Monday, November 29, 2010

The Extra Mile - The Follow-up

A merchant who approaches business with the idea of serving the public
well has nothing to fear from the competition.

- James Cash Penney

This will be the last of the Extra Mile series but perhaps the most compelling. "Follow-Up" is perhaps my favorite service topic and probably the easiest to institute.
Once you have bought into pre-service, post-service becomes an automatic. The phone and email skills are the same. The industry wide problem is many facilities do neither. However, if you are reading this and realize that every day is an opportunity to enhance the experience your facility provides, you will find it easy to compete and your customer will tell the story for you.

Near the end of last October, I received a phone call from the General Manager at Martin Honda Dealership in Newark, Delaware which is where I purchased my last car. It is, by the way, a very busy dealership with an incredible service department. Here was the message.

“Mr. Kirchner, this is Ron Applegate from Martin Honda. I’m calling to ask you to do me a favor.”

“Sure Ron, what can I do for you?”

“Please tell your wife that everyone here at Martin wishes her a happy birthday and thanks to both of you for your business. I notice you are on our maintenance schedule and I want to make sure you happy with our service department.”

“Yes, they are great in fact.”

“Thanks again and anytime you need anything or just want to talk about cars call me – my personal number is 555-5555 and I’d love to hear from you. Thanks again.”

I hung up the phone thinking three things:

1. Why would I ever want to buy a car anywhere else?
2. Do the shops I work with make this type of call?
3. I’d better get my wife something for her birthday.

At a golf shop consider the following two scenarios.

1. A club member at an east-coast high-end club has a guest in from Chicago. He buys a Peter Millar shirt in the shop. The assistant at the counter introduces himself as Jeff, thanks him and asks him for a business card. A week later the young man sends our Chicagoan an email.

“We hoped you enjoyed your day with us last week and are happy with the Peter Millar shirt you purchased. If I can ever do anything for you including gift wrap and ship some similar logoed shirts to your friends please let me know. My number here at the shop is 555-5555.
All the best,
from high-end club.”

Mr. Chicago immediately forwards the email to the member who invited him to the club with a note praising Jeff, “The golf staff at your club is the best in the country, no question.” He then tells the story every time the subject of service at golf clubs comes up.

2. A customer buys a new driver, a rain jacket, two new shirts and a hat, spends $1000. It is two weeks later and no one has even thought about calling him to see if he’s hitting the ball further. There is no Jeff at this Shop.

The golf industry and your facility in particular should take heed. The successful, as we have been discussing, are those who are trying harder, much like the more I practice the luckier I get.
I don’t know if I have ever heard anyone in any shop make this type of personalized thank you and “anything I can do for you” call or email but it should be standard operating procedure and is almost guaranteed to create business. When the customer with the new driver is called with an inquiry as to his satisfaction and the comment is made to close the call “if there is anything I can ever do for you” the new-driver-guy is already thinking about what that could be.

In summary the Extra Mile entries have stressed wanting to increase sales by providing better service and taking advantage of the intimacy of our repeating customer base.

Some specific actions to take to accomplish this:

- Contact any scheduled group play to offer all available services.

- Prepare for arriving customers by making it Standard Operating Procedure for your staff to familiarize themselves with profiles when they exist.

- Challenge your staff to learn three things that aren’t apparent about every item in your shop.

- Role play approaching customers in the shop.

- Challenge your staff to pick one customer a day who they will totally wow to the point where they have to tell the story.

- Thank the customer before they leave the shop and when possible walk them to the door.

- Challenge each staff member to make three follow-up thank you calls per day.

I am currently writing a monthly article for called The Upscale Golf Shop. The opportunity to work as part of the PGA Magazine team and to provide editorial that hopefully will inspire ideas that will help with the management of your facility’s retail is for me an honor that I will value and undertake with all the knowledge and experience that I can bring to the table.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Extra Mile - Salesmanship is Service

Being on par in terms of price and quality only gets you into the game. Service wins the game.

- Tony Alessandra

This is a repost from a year ago, but is something I believe strongly in as a differentiator and appropriate for this time of year.

I’m going to define salesmanship as interaction with a customer that produces a sale and start this discussion with first impressions. The customer needs to be greeted or in the case of the associate on the phone acknowledged with eye contact and a simple but pleasant “Excuse me while I finish up with this call.” Be courteous and friendly with everyone who enters your space. Whether they ever patronize the shop or not, they are potential customers and more importantly everyone represents word of mouth.

Dress according to the image you are trying to project. All key staff members should be wearing the merchandise you sell and look good doing so. When you shop elsewhere, pay attention to the sales people in the various establishments. Which employee best represents the image of their store? Which appear sloppy or out of place? Now think about the customers coming through your shop. What kind of associate will attract that customer and look good putting them at ease. Most reputable apparel vendors in the golf industry want your staff wearing their goods; asking your local company rep what the best way to accomplish this will be should be part of every sales call.

It is important in any kind of selling to know your product. Most golf shops have a limited enough inventory and finite enough number of skus that this should not be difficult, but it does require a commitment on the part of the Leader to educate accordingly. It should never be assumed that your staff knows your product unless they have been given the opportunity to receive the appropriate information. Good retail sales people who work strictly on commission can strike up a conversation on any item in their domain. All assistant pros and most shop help are working in golf because they love the game. Translating that energy and love into service and sales is the challenge. If you own your own shop or your job requires a successful shop, think of it as perhaps the most important challenge that you have.

