Saturday, September 22, 2012

The New Wave

The addition of AHEAD by the New Wave Group which is headquartered in Sweden but with significant interests in the United States enhances their golf portfolio, as they are also the parent company of Cutter & Buck. 
Founded in 1995, AHEAD is best known for its premier headwear collections that feature original approaches to logo embroidery options. It has grown under Ken Shwartz into a company operating four distinct business units: Men’s Apparel, AHEAD Headgear, the “Heavy Metal™” line of golf accessories and the “Kate Lord™ Collection” of women’s hats, apparel and accessories. In 2010 it launched the PGA Authentic apparel line as a green grass only effort to further enhance the “PGA” brand.

In May of this year the New Wave Group appointed Anne Broholm chief executive officer of AHEAD. Anne most recently was the sales manager for Cutter & Buck. Her previous experience includes nine years as executive vice president of sales and marketing for Imperial Headwear and additional apparel experience with Liz Claiborne, Ocean Pacific, and O'Neill.
Scott Stone, a golf industry veteran, has been promoted to National Sales Manager, Golf for AHEAD® by CEO Anne Broholm. Scott has been affiliated with the company since 1997 when he started selling headwear in Texas and Oklahoma. Most recently he has served as a regional sales manager for the AHEAD, Kate Lord, and PGA Authentic brands. An industry veteran since 1989, Scott began his golf career working for the Ben Hogan Golf Company as a Tour representative on what was then the PGA Tour’s developmental program, the Ben Hogan Tour, where his responsibilities included on-site retail management, sports marketing, product design and development. After a brief stint as sales analyst for the Ben Hogan Company, Scott  began a 14-year sales career where he gained valuable headwear and apparel experience with companies such as Izod Club, Cutter & Buck, Nike, Adidas, and finally, AHEAD.

 Being involved with Scott during his Izod Club days made this interview all the more rewarding for me.

Scott, you obviously bring a fresh enthusiasm to AHEAD's place in golf. What do we need to know about the new ownership and the restructuring of the management team?

The new ownership is committed to bringing the same innovative approach to facility branding that the golf industry has come to expect from AHEAD, while at the same time expanding the product base utilizing the concepts developed. Our management team has the good fortune of being led by someone who has a tremendous amount of experience in the golf industry, and has been successful on every level. Anne Broholm, AHEAD’s new CEO, is focused on a business development strategy which leverages the strengths and aptitudes of our management team to broaden the scope of product distribution, both inside the golf channel and beyond.

Ahead is certainly known for their ability to provide headwear on a timely basis. I wonder if the industry is aware of the length and breadth of categories that you provide and some of the unique and creative ways you bring them to market?

We’ve seen a significant spike in our accessory business over the past two seasons due to the launch of our new cloisonné ball marker product. The cloisonné technique brings an enriched jewelry-type finish to our accessory line. Combining this new approach with multiple display, and packaging options for retail and event presentations, and our accessory line has really come to life. Apparel brands which include AHEAD, Kate Lord, and PGA Authentic continue to gain traction with creative ornamentation and classic styling driving growth.

The AHEAD apparel line has grown in both depth and importance by maintaining a value-driven marketing approach and the company now designs and sources PGA apparel. What can we expect going forward that will separate you from the pack?

Our focus has always been to cater to a somewhat traditional customer. From a product design standpoint, you will continue to see us track down that path utilizing the latest in performance fabric technology. What really sets us apart, however, is innovative ornamentation processes bringing custom labels to bear where embroidery has been the old standby for years. There are those logos in the market that are very intricate and difficult to embroider…..we have an app for that! Like with our accessory category, we have expanded our fixture offering to accommodate just about any presentation one would need to effectively manage product movement in their shop as well.

The last few seasons I am hearing very positive things about Kate Lord in terms of both design and sell-through. What are your thoughts on the ladies side of the business?

Kate Lord definitely has a following! Women’s apparel plays in important role in golf specialty retail, and we are not looking past this segment of the business. Kate Lord is focused on bringing a sense of fashion to functional golf attire inclusive of polo’s, performance outerwear, cable knit sweaters, and fashion bottoms with coordinate headwear to match. Ornamentation also plays a key role in creating interest in this product line. We encourage creativity here, much like in our headwear.

Given all the areas in which you can help a shop with product as well as fixturing and custom design you must be excited about the future. Where do you see the company going and what new partnering plans can we expect?

