Thursday, June 22, 2017

Out of the Rough - Grow the Game

In the rough: The industry's slim revenue is the result of weakened golf participation.

More than 800 golf courses have closed nationwide in the last decade, as operators grapple with declining interest in the sport and a glut of competition.

Golf facilities provide economic, social, environmental and recreational support to communities - and are both publicly accessible and affordable. The game is innovating in ways we could not foresee, by more effectively managing natural resources, and building programs that are welcoming to juniors, minorities, women and disabled persons.
                    Mike Davis, Executive Director of USGA

The best perceived endeavors are typically the most altruistic. The most important dilemma facing the golf industry is the atrophy of the participation in the game, the clubs that cannot sustain and the condos being built on closed courses. Any effort to remove the elite veneer of the game and hopefully create interest among a larger segment of the population without destroying any of its prodigious equity would have to be considered important.

I have always believed that clubs that reach out to the community as opposed to being determined to “isolate from” could only improve the perception of the club and better the community. Obviously any effort to, or conversation to reach out and make the game more accessible has to start with creating passion among the young and the mothers and wives of the hardcore millions. The PGA, LPGA, USGA and First Tee all have admirable programs to push this endeavor. All clubs have junior programs that are well run and inspiring. Perhaps a charismatic “play it forward” technique could be easy and effective if embraced by the approximately 15,500 courses owners and operators and the 25 million plus avid golfers dedicated to improving the state of the industry.

As Golf Digest points out in "Is this golf's $35 billion opportunity?"

Conversations about growing the game are more common in golf circles than ever. As newly elected PGA of America president Paul levy put it recently, golf's ruling bodies have never been more unified around a single cause. To perpetuate this discussion, a study reported by the Irish Golf Desk this week raises interesting questions about how increasing female participation in golf could potentially energize the game. The report , titled "The Global Economic Value of Increased Female participation in Golf" and commissioned by Syngenta, a Swiss biotechnology company that deals primarily in agriculture business, concludes golf's global economy could be boosted by $35 billion if it converted more interested women into the game. So that further punctuates how vital it could be to bring the game to more interested women in the years. The next step, of course, is developing new ideas to energize growth amongst women. Executives in golf will welcome your ideas.

                                                           Golf Digest

I have known Kelsey MacLean since shortly after she identified a niche in golf retail for infants and kids apparel that is quality fabrication and can be customized. She is not a player but realizes the cultural as well as the business importance of the game. This is how The Huffington Post describes Kelsey and Fore Kids Golf:

Kelsey is an outspoken advocate for the importance of growing the game of golf from birth. he is a lifestyle expert and is eager to show everyone that the stuffy old world of country clubs and resorts is finally giving way to an exciting new lifestyle for the modern woman and family.

Her clothing line has earned Preferred Vendor status for The Ritz-Carlton Hotels, is an Official Licensee of the Tournament Players Club (TPC) Network and has been featured in such media as Vogue Magazine. People Style Watch, The Huffington Post, etc.

Kelsey's idea - to film on location at golf facilities looking to reach out to their communities and ultimately show that golf clubs, country clubs and resorts are a one stop shop for everyone in the family and is multi-generational has created a great deal of traction with everyone who has seen it.

When Kelsey sent me this video the idea immediately went to how do you market this as a "play it forward" piece that clubs could send to members, play in the shops and incorporate into membership efforts. The idea would be to feature clubs, resorts, sponsor vendors and interviews with leaders in the industry in similar videos that explore all the important social and cultural aspects of a life that includes golf. Here is the video:

It is obviously important to inspire avid golfers to become ambassadors. 
Reaching out to the non players ande converting them to the game as well as having golf facilities become more involved in their communities takes special tools that can create a social, ground-swell, viral, cultural impact. The plan with videos like the one Kelsey has done a great job putting together can quickly create traction and change the industry if embraced and "played forward". Everyone reading this should send it to their email list, golf pro, club members, anyone interested in the game with an "ask' that their readers do the same, not to promote Fieldstone GC, but to see if  a GrowGolf.Com project based on focused videos that could be disseminated through the industry and all the people it touches could attract advocates, promoters and sponsors.