It is human nature to want to talk about something you are confident you know a lot about and to be shy and vague when you don’t. The educated assistant pro wants to tell you what he knows that you probably don’t about performance shirts as well as hybrids. He knows that the worse way to engage you in conversation is to ask the dreaded “May I help you?” Jack Mitchell in his book “Hug Your Customer” describes this phrase as “pressure to buy something” that will always result in the response “No, just looking.” At this point the conversation is over. Sales associates who ask about the customer before getting around to discussing the product are assured the conversation will continue and this is easier in golf pro shops than it would be at Nordstrom, for example, because of the mutual interest in the game and/or the Intimacy Factor.

“So how did you play?”

“Are you headed to the range?”

“Here are two sleeves of your custom ball. Do you need any for your guests?”

Another tact that many professionals use is to acknowledge you with their eyes, their smile and demeanor but wait until you touch something or seem to show any interest at all in a product; they then approach you by kindly striking up a conversation about that object, telling you three things about that product that aren’t readily apparent. If you were even remotely interested, they now have your rapt attention. If you weren’t really interested, they haven’t lost anything for the effort and have at least struck up that conversation that can lead to a relationship. Even the most difficult of customers who may walk grumpily away realizes that the associate knows his product, is good at his job and would be a good resource when they become serious about needing merchandise from the shop.

Pro shop selling, because of the Intimacy Factor, has the potential to be even more effective as the astute staff member uses their knowledge of the customer to sell them benefits that effect their lives as opposed to just product features.

“That shaft should be perfect for your swing.”

“That rain suit costs a little more but it will last your son a lifetime.”

“These shirts are perfect for you. They’re not just easy-care, they’re care-free.”

“Your daughter loves this line and her birthday is next week. She wears a 4.”

The point is, whether at the club or dealing with the public at Pebble Beach, the product has value only because it fits your customer’s needs. There is an art to asking the right open-ended questions to determine that need. It is an incredible tool to know someone well enough to know their needs and it doesn’t get any better than being able to anticipate that need.

Whatever the suggested approach is in your shop, your staff should always be encouraged to continually refine and personalize their own style. There are, however, some fundamentals that should be adhered to.

Always smile.

Look the customer in the eye.

Use first names whenever possible

Never overwhelm by talking too much or too fast.

Ask open ended questions.

Be a good listener.

Genuinely thank the customer for the business.

Here is a nine step selling plan that focuses on the stages of a selling transaction from beginning to end from a book entitled “Opening Your Own Retail Store.”

1. Greet your customer.

2. Make some general friendly remark.

3. Find out what the customer’s needs are.

4. Explain how the product will fill those needs.

5. Close the sale.

6. Try to make the extra sale of an accessory or other item.

7.Thank the customer for shopping in your store.

8. Walk the customer to the door.

9. Invite the customer to come back soon

This book was published in 1977, the paper is yellowing and yet how much has changed at retail? Not much except that the customer has more choices as to where to play golf and buy all the golf related goods that you are selling. Service is a subject that always gets the right buy-in and lip service when brought up. In fact almost every facility brags about their service it is rare however when it is truly executed.

Waiting to meet friends in a pro shop recently, there was an assistant pro on the phone who never acknowledged my presence or even looked my way. I roamed the entire shop as I usually do and stopped a number of times to ponder the merchandise inquisitively. Ten minutes later my friends arrived as we made our way into the bar the assistant was still with his call. Interestingly the bartender knew one of my buddies and began making him a stinger before he sat down while inquiring as to his friend’s names and libations of choice. My guess is that the golf shop and bar are not run by the same person and that if you brought up the subject of customer service with the golf pro he would probably tell you about budget cuts. One thing I don’t have to guess about is that I am not buying anything from his first assistant.

Taetzsch, Lyn, Opening your own Retail Store, Chicago, IL: Contemporary Books, Inc., 1977

Friday, October 15, 2010

The Extra Mile – Meeting Two – Pre-Service

Today, with increased competition, customers are much more discerning than they have ever been and only the retailers who understand this have been able to grow their business. Clubs as well as public courses that don’t provide commendable service, professional salesmanship and an incredibly friendly environment will not be attracting members who want to entertain guests or repeat customers who recommend the facility. Whether the customer has just paid a membership fee or waited in line all night for a tee-time at Beth Page, the days of tolerating dirty shops or rude clerks is history. Customers expect to be acknowledged and engaged in conversation by a friendly, smiling, upbeat staff that has been educated to point out value, features and benefits. They look to be professionally attended to, for product to be attractively displayed and they look to be sold.

The days of the self-service shop with the “hang it up and they will buy it” mentality has deteriorated to “hang it and hope” and the hope isn’t being fulfilled. The consumer, no matter what his station in life, knows how much harder he is working and how much more knowledgeable he has to be to make ends meet and expects similar effort before deciding to get out his wallet. With this as mantra let’s take a look at “pre-servicing” in this posting’s mock staff meeting and retail selling in general in the next.

The introduction by this meeting’s team leader could be something like the following:

“Anytime we know ahead of time someone is going to play our golf course, whether they are driving around the corner, staying at the hotel, booked into a cottage, or part of a group or an outing they are a potential shop customer. Any potential customer can be pre-serviced not pre-sold, we want to talk about offering services that can enhance their experience at our facility. Our staff needs to understand the effort as an important part of the Wow culture. What can we suggest to our “soon to arrive” customers?

