Thursday, July 19, 2012

Some Like it Hot

TABASCO® is one of those iconic brands that almost every dictionary includes as a proprietary term along with other select trademarks like Kleenex or Coca-Cola. The “Rolls-Royce” of hot sauces, it is a truly ubiquitous product now sold in 165 countries and territories, and in 22 languages and dialects.  TABASCO® can be found in the White House and Buckingham Palace, on the International Space Station, and in the entire spectrum of restaurants — from five-star to mom-and-pop — around the globe. 

Golf fans will probably remember the notable branded presence TABASCO® had years ago, both in golf shops and on tour, with TABASCO®-decorated polo shirts. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Cecil Hymel, McIlhenny Company’s vice president in charge of its new apparel line; and George Gatesy, National Sales and Operations Director of McIlhenny’s apparel division. The clothing line that George is developing with a McIlhenny label is mainstream, not novelty-driven, golf apparel. The concept that has intrigued me since our meeting, however — and one that is totally optional with the customer — is that of developing incremental revenue by displaying the apparel in shops alongside TABASCO® pepper sauce and other McIlhenny food items.
The whole idea of trying something completely new in the golf shop is in fact not only bold but a challenge. There is only so much room for display and open-to-buy for inventory, most of which is necessarily dedicated to staples which are required to make a shop full service. The choice of categories to consider that have not already been explored but may be lucrative is also perplexing. The following interview will attempt to add some spice to this challenge and as Rob McNamara at Farmington Country Club explains, “Not everyone plays golf, but everyone eats!  Therefore, the idea of having food sold in my golf shop is fun and an opportunity for new business. Additionally, everyone wears clothes. Again, this gives me a chance to sell to people who may not be buying clothes just for golf purposes. We ran a simple promotion that gives away a free Tabasco item with the purchase of the McIlhenny shirt that was very successful. Their shirts are great quality at a very fair price so it gives a nice value promotion for our members”.
Cecil, while everyone knows the TABASCO® brand, I doubt many know much about the company and its unique history. Share some of McIlhenny Company’s background with us, if you would.

Well, Craig, the McIlhenny family has been making TABASCO® brand pepper sauce on Avery Island, Louisiana, since 1868. Edmund McIlhenny’s original formula has not changed in 144 years! His love of food and his great attention to quality, detail and craftsmanship has found its way into every TABASCO® brand product we make today — including this new line of apparel. Edmund’s family, now in its 5th generation of leadership, still owns and operates our company, and that’s why we incorporated the “E5G” logo into our new TABASCO® apparel line. “E5G” reminds us we are in Edmund’s 5th Generation of family leadership.  In addition, the apparel is made with a type of fabric we call “032 Dry.” This term comes from the Pantone Matching System color, known as Red 032, that corresponds to the exact shade of our red TABASCO® sauce.  These two cool tidbits of trivia might be appreciated by the average person who buys and wears our new clothing; but “E5G” and “032 Dry” also remind our company of the family and brand that stand behind this new line of apparel.
A little more about the history of the McIlhennys:  They are an absolutely fascinating American family. For instance, not many people know that Edmund’s son, John Avery McIlhenny (our 2nd President), stepped down from the company in 1898 to join Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders volunteer cavalry regiment.  So he was there with Roosevelt when the Rough Riders stormed San Juan Heights in Cuba.  John was also on the famous bear hunt with Roosevelt, when the President refused to shoot an injured bear, thus giving rise to the “teddy bear” craze that persists to the present. And then there’s John’s brother, E. A. “Ned” McIlhenny (3rd President), who went on two arctic expeditions in the 1890s, served as first president of Louisiana’s chapter of the Audubon Society, and helped to save the snowy egret from extinction. John’s son, Walter S. McIlhenny (4th President), a WWII hero, fought at Guadalcanal, New Britain, and Peleliu, received 2 Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, and the Navy Cross, and retired from the Marine Corps Reserve with the rank of brigadier general. Paul C.P. McIlhenny (Chairman and CEO) and Tony Avery Simmons (current President) have led McIlhenny Company into present-day prosperity, with six additional TABASCO® brand pepper sauces, many ancillary products, and the longest sustained period of financial growth in the company’s history.

