Friday, December 2, 2011

Craig's Crossing - Holiday Cheer

I’m sure there are many extraordinary holiday get-togethers at clubs all over the country. The Christmas party and holiday service at Belle Haven Country Club in Alexandria, Virginia are worthy of mention and provide some interesting ideas for the season.

Steve Danielson will be hosting his 21st of these events next Saturday, December 10th, and has developed it into a “must attend” all-day gala. Any members not out of town or gone south are sure to stop by and while I am not a member it is always one of the highlights of my December. Invitations are email blasted and newsletter announced as well as printed and mailed. The golf staff all wear tuxedos and Steve makes a point of inviting former employees, including a bar-tender who was incredibly well liked and returns to serve holiday cheer to his former and familiar clientele.

The food and drink are unbelievable and spread throughout the shop and entry hall. There is a carving station, steamed shrimp table, etc. but another one of the features that make the event so special is what Steve simply refers to as “Charlie’s deer meat.” Charlie is a teaching Assistant Pro who asked a number of years ago if he could provide venison for the festivities. Steve said at first no one would touch it but over the last few years it is gone within the first hour of the affair.

There is a family dining lounge adjacent to the shop called the Colbert Room where vendors such as FootJoy have traditionally set up their entire line and take special orders from the partying members. This has become such a tradition that many members order their new spring golf shoes for Christmas as gifts to themselves.

Another feature that has become as time-honored as mistletoe is the amazing display of ties and fine men’s gifts set up by Susan Macdonald and Marianne Horen of Macra & Company. Susan is a member at Belle Haven and she and Marianne sell Peter-Blair ties and bow ties as well as dopp kits, luggage, tie cases, wallets and money clips. They are delightful company and their display is incredibly well done, manned completely by them and perfect for this type of event. These ladies can be reached at Entertainment for the day’s festivities varies from year to year and has included impressionists, magicians and a barber shop quartet.

All apparel in the shop is on sale for at least 25% off and there is a 50% sale rack. To say the celebration is a retail success would be an understatement and at the risk of revealing any dollar amounts I will just say that the existing inventory decreases by about 30%. A week after the Christmas bash Steve has an employee sale which is also very well attended and where all aged merchandise is eliminated at break neck prices. Obviously all employees save a good piece of their XMAS shopping for Steve’s sale.

Aside from the business and the customer loyalty that is developed this event has taken on its own identity and endeared the members to the staff providing it. The employees of the club look forward to it as much as the members and everyone truly gets into the holiday spirit, including me.

Another service that Steve provides for the holidays that epitomizes “it’s so simple why didn’t I think of it?” is arranging UPS delivery for members wanting to ship any gifts during the holiday season. Members have come to truly appreciate this service as a holiday time saver on a par with shopping at the club. This is one of those holiday traditions that say all the right things about service and the staff. Steve Danielson and his crew give the Santa nod and wish everyone a “Merry Christmas”.

There are many clubs that will tell you that December is not a great month because their members have so many other holiday commitments. The Belle Haven tact over the years has been more of a "build it and they will come" approach and has become an important one of those commitments.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Craig's Crossing - 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.”

Greet your customer.

Make some general friendly remark.

Find out what the customer’s needs are.

Explain how the product will fill those needs.

Close the sale.

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

Thank the customer for shopping in your store.

Walk the customer to the door.

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

Relate entries: The Extra Mile - Meeting Two - Pre-Service, The Extra Mile - Meeting One - The Arrival, The Winning Golf Culture

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Craig's Crossing - Stocking Stuffers

Holiday shopping officially starts next Friday and usually involves sales, promos and a Christmas party at most clubs. Merchandising this time of year should be seen as a unique opportunity to help members solve their gift giving needs, create a festive ambiance and lower inventory levels if your season is winding down.

The center piece of this effort obviously should/could be a gift table and here are some ideas:

Think of this presentation as an chance to take all of those onesies left over from collections that now look naked and put them together as coordinated outfits in a gift box with tissue under the tree. Outfits work best here if your inventory lends itself to putting together a woven and a tie, a vest and a knit or perhaps a skort and top.