The following contact possibilities are discussed:

“Colonel Mustard, this is Katie at the club. You have a group of seven and yourself booked into the cottage in a few weeks. Could we get your guests a shirt and a hat and have them on their bed when they arrive? We have your company logo and could put it on the sleeve of a club logoed shirt. I’d be more than happy to take care of this for you.”

“Professor Plum, this is the shop at XYZ. You’ve booked an outing with us for the weekend of the Fourth of July. Can we help you with a favor for each of your players, perhaps one of the new performance shirts would be hit with your group? We typically can get you a better deal than you would get from other suppliers and we can see to it that they’re individually wrapped and handed out with a smile.”

“Mrs. White, good day. We just received a new delivery of Tail at the shop. Would you like me to put some outfits together in your size and hold them until you come in Friday?”

“Miss Scarlet, this is Cary at the club. I noticed you are on the tee sheet to play your first round this season. I checked your bag in storage and our records and your clubs have not been re -gripped in over a year. Would you like me to go ahead and take care of that for you?”

“Mrs. Grey, we want you to know how much we appreciate you bringing your ladies group to our course for this year’s outing and that we will be putting a sleeve of a new ball designed for ladies play in each cart for them to try. We were wondering if there is anything else we can do to make them feel welcome.”

“Mr. Green, this is Jason at the club. We received the new Tech hats from Imperial your foursome was inquiring about last week. Would you like me to get them personalized for your friends and you can surprise them this weekend?”

“Mr. Blue, this is Jeff at the club. I noticed you are scheduled to play this Friday and noticed that it’s your anniversary. Would you like me to get you a bottle of that wine from the dining room your wife likes so much? I can have it here at the shop when you finish up your round.”

“Mr. Black, this is John at XYZ. I thought I would email you when I noticed that you are bringing some guests with you to Sunday’s tee time who have never played here before. We know you drink Bud-Lite but what about your friends?” If one of these guests drink Sam Adams Summer Lager and it’s waiting for him in a cooler on the cart on Sunday you will have wowed the group.”

Think about all the things in your life that are scheduled or regular in nature and now picture yourself being offered a ride to and from work when you drop your car off for service or you arrive early for an appointment to get your hair cut and they offer to get you a cup of coffee knowing you take cream and two sugars.

There are a number of head pros with whom I have worked over the years who view any type of selling as hard-sell that could get someone upset with them. Customers who would be put off by the examples of service provided above must have been living under a rock the past year since the current economic climate has resulted in most businesses realizing that retaining existing customers is at least as important as advertising for new.

What is required is a sense of empowerment on the part of the creative employee and a commitment on the part of the Leader to training on the use of the phone as a business tool and email as a way to pre-service.

Related entries: The Extra Mile - Meeting One - The Arrival, The Intimacy Factor, The Winning Golf Culture

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Intimacy Factor

Here is a simple but powerful rule – always give people more than they expect to get.
- Nelson Boswell

The major difference between Golf Shop Retail and other retailing is what I refer to as the Intimacy factor. The finite number of frequently visiting members and or regulars who are there to play golf, expanded by their guests is an intimate customer base. This is obviously more pronounced at private club’s shops than it is at daily fee facilities but most daily fee courses built in the last decade market themselves as providing a “country club for a day” experience. The point is we are not talking about providing superior service to the general public so much as we are creating relationships with avid golfers who are regular visitors to our golf course and shop and who are often as not the more affluent people in the community. This factor is only limiting if misunderstood; it is actually an incredible leg up.

It is easier to acknowledge someone and strike up a conversation if you know their name, their occupation, the rest of their foursome and their handicap. It becomes even easier if you know their likes and dislikes, the clubs they play and the beer they drink. You can personalize this visit by knowing their birthday, their wife’s name and everyone feels special if you ask about their kids. Jack Mitchell who wrote “Hug Your Customer” talks about being able to name his top 250 customers and in many cases mention their dog by name when they enter his domain. Capturing, retaining and then learning to use this information to enhance your customer’s experience should not be considered above and beyond but rather standard operating procedure for your staff and a fundamental of the culture you are striving to create.

Consider the following experience:

“Mr. Smith, good to see you again. We have some lockers set up for your guests and the Titleist ball that you play are on sale. By the way, how is your boy Kevin doing at the University of Michigan? Is he still on the golf team? We just put out some of those Adidas shorts he likes so much. When your friends show up I’ll check them in and send them up to the range. I am really looking forward to meeting them.”

Now consider an alternative typical occurrence:

Mr. Smith walks in to the shop and has a tee time in ½ an hour with three friends who have never played this course which is Mr. Smith’s regular stomping ground. The assistant pro behind the counter asks Mr. Smith his name and tee-time even though he has played there twice a month for the last five years. “Is the rest of your group here yet? Please see to it they check in and that will be $100 each for the tee time. Report to the starter, show him your receipt and he’ll get you on the tee.”

These incidents could as easily take place at private as well as semi-private or daily-fee pro shops. Mr. Smith A is impressed, bought his son a pair of shorts, himself a dozen balls and is going to make sure to introduce his friends to the staff. He will probably tell anyone who will listen about the way they take care of you at his course of choice. Mr. Smith B is not impressed, as a matter of fact that evening he runs into Mr. Smith A and decides over drinks to change up his regular haunt.