The branded shirts had an interesting foray into golf in years past and then disappeared for a while. What is the reasoning and business intent in launching the McIlhenny Dry Goods™ and TABASCO® Sport apparel lines in today’s market?

As the world leader in pepper sauce, McIlhenny Company always seeks further brand extension through new product categories. Previously, McIlhenny sponsored PGA Tour players and enjoyed those relationships. The launch of these in-house brands, McIlhenny Dry Goods™ and TABASCO® Sport, allows us to re-establish ties with PGA Tour players while targeting the golf and sportswear markets.  We have always admired the integrity of the PGA and USGA and feel there is great alignment between our brand and the world of golf.

George, obviously you are not trying to rekindle the branded TABASCO® look.  What are the outstanding features of the line you have created?

Our new apparel line is more conservative, traditional, and collection-based, not novelty-driven like our golf shirts from five or ten years ago.  The McIlhenny Dry Goods™ brand, for instance, targets an upper-middle price point with classic and traditional designs for men and women.  The products have the look and feel of cotton, yet are moisture-wicking performance blends.  These 032 Dry Reserve fabrications are created exclusively for McIlhenny Dry Goods™.  This lifestyle collection is golf-functional and yet fashionable for everyday wear.  Our easy-care fabrications perform in every aspect of a golfer’s life.
Likewise, the TABASCO® Sport product line targets a middle price point for men and ladies.  However, it’s more contemporary in design and styling.  All TABASCO® Sport products are manufactured with our exclusive 032 Dry moisture-wicking fabrications.

The strength of the brand and its marketability are second-to-none, but what is the reason golf shop proprietors should give McIlhenny apparel space in their shops?

With our two apparel brands, golf shop accounts will capture the history and tradition of excellence that are intrinsic to our 144-year-old brand while achieving increased margins under our attractive pricing strategy.  PRICE + QUALITY = VALUE.  We offer the finest-quality product at wholesale pricing and this affords the pro shop owner increased gross profit margins.  In addition, we open new avenues for pro shop profitability with our TABASCO® hutch concept.  

Cecil, the four-foot hutch is an interesting add-on business for shops looking to offer their customers a distinctive new product. Explain the program, if you would.

The four-foot hutch was first discussed at the Orlando PGA Show this past January.  Actually, the original "hutch" concept is from the TABASCO® pepper sauce world.  Utilizing this merchandising strategy, we have experienced tremendous growth in our sauces and gourmet food products.  Giving pro shops the ability to offer TABASCO® pepper sauce, gourmet products, and merchandise in their apparel section gives McIlhenny Dry Goods™ and TABASCO® Sport a unique edge over every other apparel brand in the market.  TABASCO® is a winner at your dining table and on the golf course — It is a lifestyle. 
Moreover, we all know that every golf course has foodservice facilities, sometimes multiple facilities, and to be quite honest there is always room for improvement in terms of the golfer’s culinary experience. 
Also, I should note that many of the TABASCO® ancillary food items available on the hutch are not found per the mainstream grocery industry: for example, our TABASCO® spicy beans, okra and olives.  These, incidentally, are made specifically with bloody mary’s and other bar drinks in mind.  Other hutch items include great on- or off-course snacks, such as TABASCO® Hot Nuts, TABASCO® Spicy Chocolate, TABASCO® Cinnamon Candies, and Hot & Spicy Cheez-Its® with TABASCO®.  
The hutch program has been used in gourmet food shops for some time now, but at the PGA show Rob McNamara showed such enthusiasm for our food product line that we decided to marry the two concepts of food and apparel especially for use in golf shops.

Willowbend Country Club

Chip King at Grandfather Golf and Country Club in Linville, North Carolina wear-tested the product and was impressed. He now count and fills the McIlhenny solid shirt every Monday morning and is pleased with the sell-through and customer service. Chip explains that "We put in the line as a basic staple with a well known brand but that wasn't everywhere. With this product I have quality, value pricing and mens as well as ladies in colors and fabrication the members love. We quite often have guests wear one for the day's round and come back in and buy one in each color".