Another display that works well is the stocking stuffer selection. Get a large Christmas stocking and stuff it as the prop. Great product for this could include:

Smathers and Branson belts, which can be tailored to customers by theme, custom club, hobbies/interest or University logos are also wonderful for this as they come in easy-to-stack attractive wooden boxes.

Winston Collection's slimfold wallets, scorecard holders, valuables bags and leather wrapped stainless mugs are all terrific looking and affordable debossed with the club logo. The Winston embroidered leather pillows are easy gifts to give and great props.

Tervis products are appropriate for a stocking stuffer display and can be stacked under the table to give the staging a more vertical look.

Kiltees are back. Something new/old to put your laces through. Bring fashion down to your footwear or show your support for your favorite team or charity. Look good whether your game is good or not.

Keeper Frames - Every round has a story and this gift can save your golfing memories forever; capturing the hold-in-one, eagles, or once-in-a-lifetime golfing trips or experiences on the course. This incremental category would dress up a holiday display perfectly.

Special Gifts:

Allen Edmonds golf shoes for the man who takes his dressing seriously.

The Ecco stree shoe or the FootJoy Contour casual are hot items right now.

The "Golf by James Warren" mercerized interlock basic is a proprietary fabrication in the USA. They are Italian made and a unique knit gift for the discerning golfer.

Depending upon your membership, a presentation of "The Littlest Golfer" could certainly create incremental sales.

A display of ladies' goods that "translate well from the office to the course" would be particularly appropriate for the holidays. 18th Coutour prides itself on this aspect of their line.

A terrific corporate gift can be handled by Millenium. They have incredible custom branded corporate and tournament gift programs and packages.

As always, any holiday efforts, promos and offerings should be emailed or news-lettered to all members and special customers.

Four yourself and your staff, I am offering the two manuals, "The Winning Golf Culture" and "The Merchandising Buy Plan Guide" sold here on the blog at a special package price. The BUY NOW icon at the top right of this entry will get them delivered ASAP.

I am also offering a day visit to your facility customized to your needs which could include creating a buy plan and determining proper inventory levels and turn as well as providing a customer-service and retail training seminar for your entire staff at a reduced rate. This visit would also include a copy of both manuals. If interested, please email me at or call me at 443-309-3005 to discuss.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a prosperous holiday season. Next week's entry will be specifically about Holiday get-togethers and Christmas parties.

And on another front, some news From Full Turn Partners:

Full Turn Partners Announces Name Change for Pima Direct to Linksoul Club

San Francisco, CA November 2, 2011- Full Turn Partners, formerly Pima Direct, has announced that its custom branded division will now be known as LINKSOUL CLUB. John Ashworth will develop the product line for the LINKSOUL CLUB collection.

"The LINKSOUL CLUB custom branding collection will remain classic and refined. Our entire LINKSOUL Company is honored to serve and promote the game of Golf. Our design and merchandising efforts are here to exclusively support the Green Grass Golf community." relates John Ashworth."The team that built Pima Direct has done an incredible job in changing the way the golf industry thinks. They have empowered the golf shop with the ability to build off of their already valuable own brand with enhanced margins. I'm thrilled to have the opportunity to build the products that will represent the finest golf brands in the world, " explained John.

"It made sense for us to leverage the equity in our brand Linksoul John Ashworth & Co. to the benefit of our custom branded customers," explained company CEO Mark Killeen. "Now our custom branded customers can say to their members and guests that their own custom products are designed by the finest talent the industry has ever known."

The Linksoul Club product line will consist of double mercerized luxury knits made with Supima cottons, performance EcoTec knits utilizing a unique bamboo, charcoal and micro polyester blends, cashmere and merino sweaters, functional sweatshirts and golf inspired outerwear.

The LINKSOUL CLUB collection by John Ashworth & Co. will make its debut at

The Orlando PGA show this coming January 2012.

Press Contact:

Mark Killeen, CEO 510-618-1200

John Ashworth, CCO 510-618-1200

Linksoul and Linksoul Club product lines will be shown at the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in meeting rooms 209B and 209C. Please use the link below to schedule a show appointment today.
sched appt

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Big Picture

Craig's Crossing will return next Saturday. This interview is the last in the series - Service the Differentiator.