Capturing and retaining information to be used as in the Mr. Smith sample above can be as simple as asking for a business card or jotting some notes and adding to a file but retaining customer information is much easier than it used to be when good retailers kept card files or hand written rolodex. Thirty seconds in the right computer screen and Mr. Smith is becoming a relationship instead of a greens fee.

Both Mr. Smiths made their tee times for themselves and their friends a week ahead of time. Your staff is looking forward to their arrival and impressing them and their guests with proactive service or they are missing an incredible opportunity. It should be standard operating procedure to prepare for arrivals with as much of a personal touch as is possible. If the understanding of the staff/customer interaction at your facility is that they take the money for the tee time and go back to whatever it is they were doing when they were interrupted ala Mr. Smith B then you (the Leader) are a poor captain of a rudderless ship.

The leader and staff that serviced Mr. Smith A realize that in order to continue to effectively Wow customers we need to capture, retain and learn to use pertinent information about pertinent regulars.

Possible specific actions:

  • Challenge each shop associate to create a customer profile of all the existing members/regulars that they have developed a relationship with. This can be done individually but more effective is electronically with Excel or specific software that the entire staff can access.

  • Discuss at all staff meetings creative ways to use these profiles.

  • Challenge each key staff member to develop at least one new relationship and profile per day. At clubs this may seem like a finite number that would be quickly exhausted but it isn’t when you consider guests of members.

The best prospect for a new member and loyal customer is an impressed guest.

Related entries: Gems - A Golf Service Solution, The Wow Factor, The Nordstrom Touch.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Extra Mile – Meeting One – The Arrival

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. You never know where the next great idea will come from.

With this as mantra this posting will discuss the first of many hypothetical staff meetings where this attitude of team thinking is fostered. We will open the discussion with a preface on a particular area of the operation per meeting 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?

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.

The following stops along the extra mile will break up staff meeting topics into these areas of the operation; obviously no two facilities would necessarily have the same:

1. Arrival and preparation.
2. Pre-service – During the round – At the break
3. Post-play – Departure – Follow-up

None of the ideas presented at this pretend (Arrival) meeting were earth-shaking but all were thought provoking and would be fruitful at developing that 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, mock meetings 2 and 3 will take place over the next couple of weeks. The real key is to develop momentum at the meeting. Implementing ideas put forward by employees is as important as paying attention to the comments and criticisms of customers.

Related entries – The Custom Ball Program, Pump up the Staff, The Wow Factor

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Close – A Visual to a Yes

There are a number of sales reps in the industry who are regular readers of this blog and while we have discussed in numerous entries how important it is to use them as a resource, this is the first entry that is focused on giving them something to use. The underlying theme of this discussion of closing a sale by “selling to space” can be used with any category of goods and in almost any retail situation. We will illustrate this concept with the hypothetical of the apparel rep attempting to place spring apparel for the first time with a head pro with whom he/she has been unable until now to get an appointment.

The Appointment:

Arrive early and study the shop as to the type of fixtures, location of fixtures and wall displays and their capacities for apparel both in terms of number of skus and total units. Pay attention to the extent that the shop is departmentalized. Also make a mental note, albeit a cursory evaluation of how many vendors would comfortably fit in this space.

Introduce yourself to everyone available on staff who typically will be the representative of your product when you leave.

The Presentation:

Make the company prescribed presentation of the line pausing often to ask open-ended questions along the way.

Attempt to determine with these questions the nature of the shop’s business in terms of turn of product, type of clientele, competing brands (successful and unsuccessful) and what price points are important - or not. Obviously the other information you are looking for is what the buyer/head-pro that you are presenting to likes most about what you are showing.

Use this opportunity to express your empathy with their business. Develop the skill of being a good listener as well as presenter. Conveying the impression that you are adept with your product line and are very articulate is important. Conveying that you care about your potential customer’s business is at least as important and starts with being a good listener.

The Close:

This frankly is where many sales meetings fail. The presentation can be rehearsed but a good close is almost always the result of customized ‘thinking on your feet”.

Distill all the information that you have learned to this point and determine from a merchandising standpoint where best to put in the shop what the head-pro has intimated he likes and may work with his clientele. This becomes the close.

Remember that the close you are now ready to suggest is just that – a suggestion, an idea – and should be put forward with a “how about we try this” attitude.

The ‘Visual to a Yes”:

“Mr. Nye you mentioned you particularly liked our ‘Merion Collection’. That lead nesting table as you walk in the shop looks comfortably well merchandised with 18 skus and a bust form Let’s put together this look (lay out 18 skus that look great folded together and make sense). We can book it in a typical 1-med, 2-lge, 2-xl, 1-xxl which would make the delivery 108 units and would cost approximately $xxxx.xx.”

“You had also mentioned you thought our Performance Solid was perfect for your membership. This is an in-stock program so we can manage this staple all season and make it a real money-maker. How about we take the four-way that sits behind the lead table and which has 15 inch straight arms and put eight colors of the solid (2 colors per/arm) eight deep per color. Hang the eight shirts on a grid. We can consider this a par-level of 64 units and logoed will cost $xxxx.xx. I would like to come back at your convenience and work with someone on your staff to understand the business importance and the how-to of counting and filling this program.”

“We can book a back up order for the fashion table assuming a turn of product in 4-6 weeks with another 18 skus that would look like the following or if you are more comfortable we’ll wait and see how the ‘Merion group’ sells through.”

