Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Buying Confusion? Solved!

Since starting this blog in December of 2008, I had requests to offer a guide to the methodology I use to create buy-plans for my clients. In 2009, in response to these inquiries, I put together a 40 page step-by-step guide (Merchandise Buy Plan Guide) to help merchandisers formulate a buying strategy to keep their shops well merchandised but not over-inventoried.

Since the manual was made available I have had regular inquiries about open to buy software and if there were any I would recommend. Until now I have not come across an easy to use system that gave accurate information in a format that I felt would offer benefits significantly beyond its cost when used properly.  

Recently, I have been introduced to Mort Haaz and his online open to buy system, MYOTBPLAN.COM.  Mort is an ex-retailer who developed an open to buy system back in 1970 to correct an overbuying habit in his own retail store.  After owning and operating several single and multi-store operations using his open to buy plan, Mort decided to package and market his system to other retailers and merchandisers.  While developing his system, Mort consulted for California Golf Centers, developing a complete pro shop merchandising program for their 11 locations. So his understanding of golf shop merchandising is first rate.

 Mort began in 1985 with a paper based system.  It was written into software
in 1987 and continually improved from there.  In 2010, the system was updated and put online solving all problems of access.  MYOTBPLAN.COM is now available to subscribers from any computer, tablet or smartphone.  Not only is this system accessible, but it is affordable, easy to understand and use, supported 10/7, and guaranteed to improve your buying, inventory position and cash flow or your payments will be refunded.  After going through MYOTBPLAN.COM in great detail, as I see it, it’s a “no brainer” to be used by every golf merchandiser.

With this in mind I have partnered with Mort to get the word out to the golf world about his system.  We feel that The  “Merchandise Buy Plan Guide” I have developed and MYOTBPLAN.COM complement one another and I have agreed to provide the Merchandise Buy Plan Guide by email at no charge to each subscriber for the web service.
MYOTBPLAN.COM is clearly explained on the web site and Mort is available from 9AM to 7PM PST to answer any questions just as he is once you subscribe to MYOTBPLAN.COM. The banner to Mort's site is to the right and his service is easily the best of its kind I have seen for golf shops.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Ralph Dunning

On March 8th, 2012 I published an interview with Ralph Dunning in which we discussed the partnership of his brand with the other Tharanco Lifestyle brands, most notably the Greg Norman Collection. I asked Ralph if there were plans to educate both shop staffs and consumers as to the concept and quality of Dunning Sportswear as well as the fundamentals involved in designing true performance apparel. These videos could easily be made part of any digital presentation to your members or regulars.

I also asked Ralph in our initial conversation what he saw as the future of "natural" performance apparel. Heritage Performance Cotton is obviously an important part of that evolution and therfore important for anyone in the Golf Shop business to keep abreast of.

These videos are the perfect "product knowledge" training tools for staff meetings and I applaud Ralph and the Tharanco team for producing 'easy to watch and learn from' material such as this. There should be more of this type of effort in our industry as we all strive to be better and more informed about what we do.

Golf shop staff will talk about what they are familiar with and will shy away from that which they aren't well versed in. Just imagine how much Dunning you could sell in any afternoon if Ralph was in your shop making this presentation; with this type of knowledge and approach your staff can do it too!

Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Intimacy Factor

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

If your goal is to improve the retail salesmanship of your staff you need to reflect on and perhaps redefine selling. If you believe that any effort to sell anything is tantamount to “carny” hard sell at the amusement park you will never instill the self-respect that needs to be present in your employees to want to get to know people and move merchandise. If we define salesmanship as engaging a customer in conversation there can be no misunderstanding that retail salesmanship equates to hard-sell. Well trained respectful retail salespeople know that listening is as important as talking when it comes to presenting the product and matching it to the customers’ needs. They know that building trust and creating relationships leads to sales, and that this starts with understanding the customer or member as an individual first and then as a prospect, customer or guest.