Gene Mattare started his career as an assistant professional at Chevy Chase Club, in Chevy Chase, Maryland under Ward Burgess in 1977. He was the head golf professional at Princess Anne Country Club in Virginia Beach, Virginia from 1981 – 1990. He then moved to Saucon Valley Country Club as the director of golf in 1991. In 2005 he assumed the additional responsibilities of general manager.

I have known Gene for approximately fifteen years but have been familiar with his reputation as the consummate PGA professional long before I had the pleasure of getting to know him. Given the nature of Gene’s position and the size of Saucon Valley there is obviously no time for fluff or foolishness in Gene’s day or on his to-do list. Fortunately he was kind enough to share some of that time and his thoughts on service and efficiency.

Gene, having responsibility for all 400 staff members at Saucon Valley is obviously a daunting task. Do you involve yourself in each new hire and what is the key ingredient you look for when adding to your team?

I am responsible for hiring all department heads, as well as each member of the golf professional staff. I look for intelligent people who are passionate about what they do. This is true for the golf course superintendent, the executive chef, the clubhouse manager - or any person on the golf staff. In addition, I try to hire truly nice people who will not upset the positive staff dynamic we have established in each department at Saucon Valley.

I’ve heard you mention an indoctrination program for new employees. What exactly is the concept and execution of this initial training?

Five years ago, our senior managers developed a Mission Statement and a set of core values that we try to impart to each new hire. Simply put it is:

“Saucon Valley Country Club will deliver an exceptional country club experience to its members and guests, each and every day. Saucon Valley Country Club recognizes that its employees are critical in accomplishing this, through the provision of superior customer-focused service by a dedicated and caring team of courteous and knowledgeable staff members.”

Each department conducts a thorough orientation for each new hire. In addition to a tour of the entire campus, the employee handbook is reviewed and distributed. The handbook contains detailed information on club policies and employee benefits.

What is your definition of “Saucon Valley Service” and how do you as coach deliver this message to the team so as to create the proper culture?

What we try to stress is teamwork, honesty, integrity and respect. We want everyone to take pride in their work and to meet and exceed member’s and guest’s expectations. We constantly preach consistent delivery of excellent product and service, courtesy and professional conduct. Our managers lead by example, as do I. An example is an annual fundraiser for a local hospital that is held at Saucon Valley. There were 750 attendees this year. This event is a formal dinner party. The clubhouse staff needed help in all areas: parking, valet service, doormen, wait staff, etc. At the weekly management meeting every department head volunteered staff to assist. Our course superintendents handled parking and valet, starters became doormen, and assistant golf professionals helped servers. It’s typical of how we do things at Saucon and the feeling of “teamwork” that we have cultivated.

What are the ongoing strategies particularly with the golf staff and in regards to the shop?

I try to involve the staff in all areas of the golf shop operation. During the season we meet formally on a weekly basis, with many impromptu meetings. I’m interested in which lines are selling (and not), as well as member and guest comments regarding the lines we carry, fit, pricing, etc. Everyone is involved, has ownership, and contributes

I have never sacrificed quality for low price. There’s an old saying: “The bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweetness of low price is forgotten”. I believe it!

Are your periodic staff meetings designed to provide a forum to discuss service as a differentiator and a culture?

I conduct weekly staff meetings with the entire management team as well as separate meetings with the golf staff. In management meetings we hear from every department: what is going on, upcoming projects, performance to budget, comments from members, HR issues, etc.

In the golf staff meeting we discuss the schedule for the week as well as any issues that might arise. I am interested in what is happening on the “floor” – what’s selling and what’s not, and why.

Open communication is extremely important in all areas of the club operation.

What is your strategy for evaluating employees and do you discuss their contribution to the service level?

Since we meet weekly, I address any issues with staff immediately. I do schedule an annual evaluation with every senior manager, as well as every member of the golf staff. We discuss past performance, strengths and positive impact on the operation, as well as areas where improvement can be made. We also discuss future plans and career goals.

Everyone refers to all the hats that head professionals need to wear but only rarely are management skills an important part of the conversation. Gene Mattare personifies in my mind how hiring, delegating, empowering and evaluating staff effectively make most goals realizable. Gene never looks rushed or flustered and I thank him for his valuable time.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Craig’s Crossing – Week 4 – The Invitational

The member-guest tournament at most clubs takes on the importance of the World Series or the Super Bowl as the club’s “happening” of the season. With this in mind, I thought it fitting to write about a few of these I knew to be spectacular in their own way and quote some of the leaders who organized these events.