What have you accomplished?

You have created a total visual of your product line in the head-pro’s space with goods that he/she has already specified liking or thinking appropriate. You have taken any and all mystery out of how to move forward with the process. Instead of asking for the business you have suggested exactly what the partnership would involve and assuming the close to be well received only needs a "YES" to be completed.

Without announcing that you are about to deliver a primer on buying, that’s exactly what you have done. The buyer/head-pro should be realizing that your paint by number close is the way they should be thinking through the rest of his buy.

You have established yourself as a good listener and empathetic to the success of your product in their shop. Along these lines you should suggest at this point that at an appropriate time you would like to come back and have a round-table sit-down with the entire staff to discuss your brand, product knowledge, salesmanship and service.

You have established yourself as an “Idea-man”. You not only know your line but can suggest and describe the important points of the partnership from “buying to space” to raising the level of service of the staff. The sales associate in the territory deemed the “Idea Man” usually gets the first call when there is a tournament or corporate need or any other extra-curricular occurrence.

This is not the only way to close a sale or handle an appointment but it is effective. A typical close in the industry goes something like this. “Our records show that you did $8000.00 with us last season, would you like me to work you up an order for you for that amount and email it to you for approval?” At this point my response is always “What would this order look like and where will we put it”? These are fundamental questions that need to be answered before any ordering should be done and better that those answers be the IDEA of the rep, especially if we don’t have that sales history yet.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

The $17,000 Shop Credit

Depending on the facility, shop credits either won by or awarded to members/regulars can vary from zero to a significant percentage of the overall business. I’ve talked to many pros who say their members hold their credit until the end of the year and they manage their Christmas business and end of year inventory on the outstanding credit still to be redeemed. Because of cutbacks in trying times many tournament favors are now shop credits instead of especially bought favors. The point is shop credit is important at most facilities and like any other part of the business deserves to be looked at as a part of the business worth creatively attempting to increase.

The football season is almost here and its high profile marketability provides an opportunity to create some shop excitement. The following example can obviously be tweaked according to facility and clientele but let’s call our hypothetical approach “The Big Game”.

Place a clipboard on the shop counter with the appropriate sign –up sheet where you list the ten NFL games that are going to be involved in this week’s random drawing. Anyone interested in participating signs up next to one of the ten slots on the sign –up sheet and owes $25 to the pot. Our signee can play as often as he wants but only once per sheet. When the sheet is full we move on to the next sheet hoping to fill as many sheets as possible.

On Sunday morning before the games each sheet will have the ten games involved drawn and posted next to the name on the list corresponding to the number of the draw. Ritualistically every Sunday morning this drawing is performed in the shop in front of any crowd that might form and until each name on each sheet is paired with a game. Each sheet is its own pool and has a winner. The winner per sheet is the guy or gal with the highest total points per game on the sheet. The winner wins $250 worth of shop credit.

The interest in wagering on football needs not be documented here, it is incredible. Even members or regulars who aren’t fans of the game or trying to pick winners may find this a fun $25 endeavor. It’s difficult however to find ten to one odds on football wagers without betting multiple games so you have some appeal to die-hard gamblers as well.

The staff could be incentivized to talk up the clipboard and sign people up and the interest in the Sunday morning ritual of drawing games to names could have people stopping in who may otherwise not be in the shop.

Four sheets per week is $1000 worth of shop credit. The real beauty of the concept is that it is a seventeen week season. Multiply 8 sheets per week times 17 weeks and you could be talking about generating 10% of this year’s revenue in some shops.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The New Polo Regime

I had the opportunity recently to visit the Polo offices and showroom at 615 Madison Ave and visit with Tom Nolan the new head of Polo Golf. If you are currently a customer and have not made this pilgrimage, you should consider making the effort. In fact you should put it on your short list.

Tom, you obviously bring a fresh enthusiasm to Polo’s place in golf. What are the basic tenets of the new regime?

My basic philosophy in life, not just here at Polo golf, is always putting the customer and servicing the customer first; making sure that people are treated the way they are supposed to be treated. I think that was something that was lost to some extent in past years and so we’ve really made a focus of it, of treating the customer the right way, the way we’d want to be treated if the roles were reversed and it seems to have already made a big difference both in the way we are perceived and from a business standpoint.

On the design side, Ralph Lauren drives everything we do, and what we are. On top of Ralph’s vision, we have some very talented golfers involved in designing the product, and one of the overall themes right now in this division is that we have “golf people” involved in all aspects of the business, and all the product is “golf right”. We have so many talented designers involved with Polo Golf, RLX and Ralph Lauren Golf and everyone involved now has golf in their DNA across the board from the people selling the product to those designing it.

The division is being run by people who have been in the golf business for over a decade and who speak the language of golf professionals and understand their business. I think the most important quality of a sales rep is to be a good listener and we really have made a point of listening to the industry’s needs. We’ve been looking at the marketplace, seeing what the needs are, and really listening to what we’ve been missing, looking at what we are doing both better and worse and addressing it. The nice thing about being part of a company as large as Polo is that we have the resources to move quickly and address things we need to fix and go out and fix them instead of just talking about fixing them.

You have a lot of new sales associates and there seems to be a lot of new found empathy for the customer in the new force. I’m assuming from what you’ve been saying that comes from the top.