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 point is any conversation is better than ‘may I help you’ which typically elicits a ‘no’ and the shared interest in the game makes this easy to initiate. 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 “hang it and hope” mentality are over - 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.
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. 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. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Merchandising for the Holidays

This will not be an article that suggests holiday props or Xmas trees. I assume everyone has their own way of dressing up the shop for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas.  What I thought would be appropriate to discuss however would be the different modes that shops find themselves in this time of year and what that means to the merchandising effort.

Some facilities, for example, find themselves over-inventoried and not in the frame of mind to buy with the gift giving of their patrons as an incentive. Many clubs save open to buy in an effort to be able to provide the latest hot items for the members to shop and see that as an important part of the service they provide. Depending on seasonality some clubs retail drops off so significantly with lack of play that there is no real effort made to entice the member or regular to think "shop with us". Some shops are closed by the holidays and others are ramping up for snow birds. No matter where you are in this scheme of things if you have an email list you can attempt to do business by offering to drop ship gift-wrapped inventory or special orders. The inventory you do own can be pre-wrapped or bundled with ribbon, apparel items can be boxed as outfits and anything smaller than a shoe box can be suggested as stocking stuffers.

For the shops with open-to-buy and festivities planned, here are some cool ideas for gift-giving some of which I’ve mentioned here in the past:

Hydro Flask –  A great gift for the serious golfer. Double stainless steel keeps drinks cold for 24 hours and hot for 12. They range in size from 12 oz. to 64 oz. and can be brought in with club decoration on a powder coated exterior with a 24 piece minimum.

Signs by the Sea – Basically if you can dream it you can order it on a rustic sign form Kathy Yevchak (signsbythesea@optonline.net).  This is a very cool new company that is easy to get started with and can provide that customized gift with the golf touch.

Fore Kids Golf – Holiday gift giving is really about the kids and every shop with a logo that members have pride in can sell this product with the same pride. The clothes are made with luxurious soft Pima Cotton and are all designed to be logoed. Kelsey Mclean is the principal and her banner is on the right.

Rukk Net – An incredible gift for the avid golfer who wants to travel with his practice facility and hit balls anywhere. The banner is to the right.

Tin Cup  -  An obviously cool stocking stuffer. The banner is to the right

Stitch Golf – New head-covers for the upgraded bag is an excellent gift. “You will always arrive in style with a customized gift from Stitch Golf. Contact Charlie Burgwyn (cb@stitchgolf.com).

Personal Golf Fan - Battery powered fan for the cart is a great gift item for the avid golfer particularly in the warmer climes. Contact Cynthia Wark (cynwark@aol.com).

Always the go-to gift that should be mentioned here and should be mentioned often in the shop is the gift certificate. No matter what mode your holiday business finds itself this time of year, gift certificates are easy and don’t require new inventory. Many businesses, particularly restaurants have contests for employees with significant prizes to those that sell the most gift certificates.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Maximize Sales

The theme of this entry will be to suggest incentives to increase sales, to suggest that you do this in space that is properly bought for and that you keep everyone interested in both of these concepts by publishing monthly “sales per square foot” as the cool new thing to be interested in improving. 

The goal of the Merchandise Buy Plan Guide that I have written is to help you determine the inventory levels that you need for your shop in order to be well-merchandised but not over inventoried. It advises that you review the plan often and amend as needed, but does not fully address how to quantify the success of your plan.  A valuable and quick way of keeping track of retail performance is to measure “sales per square foot” and while there doesn’t seem to be any golf related comparative data - the National Retail Federation reports that the average for a retail store in a regional shopping center is $341 per square foot. Unless carefully segmented by facility type and volume, the numbers for golf would be all over the board to the extent that averages would be almost meaningless but the important comparison is to same space (your space) last year or last month, etc. When calculating sales per square foot, it is important to only include the actual selling space, do not include back room storage or office space. The calculation: 

Sales per square foot = total net sales divided by the square feet of selling space.