  • If you are a golf vendor and want to get the message out as to how you are helping grow the game. 
  • If you own a facility and would like a video to send to your members, prospective members or customer base. 
  • If you are involved with an organization that is involved with game and realizes the importance of that participation's (cultural and marketing) perception and impact we are asking that you call us and let's discuss some ideas.
Both Kelsey and I can be reached at 484-732-8824 and 443-309-3005 respectively and look forward to hearing from you.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Develop True Customer Loyalty - 4 - First Impressions

This series, "Develop True Customer Loyalty" is ideally about the customer telling your story and in so doing sell your brand. Short of that, the topics Language, Empathy and Anticipation are refinements of a customer-centric business plan that makes the customer want to come back, to keep doing any golf related business with us, be it playing next weekend or buying new shoes. Any marketing of this type of mission statement starts with or implies "First Impressions".

Everything written about first impressions in regards to customer service starts by quoting the cliche "You never have a second chance to make a first impression."  A trip to any facility has numerous first impressions and they all set the stage for the interactions which will determine various categorical perceptions. The rest of the story is last impressions, the cliche here is they last. The golf experience should be discussed in terms of first impressions, interactions during the visit and lasting impressions. At staff meetings, for example, it is much easier to focus if you break down a phrase like golf experience into components. "Anticipate", "Empathy" and "Language" are the subjects of preceding entries in this series which refine the middle ground between these first and last impressions discussed here..

Magnolia Lane - Augusta National

A day of golf involves many first impressions. The drive into the facility can be diverse as the splendor of Magnolia Lane to the remote feel that comes with the turn into Sand Hills.

Sand Hills

There is the first encounter with the staff whether it be at a bag drop or entering the shop with the feel of the shop being as important a first impression as is the condition of the first tee, first green, etc. All of these, depending on the facility, provide opportunities to impress, some more controllable than others. The bag drop at public facilities can be make or break, the wow factor of walking into a well merchandised retail space speaks volumes and obviously the condition of the course are all areas affected by the leaderships and their decisions.

At the bag drop, a welcome, a smile, the appropriate attitude and questions about tee time, etc. that facilitate the task at hand are all that are needed. The effective leaders I've worked with know their tee sheets and make a point of being part of the welcoming hand-shake and greeting particularly when the guest has some notoriety, perhaps is very important to a member or perhaps could be a prospective member at some point.

Greeting anyone who enters your retail space is Retail 101. Whether one is on the phone, helping another customer or doing paper, a smile and acknowledgement that you will be right with them are important. It doesn't seem that a shop properly staffed would have the same member of the team involved with greeting new customers and answering the phone, but obviously this happens.

The merchandising effort in the shop can range from truly distinguished to mediocre. This is a very manageable aspect of creating an unforgettable image that doesn't take much effort or cost much but does involve some expertise. If no one on your staff has any exceptional merchandising vision, the soft money you spend to bring in that help will more than likely off-set itself.

Kevin Stirtz, author of "More Loyal Customers" has many memorable quotes, but two are particularly appropriate here as are his take on the seven seconds that are the first impression: 

"Providing great customer service is the most natural activity in the world. It's fun to help others because it feels good."

"When the customer is satisfied and everyone is happy, the job is not finished. Give them a reason to come back."

"A new customer will develop an impression about your employee (and your business) in their first seven seconds with your staff. In that slice of time, they will judge your employee in eleven different ways all of which affect how likely they will be to do business with you. The eleven ways we are judged are :
  • Cleanliness
  • Knowledge
  • Professionalism
  • Friendliness
  • Helpfulness
  • Courtesy
  • Credibility
  • Confidence
  • Attractiveness
  • Responsiveness
  • Understanding

The outcome of these judgments is important. Our customers will roll these judgments into one opinion of our business which will determine how likely they are to become a new or repeat customer."

The end of a four hour round of golf produces last impression opportunities with shop staff, outside staff and in some cases the bartender at the 19th or the fellow running the locker
room. The "Philadelphia Story" which is part of the previous entry about "Anticipation" is a good read at this point.