We have a lot of new sales reps and in that same vein of “golf DNA”, our three newest reps; two in the NY Metro area and one in Chicago, all were former assistant golf professionals. We are only hiring people and only want to work with people that we feel “get it”, that get the golf business and do have empathy for our customers, because the market is as tough as any of us can remember. People have fallen on hard times, and we need to be respectful of that. Myself and the entire sales force understand and are sensitive to what’s going on. We have our finger on the pulse of the industry and handle ourselves accordingly. It is certainly harder to sell apparel than in years past and we want to do what we can to make it easier to do business with us.

Given the nature of our company, how widely dispersed our product line is and how big we are I think there are a couple of things from a perception standpoint that work against us and perception is rarely the reality. A lot of what I’ve heard in the market place about Polo being such a big company, that golf which is such a small portion of the overall business that the company does not really care about golf or catering to the golf customer. That is simply Not true! The reality is that it doesn’t make a difference whether golf is 1% or 99% of this company from a revenue standpoint. The reason that golf is so important to Ralph Lauren and the reason we’ve been around since 1987, which is a long time in golf apparel years is because the people that are drawn to golf, that play golf; those customers that are going into the Pro Shop and buying a shirt, a rain-suit, a pair of slacks or shorts are not just the best customers at that pro shop but the best customers of our organization. They are successful, their wives buy expensive dresses, they wear $5000 suits, they drive the finest automobiles and if we don’t own their business on the golf course or tennis courts we don’t own them anywhere. Those people are our best customers, and it’s why we care so much. The relationship of the golf business as it relates to the size of the organization is completely irrelevant and I think it is important to put that out there.

There was a perception of arrogance that Polo was only in interested in doing business with shops that would commit to big minimums. There are a lot of golf facilities out there and there is no facility that is not right for our business, but having said that we are very protective of the brand. Since 1967 Ralph has worked very hard at building what we are today and we will always be protective of the brand but we don’t have minimums. That might not have been the story in the past and as I said I can’t really speak to that but it’s certainly not the way we operate now.

No brand in the apparel industry has the panache of Polo. How should this translate to golf?

For fifty years the brand and Ralph have stood for something special that is predominately defined as quality, the same quality you find in a purple label suit is found in our golf garments. We are very particular and will never cut corners. The customer that goes into a golf shop or a Ralph Lauren store immediately recognizes that the brand stands for superior quality. Not coming from the apparel industry my perspective is the same as that consumer’s and I think it translates quite well.

My first week here I went to Greensboro NC where we have a 1.2 million square foot distribution center that includes a huge research and development facility, and I know for a fact that we are the only company in golf apparel that has such a facility. We test every aspect of a shirt’s performance including pulling on buttons until they rip off, washing knits until they fade and cataloging the results in a library that represents 50 years of such testing. It’s the reason that no one in the industry is more knowledgeable of what goes into making a quality golf shirt and why I’ve historically paid $85 for a high quality knit. I left there realizing that no matter where I work for the rest of my golfing career I’ll never wear anything other than Polo and that it’s our job in sales to get the message to our customers and to their customers that not all golf shirts are the same, that ours are clearly the best and that I had the opportunity to see the attention to detail first hand. It’s what separates us, and I believe what our customers expect.

When a consumer walks into any retail environment they know without question that Ralph Lauren stands for unparalleled quality and the translation that you speak of is one of confidence on the part of the professional staff that they are merchandising product that justifies the price and enhances their image. Again it is our responsibility to see to it that there are equipped with the information to tell that story.

The reality is that the golf consumer in most cases can afford an $85 golf shirt. I think too often and we are guilty of it, we in the industry view the line with a much narrower lens than the customer. A $400 cashmere sweater is a lot of money to me, and many of our reps, but it is not a lot of money to anyone who can afford to join a high-end club. In fact, that member is buying that sweater somewhere so it might as well be at a golf shop. The shop that gravitates to the less expensive product lines isn’t accomplishing anything really but the erosion of their own margin. It is human nature to want to spend less but relative to value. Regardless of the economy the shop that believes it can’t sell the higher price spread could easily be losing as much business as it is creating with $55 shirts.

It sounds as though you are promoting one of the basic messages that I deliver to partnered vendors that they provide product knowledge seminars and retail sales pep rallies to their customers.

We have as good a sales force as anybody out there, I really do believe that. I’ve always looked at our team as a part of my family that works hard and really gets it. They are all genuinely concerned not just about the company but their customers and one of things that I have been trying to do is free them up a little to do just this kind of thing and treat people the right way. It is our job to educate the marketplace and we realize that a golf professional wears many hats and needs help in this arena. I know that a golf pro’s main job isn’t selling apparel, but it may be 10% of what they do. I can say for a fact that no one knows how to retail and merchandise like Ralph Lauren. No one has the resources and can tell the retail story better than we do and we need to be doing it more often and helping our wholesale accounts achieve their goals thru education whenever we can.

What do you see as the most important aspect of the customer/vendor partnership and how do you see Polo enhancing this?

Everyone uses the word “partnership” and there are a lot of aspects that are involved to being a partner. Being a “partner” means you stand by your customers in good times and more importantly help them thru the tough times. I don’t want to be another vendor, I want to be a partner, and everything I’m doing and will do is to emphasize this. One of the things that I changed when I got here was our presentation method. It used to be that if you wanted to see the line you came to us. That concept seemed counter intuitive to me. If I am going to buy anything why should I be the one travelling and taking time away from my business to help yours?