Brian Stewart, John Marino’s Assistant Pro at Old Chatham Golf Club in North Carolina credits Peter Millar and their local representative, Cameron Macphail, with providing incredible one day turn around on a favor that consisted of a club-logoed ¼ zip sweater in the participant’s choice of color and a pair of bit-loafers – sized and ordered on Friday and handed out on Saturday. Each member and their guest were given a personalized bag tag upon arrival. Following golf on Saturday there were drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres along with “The Jolly Jester” (the magician, Kevin Dawson) providing entertainment as awards were decided upon.

Chris Kenney at The Patterson Club in Fairfield, Connecticut also credits Peter Millar with making the favor at his event a huge hit. The company set up a separate shop in the locker room lounge representing some of the more exotic categories of the line and allowed each participant to use a $250.00 credit toward their shopping experience. Leather score card holders embossed with the club logo were also handed out. Michael Bulger, Chris's first assistant prepares a cheat sheet with the member and guest names and the home club of the guest prior to the event. Everyone on the club staff receives the sheet and the golf staff, in particular, have fun all week prior to guest arrivals quizzing one another on the participants names and where they are from. There is a stag dinner and short game competition on Wednesday evening to kick off the week’s worth of festivities and a cocktail party on Thursday evening that includes spouses. Chris astutely pointed out that some of the things that impressed him the most at this year’s tournament were the repeat guests from years past who obviously look forward to coming back and the compliments he receives about his staff making the guests feel as though they are at their home haunt. The week is organized so that each member of the golf staff has an opportunity to spend time with each of the guests and the satisfaction for Chris is watching everyone at the cocktail party take the time to introduce their spouse to his entire group.

Greg Glover at 3 Creek Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming has a very high-end event but he initiates the service aspect of the event before it begins with something that costs nothing. He explained that “Once the field was set, I personally called every guest and welcomed them to the event. I talked to each of them for just a couple of minutes, welcomed them to the event and asked if they had any questions, concerns or special needs before the event started etc. etc. Not only did the guests enjoy that but it blew the members away as well because as soon as I got off of the phone with the guest they immediately called the member and told them about it.” Each guest was provided a locker with a personalized name plate and a dozen Pro V golf balls embossed with their name, and by flight they were provided with both a solid or striped shirt in their locker. At the end of the event, each participant is presented with a Dell Streak Tablet loaded with a 3 Creek Ranch app which allows members to make dinner reservations, tee times, book lessons, etc. The guest’s tablets were loaded with their favorite movie to provide them with something to watch on the flight out of town and a copy of the tournament booklet. The flight winners were awarded relic six-shooters with the club logo engraved on the grip. The plaque that holds the pistol is engraved with “The Invitational” and bullets are inserted to represent those beaten in the flight. The bullets were handed out upon arrival with losers having to hand winners their bullet at the end of a match but no one knew the significance until the plaques were presented.

Eric Williams, Bud Sass's first assistant at Ocean City Golf Club in Berlin, Maryland credits John Flynn and Rick Morrell for the outstanding success and appreciation of the Footjoy/Titleist shop that is set up for participants to cash in certificates: any shoes, clubs, etc that aren’t available on site John and Rick see to it are drop-shipped. The competition and the way it is organized is unique; first of all, the pari-mutuel is significant and the Round Robin format ends with 14 teams in a play-off with the rest of the field as the gallery creating true tournament pressure. Thursday is practice day but you can choose to participate in a Par 3 tournament giving the event an Augusta-like flavor. Friday evening is “The World’s Greatest Putting Contest” with its own special format and pool prize. This is another one of those events that gets huge word of mouth and has grown incredibly in both size and value since Buddy arrived 15 years ago. The club looks at it as an opportunity to drive membership and industry image and does not concern themselves with budget as they do for other events. A result of this effort and mind-set has been 100 new members over the last 13 years having been previous guests at this event.

I would like to thank everyone above who contributed the features of their tournaments. Most Invitationals are outstanding and have their own distinct and compelling stories. In an effort to enhance this aspect of club life don’t hesitate to share some exceptional characteristic of your tournament in the comment section.