Thursday, July 9, 2009

A Day at Caves Valley

For more than 15 years, Fairway & Greene has produced the best cotton shirt in the golf business. Measured in terms of quality, sell through and perennial awards and accolades from the likes of the Association of Golf Merchandisers (AGM) and PGA Magazine, the company has firmly established itself as the industry leader. Since its inception in 1995, the company has remained dedicated to a focused green grass distribution policy, and today sells in excess of 3,500 golf shops in the United States, with another 500 outside of the country.

I recently had the privilege of joining Fairway & Greene President, Todd Martin, for a day of golf at Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings Mills, Maryland, where Todd has been a member since 2000. One of the finest golf clubs in the country, it was indeed a very special afternoon of golf and camaraderie.

Todd and I had plenty of opportunity to discuss a wide range of topics about the company and the golf industry in general. On top of his duties for Fairway & Greene, Todd is also responsible for Zero Restriction Outerwear, both under the umbrella of parent company, Summit Golf Brands which also owns EP Pro. With three leading brands in their respective segments, Summit Golf Brands is indeed a soft goods powerhouse in the industry.

Todd is very articulate, with a quick wit and fantastic sense of humor – traits well honed after spending three years on Capitol Hill after graduating from college as a high-dollar fundraiser for Republican Senate Candidates. Even though we’re on opposite sides of the political spectrum, we both share a common passion for the golf business and the continued growth and success of the game.

Todd, we certainly want to talk about product and the future plans for the company, but listening to you share the history of Fairway & Greene has been a delight for me that not everyone in the industry has had the opportunity to hear.

The company was founded in 1994 with a unique focus on product quality and service excellence. At a time when virtually every manufacturer was driving their product and business decisions on the basis of cost and margin, we didn’t cut corners in any facet of the business. We made exceptional product, and backed it up with a sales team, embroidery, distribution and customer service the likes of which the industry had not seen. Hammering home the green grass exclusivity and support for the PGA Club Professional were big factors as well. Thanks to our efforts, we were able to earn a base of high profile loyal customers early on, and that has snowballed into arguably the most envied account base in golf today. Product has always been king here.

You are now responsible for sales of Zero Restriction. Tell us where that is headed and what one can expect going forward with not only the product but the service and fulfillment.

Like our other two brands, Zero Restriction has been the leading brand in performance outerwear for over a decade now. With so many fabric innovations and product feature patents, the brand is well respected across the industry, and further validated through the Professional Tours and international competitions. We have an outstanding new design team in place that has some brought some fresh looks and new products to the company, many inspired and drawn from extreme sports, but interpreted for golf. There has also been a rebirth of the brand with new corporate logos and imagery. From the flagship Gore-Tex waterproof suits, to Lightweight Windshirts, to our new Hybrid Wool TecKnits, the brand has experienced a rebirth that will ensure its leadership for many years to come.

It would be hard to improve on the ‘benchmark’ you have set, but what does Fairway & Greene have coming that is new and wonderful?

For Spring 2010, we have reduced our SKU count by almost 35% over Fall 2009. With all of the pressures affecting the economy and the golf industry specifically, it’s truly a return to fundamentals with an even greater focus on flexibility, partnership and service to our customers. At-once business has very quickly supplanted the traditional prebook mentality. We continue to have the largest and most comprehensive In Stock program in the better goods area, and we will be expanding out F&G Tech shirt program for Spring 2010. We have always focused on quality, classic styling. You won’t find us trying to launch or chase anything faddish. We’ll leave the UV/Mosquito/Vitamin/Bamboo sales pitches to others. Trends come and go, but classic traditional items always endure.

The industry as we have been discussing is suffering and I have quoted you in a previous entry as describing the current state of business as ‘Darwinian’. At the shop level I have been preaching promotion, service, salesmanship, enhanced presentation, etc. as all need to be pushed to new levels in order to inspire the consumer. At the vendor level what should the sermon be and what can the leader in the industry do to help inspire golf retail in these trying times?

When the industry was flush, marginal companies and clubs could fake it with relative ease. Now that the bottom has fallen out, everyone is exposed and is being judged on the true merits of their product, their service and their sales team. I would say our 15 years on the scene is now one of our greatest strengths. In an industry that is incredibly fickle and likes to delist brands with longevity, customers right now will only trust their precious OTB dollars with brands they know will be here 6 months from now, and will partner with them through the difficult times. This is a business for the long haul, and just like those that flipped houses with horrific results, brands and clubs that tried to come in and make a quick score are finding out just how difficult and expensive the golf business is.

Fairway & Greene, Zero Restriction and Todd especially have been incredible partners to me over the years, understanding that the business is one of outstanding service and unique, club specific needs. About five years ago over dinner Todd asked me what he could do to help my retail consulting clients. Unlike some others who have asked that and not remembered my answer past dessert; Todd has complied professionally with my reasonable request every season since.

No matter the request, the result is always special. I invited Todd to a staff dinner at Kinloch Golf Club in Richmond a few years ago, only to find out that he is an incredibly inspiring speaker who obviously has an entrenched knowledge of the golf business and golf apparel, but also can effectively talk about most anything related to the business. If you have an opportunity to make similar use of his talents, take full advantage, you won’t be disappointed.

Since putting the blog together in December of 2008 I have had a number of requests to offer a guide to the methodology I use to create buy-plans for my clients. I have written an E-Book providing, step-by-step, the thought process to formulate a buying strategy which will make your shop well merchandised but not over-inventoried. It will be available on the blog on or around the 20th of July at a reasonable price. Most shops will be preparing to pre-book Spring goods in August so I believe the guide will be timely.