We launched a catalog for the first time in 23 years; everything we have been doing is in an effort to make it easier to do business with us. We were listening - we needed a catalog - we now have a catalog.

We know our product and brand are as good as there is - period. There are a lot of companies out there that come and go and there are a lot of them that have made nice businesses of being brand imitators of Polo but at the end of the day there is only one Polo. We know that our brand is where it needs to be and we never have issues with people not knowing us or not recognizing the pony or what Ralph Lauren has meant to them. We all grew up with the Pony, and it really “means” something to people, and it stands for something, its authentic, its real, and its powerful. What we needed to do was be better partners and treat people the right way, provide better customer service and get people excited about our brand in the world of golf again. We have a great customer service team in Greensboro and we are addressing the little things, customer service issues where we were lacking, the phone calls and hand-written notes, all the little things that go into showing customers how much we appreciate the business and how much we genuinely care about them. We‘ve made some monumental strides in a short amount of time and it is being recognized.

Tell us about RLX and where you see performance brands positioned in the future.

One of the things that we have that is unique to us and that is a huge advantage is that we will never react to the marketplace. We’ll never go outside of what is our DNA as a company and launch a tech shirt within Polo golf, it’s just not what we are about, it’s not what the Polo golf customer wants. We have the unique ability to do that, where others cannot. As a company, a decade ago we launched RLX in ski as Ralph Lauren Extreme and had a lot of success with it and you may have noticed at the Olympics a lot of the athletes were wearing RLX ski outerwear. We learned a lot as an organization about building outerwear and about waterproofing, wind-proofing, weatherproofing and really doing it the right way. Four years ago we launched RLX in golf and when it first came out it was very progressive, very limited in color palette, very European in fit. The fabric was a little bit thicker than it should have been, the colors were limited, the sleeves were short. It had limited success and the following year got a little better and then last year it got really good, and will just get better from here.

Charlie Schaefer came in as head designer for RLX and we talked a lot about how to make this better and what we’ve done has really evolved the brand within golf and made the shirts look more like relevant golf shirts. It’s still a little more progressive and I think that the golf customer that wants a tech shirt is probably a little more progressive. Interesting to me also is that prior to getting involved with this product I had always equated performance fabrication with thinner fabrication. Given a choice in performance shirts between a thin and thicker fabric I would have probably bought the thinner one. As a consumer I would have thought this to breathe better, to perform better it has to be light, but the reality is that performance fabric is man-made so you can make it any density you want. The reality is, the thinner you make it the cheaper it is to manufacture, but also when you wear it the clingier it becomes, not all golf customers that prefer performance do well with clingy. We feel we now have a denier that provides optimum drape for most golf customers. The RLX shirt is a quarter of an inch shorter in the sleeve which is of course negligible but the shirt is slightly more progressive in fit, call it slightly European, slightly heavier with a better drape and ten years in the learning and 99% of golf consumers couldn’t tell a difference, but again perception was it was a small fit, but it’s just not accurate.

The outerwear in RLX is phenomenal and is a story we need to be telling. RLX outerwear has grown exponentially. It is the best performance outerwear in the marketplace period. We’ve learned a lot in ten years in ski but everything we do in RLX and in Polo golf is always with golf in mind, we don’t just build product for look, It’s for function. With our outerwear we have stretch where it needs to stretch, under the armhole for example to accommodate the backswing, performance for golf is not just about fashion. We treat all of our man-made fibers for anti microbial and all of our dark grounds have “cold-black technology” in them which is what BMW uses to treat dark seats with to keep them cool in the sun. We acquired the patent and this is now unique to us that our dark performance shirts reflect the heat as a white shirt would. It is hard to forecast how well RLX is going to do but the sell-throughs have been incredible from the blue blood clubs in the Northeast to the very progressive clubs in LA the sell-throughs across the board have been fantastic. We’ve never strayed from the integrity of the brand and pretended to be something we’re not. RLX is a performance brand and that’s all it will be and that’s in large part where the market is now.

In Polo golf we launched our Heritage lisle which is our un-mercerized cotton shirt. We call this our cotton performance and it also has done phenomenally well. It is an un-mercerized Peruvian Pima cotton shirt that we believe very strongly in and it also has sold through incredibly well. Cotton in its raw state is natural performance and when you mercerize it you trap in the heat but this shirt breathes, it dries readily and is easy care.

The challenge with tech and I believe we have done a nice job with this is you don’t want to be too techy. It’s upsetting occasionally when you go to a nice club and you see guys walking around that just don’t look right. We feel like there is a swing back to people being a little more clothes conscious and dressier on the golf course whether it’s tech or cotton, with golfers getting back to the kind of pride in appearance that you see in the pictures of Arnie, Hogan and Snead. Interestingly for example we have put a big push on cardigans and are doing well with them, we think it’s swinging back that way and dressing up to some extent. Look at this year’s US Open winner for example, a young guy in his 30’s sporting a cardigan and he looked phenomenal.

The strength of the brand and its marketability are second to none. It has always struck me as synonymous with success and very all-American e.g. Davis Love and Tom Watson. Are there new and exciting marketing plans for the future?