While some shops rarely switch apparel vendors others make a point of adding a new line every season, and all of us are always looking for something new to offer members/regulars. The hutch concept fascinated me as something that has incredible incremental potential whether you deal with private, public or resort clientele and George sent me a shirt that I wore this weekend and if I were one of Chip King's members I too would be buying other colors.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Spikeless Phenomenon

There are fads and crazes, and then there are phenomena which are more lasting and usually described as natural or cultural.
Spikeless golf shoes have been around a long time but the craze to own a pair started when Freddy Couples wore the ECCO Street shoe at the 2010 Masters and had the TV announcers asking “What is that shoe Freddy is wearing?” As he did in the early nineties with his Ashworth shirts, “Mr. Cool” was inspiring a new look. The demand was almost instantaneous and ECCO, even though it owns and operates its own manufacturing facilities, was initially unable to meet that demand. It is human nature to need that which is fashionable but short on supply, and once ECCO was able to fill the orders the Street shoe quickly evolved into the majority of the company’s business. All the other major manufacturers supplying the industry obviously believed that the future was now staring them in the face, and we now have adidas Sambas, Ashworth Cardiffs and FootJoy Contour Casuals –and success stories from all about volume, sell-in and sell-through.

Spiked golf shoes have a 150 year history, starting with golfers in the 1800’s driving nails into sturdy shoes for traction. Metal spike technology advanced to less dangerous, lighter in weight and more comfortable until the early 90s, when cleat design made metal passé (and often banned). Manufacturers such as FootJoy led in the research and development of materials and shapes that made cleats more effective, relaxed and easier on greens. Now with the popularity of the look and feel of the spikeless brands, the technology is all about making nubs out of material that doesn’t wear down while continuing to sell the concept of traction and stability. Yes, this shoe is a lifestyle fashion ¬– but it is also a piece of equipment.

For more about the corporate perspective and the future of the category, one of the people I had the pleasure to speak with was David Helter, sales director for ECCO USA). We discussed his product as well as his vision for the future of what he is now referring to as the hybrid business.

According to David, “ECCO owns and operates their own plants as well as the fifth largest tannery in the world, and are thus able to do some proprietary things with leather, fit and design.” Hydromax, for example, is the generic name given to ECCO leather with high water resistant properties. The hydrophobic compound generated as part of the tanning process is distributed throughout the leather structure, not just a surface effect. These leathers are also characterized by a low water uptake in wet conditions. From a construction viewpoint, the ECCO shoe is unique in that the sole is molded to the shoe out of polyurethane that basically makes the shoe more durable since there is no cement to deteriorate from heat, wear and age. He explained that the nubs on the sole that provide the traction are patented star-shaped outsole design which provides more traction angles and are made of high-abrasion TPU (Thermo Plastic Urethane).

David believes “There will always be the more traditional golfer who would prefer spikes and a classic look, but that the more casual trend is not going away. The game-changer going forward for us will be updated classic looks in camel leather and spikeless bottoms. The last frontier for this category will be to have tour pros as well as teaching pros wearing this product and winning. Matt Kuchar is wearing our product but is not on contract. We are the largest-selling brand name shoe at Nordstrom and want to help the golf pro and his staff, learn how to talk about and fit shoes. We have a MEET, GREET and SEAT training program”. Mike Pifer , the Mid-Atlantic rep for ECCO, added another important business aspect, stating “I have provided the Street Shoe at member/member tournaments and invitationals as favors at facilities such as Robert Trent Jones, Manor Country Club, River Creek Golf Club and Trump National.

In pro shops, an oft-heard statement of late is “What are we going to put on the tables?” now that 90 percent of the shirts are hanging. I merchandised a table just the other day with spikeless shoes and hats from appropriate vendors. We had two styles in two colors each and I put a dozen pairs interspersed with some shirts and appropriate props to make a good-looking lead table that left no doubt we were in the spikeless business.

Any new and popular category of goods always increases sales in the golf shop. Destination golfers who have brought golf shoes with them are apt to see spikeless on display and decide this is the right time to try the new look and feel they have been hearing about.