An example would be the shop that is 1500 square feet which has annual sales of $450,000 and thus annual sales per square foot of $300. This means, of course, that your square foot of selling space contributes an average of $300 per foot to your net sales over the course of the year. If you could keep track of your selling space in quadrants there wouldn’t be many surprises but there would probably be inspiration to remerchandise those unproductive corners and weak spots. My suggestion is that you post this number monthly, compare it to same month last year and discuss at staff meetings what we can do to improve this month. This is also the tool that I always suggest when asked what to base retail incentives on, as it most succinctly measures improvement.

Being over-inventoried has been discussed a number of times. I make the point in Over Inventoried – The Killer that it becomes almost impossible to make margin if you either have too much inventory to properly merchandise or inventory that is not working.  It also points out that there are a number of different ways to be over-inventoried. The use of new tools to gauge performance, the problem of too much inventory and the institution of effective incentives may initially seem unrelated but I believe them to be the key components of the package that needs to be in place in order to achieve maximum sales.

Retail Incentives are essential but they are incredibly under-utilized in the golf industry and therefore definitely worthy of discussion. While it is true that I have seen the good, bad and the ugly as far as incentives are concerned and was even involved with one that was incredibly counter-productive, the concept, when properly implemented, can help produce sales and heightened service levels. Experience has convinced me that commission per sales on the golf selling floor at most facilities doesn’t work;  neither does percentage awarded as a bonus on the total dollar volume or net business, or the increase in either.

So what will work? I recently read a discussion of incentives in general (not so much tied to retail) making the point that what inspires one staff member may be meaningless to another and that effective incentives therefore need to be customized and/or changed perhaps on a monthly basis. A recently married assistant may love a dinner for he and his new bride at a local establishment, a starter who is a bird watcher may be thrilled with new binoculars. This individual approach not only rewards salesmanship and service but also the attribute of being a team player and if done properly can be not only effective but also well within any budget.

The team concept can also be valid and productive, but not on something as remote as bonus or commission based on percentages and off-in-the-distant future.  A monthly posting of sales per square foot last month, currently and the coming month’s last year total with an understanding that an increase of (fill in the blank) will allow each member of the team an afternoon of golf with three friends free of charge or an evening out or Red Sox tickets or whatever the club determines will be inspirational but not break the bank. An incentive like this is non-contractual and fun and should promote teamwork as opposed to competition. 

I was working at a club where we wanted to increase shoe sales. We organized a staff dinner and invited the principles from our major footwear vendor where the entire evening’s conversation centered on becoming completely familiar with shoes and how they are made; how they are fitted and how they are sold as well as ideas on how we can better merchandise them to our clientele. We announced a contest where we would post a list of all staff members involved in shoe sales including the fellow who ran the locker room. Everyone’s spot on the list was determined by a drawing and every dozen pair of shoes sold the name at the top of the list got a free pair and went to the bottom of the list. The vendor thought it such a good idea they provided the free shoes. We had a 300% increase in shoe sales that year with each employee able to get two new pairs of shoes of their choice. The point here is that any announcement of incentive without relevant training is a missed opportunity of grand proportion. 

Everyone on staff needs to be well versed in how to discuss the shop’s inventory and understand that those are the expectations. When it is understood that this can result in personal perks there will also be a renewed interest in the inventory mix being appropriate and well-manicured. This is a formula that puts you in the red zone and a first down.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Over-Inventoried - Margin Killer

This is a repost from two years ago. The problem that it discusses is still one of the major problems in the industry.

Before moving into the new season or reviewing the results from the one winding down we obviously should be looking at sales per category, margin and did our buy plan keep our space well merchandised without being over-inventoried. Over-inventoried is the key margin killer in most shops and that being the case worthy of some definition. There are basically three ways to be over-inventoried and any of these situations will keep your shop from realizing its potential.

The implications of each:

A - Over-inventoried in total number of units
Obviously this translates to dollars and has put as many retailers out of business as has lack of business. Pro shops that have backrooms full of unopened boxes or tubs of stock from previous seasons have almost no chance of making any margin as they will be paying any realized profit out for merchandise that is not working for them and at some point will have to give up margin in order to get the level of inventory back to healthy. Overbought pre-books are usually the reason for unopened boxes. Tubs of residual merchandise are usually the result of too quickly removing items from the floor to make room for unopened boxes.