We are the American brand, no question and all of our tour professionals really do represent the brand well. We signed Webb Simpson, we also have Morgan Pressel , Luke Donald and Jonathan Byrd. Luke Donald has been a great ambassador for RLX exclusively for the last few years. We just signed Matteo Manssero, the number one amateur in the world who recently turned professional . At 17 he was the youngest ever to make the cut at the Masters. He’s a nice kid who is incredibly mature for his age, he’s going to be wearing RLX exclusively and he’s so proud to be a part of the team. When we look at our ambassadors whether it’s Webb, Davis or Tom, Luke, Matteo or Jonathan Byrd it is important that they look the part but it is also important that they represent the brand well and who we are and what Ralph has built and that they are good quality people and Matteo is all that from a marketing standpoint. He’s a hell of a player, finished 20th in his first event out there.

A huge announcement that will be coming out soon is that the USGA has just chosen Ralph Lauren to be its official Apparel Vendor starting with Congressional in 2011 and running thru at least 2014 at Pinehurst. This to me, is as big a statement as we could make. When the governing body of the game of golf in the United States had to choose an apparel company to partner with, they chose Ralph Lauren. This will be an amazing partnership and one we are all excited about. If that doesn’t tell you how committed this company is to its golf division and how relevant Polo Golf, Ralph Lauren Golf and RLX is to the marketplace now and for the future, I don’t know what does.

In everything we do whether it be signing a new player or a partnership with the USGA, We will always work tirelessly to represent all the things we stand for – authenticity, classic, traditional , timeless, American - all of which are cornerstones that Ralph built the company on. Being a big company we have the horse power, no pun intended, to do these kinds of things and do them the right way.

I think it safe to say that the industry welcomes your business acumen, love of the game and respect for the customer. What do you see as Polo’s major contribution to the sport?

On top of our new relationship with the USGA, we have been partners with the AJGA for 16 years now. We are involved with a lot of the local PGA sections as well. It is our responsibility to give back, and Junior Golf is really important to me. I don’t know if it’s talked about enough that we have had this involvement with the AJGA as long as we have. We sponsor the Polo Golf Junior Classic which is their final “major” of the year. We sponsor the Polo Golf Junior Rankings, which all college coaches use to recruit players, etc. We are one of the sponsors for the Ace Grant for underprivileged kids that want to get involved with Junior golf but don’t have the financial resources and we do it for a number of reasons – it’s the future of the game and tomorrow’s customers and it’s going to be what shapes the game. It’s an involvement that develops brand awareness and loyalty at a young age. When I was a kid it was Titleist and Polo and they were two brands that I was just never going to have because I didn’t come from a family of any financial resources. They both stood for being the best and for quality, and they were two “reach brands” and you can’t create a “reach brand” out of nowhere, it has to have a history and most importantly, authenticity. Polo has that, it stands for something and means something to a lot of people. The company is authentic, Ralph is a real person, it’s a real American Company and you can’t create that affinity and attachment to a brand that we have, it’s not creatable, it has to happen naturally and it has to be organic, to be authentic, and that’s what we’ve done and I feel like our relationship with Junior golf, with the USGA, with PGA Sections, with golf pros, top amateurs, all just reinforces that. Our contribution to the game I hope at the end of the day is to have well trained people enhancing the brand by helping to revitalize golf retail, treating people the way we would want to be treated and that’s really all we could ask for.

That’s a good answer to a tough question. What is your best advice for pro shops weathering these troubled financial times

The first thing I would say especially for those guys that own their own shops is I know it’s scary but you can’t be afraid. The golf analogy I can think of is that you’re never going to hit a good shot when you’re afraid to swing at it. It just isn’t going to work, you have to have confidence in your ability and your partners. There are a lot of analogies to playing golf and selling golf shirts. You have to have faith in your members first of all and you have to be creative. There are a lot of guys in a bad state of mind, I hear all the time: “the economy stinks”, “ it’s not getting any better”, “the members aren’t buying anything” and I don’t know what I’m going to do and I’ve got so much inventory. I’m not discounting those feelings or saying they’re not true, but you have to be creative , you need to always be evolving, you can’t be afraid to sit on inventory, nothing looks worse than retail that’s empty, nothing looks better than a full pro shop. Now, I know it’s difficult but you are going to sell inventory if you’ve done the right things and it’s the reps job to be helping with this process. But I would say to the golf pros if you really have partners out there you shouldn’t be afraid, you should trust them. First of all, most shops should probably have less vendors than they do in their shops. In my opinion, no golf shop should have more than 4 or 5 vendors and if you trust those 4 or 5 vendors who ever they are, and go deep with those guys knowing you’ve made the right choices and at the same time be creative with the members , do trunk shows or cocktail parties or whatever you want to do to endear yourself with them. It’s also important to isolate your best customers and have them become brand ambassadors for the club. At my club I’m proud of being a member there and I want to buy stuff in the shop, and also support my pro because I care about him and his business. You also want to have choices to buy something you’re going to want to wear and like the way it looks and I would also just reiterate to golf professionals out there that this idea of price resistance doesn’t exist to the extent we all think it does. The member paying to be a member can afford an $85 golf shirt, the price doesn’t matter. It may matter to the pro and his staff, to me and to the rep selling the shirt, but not to a guy who can afford a membership at a great club. I’m in a lot of shops and the ones that do it right and have good members – I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a guy look at a price tag. We‘ve created this price issue, it’s really about attitude.

It is indeed about attitude and Tom’s is incredibly refreshing and savvy. Success in pro shops has to with the three ‘P’s – product, people and presentation. Polo under the new regime is poised to regain its leadership role in golf as the brand most associated with the game and its retail.