Our tournament retail division had a record year this year! We anticipate continued growth in this category, with our fixture programs opening many new doors for us. I know I’ve mentioned it several times, but we both know how important presentation is. We are committed to not only bringing a very high quality product to market, but also working with our retail partners to create an effective presentation in their shop, and creating programs that are specific to their individual needs.
What would you like to say to anyone reading this that we haven’t already touched on?

Probably the most exciting new development this year has been the launch of our new headwear line. Our largest headwear product launch since the company began in 1995, which includes not only an expanded color palette in our vintage twill product, but the addition of both textured nylon (which offers a higher UPF rating than our previous microfiber fabric), and technical mesh which brings a whole new aspect of performance to our headwear. We also introduced a new line of “snap-back” styles, influenced by mainstream retail trends, which have been very well received thus far. Craig, thanks for allowing me the opportunity to spend some time in conversation about AHEAD.

Scott and I began our visit, interview and catching up at Fenway Park and concluded it surrounded by product and fixtures in the showroom in New Bedford, Mass. During this entire visit I continued to be impressed at just how all inclusive is their ability to help golf shops with every facet of their business. With this as a mantra Scott and I have decided we want to begin providing the industry with product knowledge about the areas of the business AHEAD does touch and provide this information in a way that would be easy to share with the entire golf staff and make them better at being able to discuss these categories with customers obviously enhancing sales and service. 

Saturday, September 8, 2012

The Formula and the Result

I am often asked to summarize what it is that I do, at times I get the feeling that it is just an effort to make sure that I’m doing something. Over the years and from time to time I’ve had a little trouble with this depending on who is asking and what I feel to be their motives. As one gets older (and hopefully wiser) the tendency is to care less about these motives and the answers to such questions do become easier to formulate in an objective manner. “I institute the formula” begs the question “what is the formula and I have been able to summarize that quite succinctly of late and without fear of being copied as the formula is universal but the institution of it is really not about the knowing so much as the doing, the implementation and execution are about going down the right paths with a stick-to-it attitude that involves total focus and experience.

The formula: Service Culture plus Proper Merchandise Mix plus Proper Inventory levels plus Impeccable and Creatively Displayed plus Intelligently and Respectfully Sold equals The Best Chance for Retail Success.

The result of adopting a plan to become as customer-centric as possible is that your facility will become more competitive, more profitable and will have a better chance of surviving these turbulent times. The result for businesses that do not operate with this philosophy at its core is that they are not going to retain the customer base they have.  Consider the results of the following study done by the American Society for Quality and the Quality and Productivity Center:

Why Companies lose Customers

Customer dies ……………… 1%
Customer moves away …….. 3%
Customer influenced by friends ... 5%
Customers lured away by competition … 9%
Customer dissatisfied with product … 14%
Customer turned away by the attitude
or indifference of the service provider … 68%

Satisfied customers tell 4 to 5 people of their positive experience and dissatisfied customers tell 9 to 12.[i]

Wowed customers, on the other hand, tell everyone they speak with their story for days and any time the subject of service at a golf facility comes up for the rest of their lives.

What makes these numbers frightening is that you typically don’t know that your business is leaving until it is too late. It is much more difficult to attract new customers than to retain existing ones.

Club members can join other clubs.
Daily fee players have many courses to choose from.
You can buy clubs, balls, hats and golf knits on the internet.
You can get a burger and a beer after the round down the street.

How many hair salons do you drive by to get your haircut?
How many dentists do you pass to get your teeth cleaned?
How many restaurants exist between home and where we’re going to eat tonight?

If profitability in the pro shop is not something that motivates you, think about your resume and the next job you interview for where there will be applicants from facilities with Wow reputations. If you are at the job you will retire from I applaud you and your security and suggest that you use the Wow factor resume point at your next staff meeting or in one-on-ones, particularly with assistant pros who aspire to be head pros.

In summary, we want the golf experience at our facility to be so outstanding that members/customers want to patronize the shop whenever possible and tell all the golfers they know how wonderful we are.  In order to accomplish the big picture specific actions taken will be:

  Create a mission statement for the staff that declares this intention. This is not necessarily the mission statement of the club or facility.

  Create an orientation program for new employees that focuses on customer service, the Wow factor and sales skills instead of the typical tour of the grounds and primer on running the register.

 Make every employee accountable to creating the culture that will accomplish this mission.

  Promote the associates that best exemplify the culture.

  When possible incentivize associates that best exemplify the culture.

  Hire only candidates who you are convinced will enhance the culture.

 Make every day’s priority to be better at serving the customer than we were yesterday. 

[i] Ford, L. et al, Exceptional Customer Service, Avon, MA, Adams Business, 2009.