B – Over-inventoried in total number of vendors
Having too many lines or brands of apparel almost always does justice to none. It is also most often the reason for too many units. It comes about as a result of not understanding the space and the number of turns involved for the shop being bought for and/or having the ability to say “No”.

C – Over-inventoried in a particular category

Owning too many units in a particular category not only limits your ability to make money in that category but by definition has to be hurting your potential in some other category either by cramping its space or limiting its open to buy.

A healthy inventory level does not insure success at retail but it does create the most promising opportunity to create that success. It’s like going into the bottom of the ninth with the score tied but your team has the middle of the batting order coming to the plate. There are other factors that will improve your ability to score; a staff dedicated to service and salesmanship for example, but concentrating on the process that will determine that elusive level and your subsequent plan is the key homework for this time of year.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

(Bobby) Jones Global Sports

Waitt Company, an Omaha-based investment company, has acquired the Bobby Jones brand from the W. Diamond Group. Waitt Company has formed Jones Global Sports and appointed Any Bell, previously president of Bobby Jones, as the CEO of this new globally licensed affililiate.

Andy and I have been friends for 15 years and his industry savvy makes him a perfect fit for this role. The reason I was excited about interviewing Andy is his "outside the box" approach and the empathy he has for golf shop retailing and the game. I thought it would be great to hear from him on the new owners and their business plan and I'm always inspired hearing Andy talk about Bobby Jones.

We need to talk specifically about business but I think it is germane to hear you talk about Bobby Jones, the man, his commitment and how it all ties back to the brand.

A big part of my responsibility here is to not only manage the business but to tell the story of Bobby Jone, the man, and protect the legacy. I think it's easy to forget that he never earned a single dollar playing golf, accomplishing everything as an amateur. There's always a lot of emphasis on the "Grand Slam", but there's so much more, including being undefeated in all of his Walker Cups. After winning the U.S. Amateur at Merion to complete the final leg of the  slam, he retired from competitive golf to pursue other interests. When I say there is so much more, it also means outside of golf. He earned a B. S. in Engineering and an A. B. in English Literature, not to mention attending Emory University School of Law and passing the bar exam after only three semesters. Obviously he went on to co-found Augusta National and the Masters. His contributions to the game of golf are overwhelming. I think my favorite recognition of his accomplishments is the fact that the USGA's Sportsmanship award is named the Bob Jones Award. Behind all the winning, that pursuit of excellence and the way he went about his business is as inspirational as anything. That's what I challenge our organization every day; respect, character, integrity and the pursuit of excellence in everything we do is how we carry on the lasting legacy.

I thought it would be appropriate to discuss your business plan in the context of the "Grand Slam" of marketing (the four P's). Let's start by reviewing the product. Have there been changes and what are you most excited about?

We've made quite a few changes to product. There was a solid foundation in place but we believed we could make everything better. For Spring '14, you'll see us push the performance side of our business. Technology has come a long way in the last 5-8 years with performance fabrics and we need to be at the front of that development. I'm confident we can deliver performance in a Bobby Jones way. We'll also update all of our key items. We have some products that have been staples of the assortment for years and we need to breathe some life into them by making them modern and relevant for today's consumer.

The promotion of this product obviously starts with an unequaled emotional equity in the name, which makes the brand perfect as the sponsor of the M-Plus e-pub which PGA Magazine has launched. I have also heard you talk about remodeling the booth in Orlando and the way the product is presented.

From the beginning I've said our first challenge was to rebuild the trust of the trade in terms of our execution. I believe that Rick (Summers) and PGA Magazine provide the best platform to talk directly to the trade. When we sat down to discuss our respective plans, it was clear that there was a lot of common ground to work with and we were able to create long-term partnership.

