It would also be a good time to invite them to spend some time with us at the 19th. 

Another seed planted and you can’t plant too many as it is really about total dollars per round.

 Shouldn’t we be providing a range attendant to help with the procurement of range balls and cleaning clubs. Maybe this is the fellow who can in a very friendly way mention some of the rules?

But this will probably cost more than we can budget - or maybe not with some vision. The point is that there are no bad ideas at this meeting and the young man who brought this up is obviously on board.

 We are already keeping a personalized golf ball inventory in the member’s locker and our locker room attendant is great at keeping up with the cleaning and polishing of shoes. Let’s suggest to the membership that if they purchase what we will call their locker outfit and turn it in with their shoes at the end of the round we will see to it that it is cleaned, pressed and hanging in the locker the next time they come out to play. It may or may not be what they wear their next round but it is there if needed.

I will not take credit for this idea. Gilbert Taylor runs the locker room at Kinloch and one of my favorite stops in my travels is coffee with Gilbert and sharing ideas.

None of the ideas presented at this pretend (Arrival) meeting were earth-shaking but all were thought provoking and would be fruitful at developing the culture that attempts to provide special enough service to be remembered, enjoyed and talked about by the most important part of the equation – the customer. In an effort to set your staff apart from the competition and have members/customers marketing your facility with word of mouth, meetings of this nature are essential. The real key is to develop momentum. Implementing ideas put forward by employees is as important as paying attention to the comments and criticisms of customers.

Spanish Bay