Scott Justman, the new VP of golf operations at National Golf Management in Myrtle Beach, makes the point that “Interest in spikeless golf shoes has been on the increase and we have seen a definite growth in overall footwear sales since this product hit the marketplace. The spikeless product has been a big hit in the resort atmosphere, as it is something new that guests may not see at their home club and is also the perfect choice for traveling. This shoe allows players to go directly from lunch at the clubhouse, to the course, to dinner and nightlife – a complete lifestyle piece.”

I have seen club members come back from a round raving about the comfort level of their new purchase and want to special order one in each available color.

Eddie Suchora, head golf professional at Park Country Club of Buffalo, comments that “I have seen an increase in sales this year with the growing popularity of the casual spikeless shoes from companies like FootJoy, adidas and Ashworth. With the casual atmosphere at our club, members are looking at more lifestyle items that can be worn at the club. This trend looks like it is here to stay when you look at the presence at PGA Tour events as well as PGA Section events.”

Dennis Winters, head professional at River Run in Ocean City and one of the better players in the Mid-Atlantic PGA Section, calls his Sambas “mood shoes” and explains that “The lifestyle aspect has been great for me in that I travel a lot to play and appreciate being able to wear these on the plane and for drinks after the round. They are easier on the greens as well as the flooring in clubhouses and shops. They seem to work for me on all occasions, and I switch up colors according to mood.”

I can’t think of a shop, owner or manager that should not be riding this wave and keeping their staffs aware of the evolution of the look and the new technology of spikeless shoes.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Given the nature and history of this site, today’s topic may initially seem redundant, it may seem “goes without saying” and yet as I travel around I am convinced that golf shop retail is often not the priority it should be. I find this amazing when I encounter it because almost everyone in the industry would agree on the following:

  • ·         Creating more rounds may or not be desirable, but creating more dollars per round is always desirable.
  • ·         The image of the shop and facility and perception of existing customers is what creates loyal patronage.
  • ·         Given budgets, weather, etc. the easiest aspects of the business to improve are the look of the golf shop, the quality of service and aggressiveness of marketing both of these elements.
Retail dollars per round can be increased with promotions, coupons, product educated golf staff and improved product mix and presentation. Any vendor fitting day or trunk show activity, if properly planned and promoted, is usually successful. E-commerce and affiliate marketing is growing rapidly and in some cases meaningfully and can lead to increasing corporate business which at most facilities remains underdeveloped.

Typically, the first thing that golfers experience upon arrival is either the bag drop or bag room service. The golf shop is the next stop 95% of the time. Regulars have an expectation as to the look and ambiance of the golf shop but anyone new to the facility will have the natural reaction to first impressions. There will be an immediate decision made that will pigeon hole the shop into “Needs to be further investigated”, “Looks like any other I’ve been in lately”, or, worst case scenario, “There is no reason to come back here.”

Golf shop dollars per round are not the only way to increase revenue per customer. No matter what the mode for providing food and beverage, it should be promoted aggressively and as part of the golf experience. I’ve seen everything as simple as a coupon for a free draft beer when you pay your greens fee to clubs that have Sunday 8 o’clock shotguns during football season and big screen 1 p.m. games at the end of the round with a buffet.

Thinking outside the box to reprioritize the retail part of your operation begins with commitment and ideas.  Since the commitment needs to be a total buy-in from the staff and this is where the best ideas are generated, announce the desire for both at the next staff meeting. Topics of conversation and questions to be asked could be:

“What can we do short term to significantly improve the look of the shop?  Long term?”

“What is the most customer friendly thing that has happened since our last meeting?”
“What can we do on a per customer basis to wow them with the value, personality and professionalism of what we do?”

Many golf staffs and operational models seem so focused on answering the phone to create a tee time and collecting the dollars for the round that all other revenue opportunities become insignificantly secondary. The best way to increase revenue per round, it seems, is to reverse this completely.  Perhaps if all tee times and greens fees were booked and paid for on-line similar to airline tickets, then all interaction the day of the event could be about improving and enlarging an incredible experience.