While I love the PGA Show, I've felt for a long time that I was missing something in terms of how to present a brand in that avenue and make it emotional and interesting. We'll have a completely different point of view in 2014 that will be emotional, interesting and informative. The people at Reed listened to what we wanted to accomplish and have been a great partner in helping us get down this road. We'll be celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Bobby Jones brand and I believe we have the right strategy to support such an important milestone.

Beyond that, we need to do a better job working directly with the golf shops one-on-one to promote the brand to their customers. We want to create digital assets that are versatile and easy to adapt to allow each golf shop to tailor their own message. Technology gives us all the opportunity to really get specific and talk to the right customer with the right message at the right time. We need to take advantage of that.

I'm sure the placement goal is to have space in the top shops around the world and partner with them in a meaningful enough way that it constitutes a differentiator in the marketplace. We have also talked about starting this process with consultive selling-in. Could you expound on this?

Clearly we have a premium brand and plan to partner with the right people that can have success selling Bobby Jones. I think the road to partnership and success is about having a lot of communication. Through some of the PGA Magazine Boot Camps, Ive had the opportunity to listen and participate in many discussions about the industry and the way in which we do business. My favorite part is to watch everyone roll their eyes when the discussion turns toward the selling/buying process. You can see the pained expressions on their faces at the thought of three hours in a room or van looking at 500 samples. I've talked to our sales team a lot about changing this process to what you refer to as "consultive" selling. If there's a solid dialogue between the buyer and seller about the business, the opportunities, the challenges, etc., the process of selecting product to fit into the plan is much easier and much less time consuming. We have 300 skus in our line, and I don't expect any one customer to see all of them. I'm serious. If one of our reps shows someone every SKU, clearly they did not have any conversation about the business. Our line is the size it is to accomodate multiple regions of the country, different types of operations and varying tastes. We need to spend less time showing/selecting product and more time discussing how to execute. This gives the best chance for success.

Andy, I want to thank you for your time and your efforts in the industry over an interesting career. I saved price for last but it is probably important, especially to any buyer who hasn't carried the line lately, to hear you speak to the current pricing strategy.

Price is important in the context of value. Value doesn't mean the least expensive but it does mean providing the absolute best product you can at a specific price point. A $500 sweater can have value
to a consumer as much as a $75 shirt. We're fortunate to have a brand name with a tremendous amount of equity with the consumer but there is still a little bit of perception that Bobby Jones is really expensive.Italian knitwear that is difficult to care for and requires the dreaded dry cleaner. Obviously this is the exact opposite position for what is working in the market today when performance and easy-care are significant factors. For someone who hasn't seen Bobby Jones in a while they will be pleasantly surprised at what we're doing with both the wholesale and retail price points.

To Andy's point, the Bobby Jones brand has a "tremendous amount of equity " and under its new leadership, and given the empathy and product value that is involved in the new business plan, this could be the perfect time to revisit and take advantage of that equity.

Friday, July 26, 2013


I enjoy suggesting new categories and product to be sold in shops but obviously need to be selective both in terms of appropriateness and more importantly quality. There would be nothing worse than putting in a new classification of goods and having a member/regular come through and think to themselves or worse yet mention to their playing partner that there is a much nicer one down the street.

This was the primary concern I had after being contacted by Jana Skrabalkova (Marketing Director for RukkNet). The idea of retailing a net that would truly allow you  to practice hitting balls in the office intrigued me, but I was skeptical. When we realized we were not that far from one another Jana and I decided to meet at Bulle Rock in Havre De Grace, Md.

Jana was accompanied by one of the partners of RukkNet (Samuel Hyland) and I was excited to have Rick Rounsaville (Director of Golf and General Manager at Bulle Rock) sit in on the meeting. Rick is one of the best teachers I know and I was sure he had looked at many nets and mats in his career especially since I had heard him talk about doing some in-door teaching. The meeting moved to the range where Samuel quickly set up the net. Rick hit a couple of dozen balls into it and we talked construction and quality. When we were done Samuel said it took 10 seconds to fold up and put back in its carrying case and he was true to his word; it is incredibly portable. Here is what Rick had to say about the quality:

This net is perfect for an indoor or outdoor application where space is at a premium. It is well made, the assembly, take down and fold up is simple. It is lightweight and easy to transport. It is a great design and well thought out.