We all have stories about bartenders that remember your drink of choice and more infrequently there are locker room attendants that offer to take your outfit to the dry cleaners and hang it back in your locker. These are the stories that need to be part of the culture at your facility's staff meetings. It should also be planned that there is always someone strategically placed to bid the fond farewell, unscripted, and with a true feeling of appreciation.The lasting impression needs to have the customer thinking: "I'm glad I'm a member"; "I should be a member" or at the very least "I want to play here again."

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Develop True Customer Loyalty - 3 - Anticipation

In an effort to bring up to date "The Winning Golf Culture" focusing on the customer retention and word of mouth advertising that come from customer loyalty this series of entries has looked at the "Language" of your brand and the "Empathy" of your staff. This entry will discuss "Anticipating" customers' needs.

Kinloch Golf Club

 When speaking to groups about customer centrics and in particular the "Wow Factor" of anticipating needs I usually tell what I like to call the "Philadelphia Story".

I was in the Philadelphia airport recently and I was wearing a belt with a repeating Kinloch Golf Club logo. A man I had never seen before approached me, half-gestured at the belt and asked me if I was a member. I had to reacquaint myself a bit with my outfit and replied that I was not but had the pleasure of working with the staff particularly in regards to the shop. The fellow introduced himself and began his “Then you will appreciate what I am about to tell you” story.

"I was in Richmond recently on business I played there with a member and can’t wait to go back."

"It’s a great course isn’t it", I said.

"Yes, it is – but the whole experience was incredible. I drove to the course and when we first went in the shop the head pro introduced himself, shook our hands and asked me if I wanted my car detailed while we played. The staff at the front door had already valeted the car and had the keys, all I had to do was say yes and I did. When we finished for the day my car was waiting at the front door, bags loaded, staff thanking us for being there. It was a hot July day and two things that struck me when we got in the car was that the car hadn’t been this clean since I bought it and there were cold bottles of water in the console with a ‘Thank you for spending your day with us’ note. I drove the car about 50 feet in the driveway, re-parked and went into to the Pro Shop to thank someone for the thoughtfulness. I ended up buying $500 worth of shirts and shorts and the friends that I had played with did the same. The shop was great also by the way."

Anticipating that cold water driving off -campus in the July Virginia heat would be well received seems almost goes without saying, but a man I had never seen before could not wait to tell me about it in the Philadelphia airport. Think about how many times he's told that story to people he does know or whenever the subject of service comes up.

The Ritz-Carlton, Half Moon Bay

The Ritz-Carlton trains their staffs that the three basic steps to keep in mind as necessary to earning a guest's loyalty are:

  • A warm and sincere greeting
  • Anticipate each guest's needs
  • Provide a fond farewell
Carmine Gallo (a communications expert) in an article in Forbes discussing this issue talks glowingly about the Grand Del Mar in San Diego:

It sits on a beautiful property in the hills, but there are plenty of gorgeous locations in San Diego. It's the "attentive" service that Trip Advisor featured in it's review and has earned my loyalty. But exactly what does the staff do that sets them apart and, more important, what can all businesses learn from their customer service techniques? The Grand Del Mar's customer service secret became very clear to me on this recent visit - the staff finds small ways to unexpectedly delight their customers and they do so by anticipating unexpressed wishes. Here is one of the many examples I noted:

My daughters discovered a small sand area near the pool. Within seconds - not minutes - a staff member casually walked by and, without saying a word, dropped off sand toys for the kids. The kids looked up and there they were , seemingly out of nowhere.

Gran Del Mar

I was recently on a Southwest Airlines flight and needed to take some medication. I took the pills out of my blazer pocket and by the time i had tapped the dose I needed in my hand the flight attendant who had apparently seen me holding the prescription bottle was standing next to me with a cup of water.

The serviced customer who has not requested service will be a loyal patron.
The advice seems to break down very empathetically:

  • Observe
  • Plan around trends and patterns 
  • Inject yourself between the customer and a problem before it develops
  • Provide resources
  • Think like a customer
  • When possible, know your customer - a built-in golf retail advantage
Bandon Dunes

Listening and interacting are important customer service skills and often provide above average service. The savvy among us like those mentioned above know something most others don't necessarily consider and that is that what customers/members don't say is often more important than what they do say  and provide the most meaningful opportunities to earn their loyalty, provide them with wow ammunition and ultimately retain them and their golfing friends