Seeing this product as both incremental in terms of retail sales and a great tournament favor the rest of our meeting consisted of talking about the best way to introduce and market this to the golf shop community as well as how to display the product in the shop and make the consumer aware of its uniqeness. This seems to me a story best told by the RukkNet principles and so we will be talking with Ryan Dickerson (founder, partner and designer) as well as Jana and Samuel who were at our initial meeting.

Ryan, tell us how you originally became interested in designing this product and the progress that has gotten you to where you are now with RukkNet.

Craig, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about the RukkNet. It is a passion of mine and I am very proud of it. The RukkNet idea started when I lived in a tiny apartment in Manhattan. I really wanted to get good at golf so when I could I would hit up the driving range at Chelsea Piers. I couldn't do that everyday so in the evenings I would hit a foam golf ball into the wall of our courtyard to improve my swing. Having the ball roll back was just great so when I actually had a chance to design a golf net from scratch I knew it had to have that feature. 

I live in China and spend about half my time in our factory. The first net I designed was a total disaster. I used mesh which just gets holes all day long. Obviously you don't want a hole in a golf net. That is one of the biggest problems with most of the nets on the market - they give you a false sense of security!

Early on we decided to go with spring steel rather than fiberglass. Fiberglass can shatter and wear out and it is just a pain to set up. Spring steel makes a much higher quality product but you have to get it just right and it is an expensive component. Too thin and the net will collapse. Too thick and it won't fold easily. Too much carbon and it will rust. And so on. It took us several generations to get it just right but we got there and now I think we have the perfect net. It is light, portable, durable and a lot of fun to use. I use it every day.

It seems to me as I mentioned in the intro that the quality of this product is of paramount importance.

I talked with a guy from a big retailer the other day. He said "people that care about quality usually have an emotional attachment to the product, retail stores just want good enough." He is right in a lot of ways and to tell the truth I know enough factories that it would be very easy to churn out cheap products all day long. At this time in my life it's more important to make something that I care about and that I would like to have myself. There are lots of golf nets out there and I know what goes into every one of them and I'm convinced the designers of these nets never actually use them. There is no attention to detail - they don't test out -carrying the bag for long distances, etc. I can honestly say we have the best pop up net in the world right now.

The portability and ease of set-up and take-down is obviously an important selling point and design feature.

The RukkNet is not supposed to replace a driving range, what it does is offer a golfer a chance to improve his or her game as well as improve their oveerall lifestyle through fitness and activity. Most of us can't go to the golf course everyday but we can get 30 minutes of uninterrupted exercise doing something we love and on top of it improve our golf game. As you may know, when it comes to exercise no one wants to waste any time, you want to get down to it. With the RukkNet there is no wasted time setting up or putting down the net. You can take it anywhere so there is no excuse not to use it and with any exercise it is about repetition, so we have a net that can be replaced after thousands of golf balls go into it. You don't have to stop becasuse of a worn out product. You also get to do what you like which is swing. You don't have to do a lot of bending over to retrieve balls - one is all you need.

We've discussed some things that are of importance in terms of partering with golf shops that will want to retail this product. I think we should revisit those points for the reader.

This is where our company stands out as much as this product. We make sure that every customer experience is a good one. We accept return, no questions asked. We had a woman buy one of our nets as a gift for her son and she gave us the wrong address - she had it sent to the wrong place. We sent her a new net by Fed Ex even though she was unable to recover the original net. Check our reviews on Amazon - every single one is five stars. We stand behind our products and our reputation as a company is very important to us. We understand that our retail partners and industry professionals are putting their reputation on the line when they sell or recommend our products - so we make sure that we enhance that reputation.

This product seems to me to be the perfect gift for the avid golfer and therefore also a great corporate outing or member/guest favor. Can the product be logoed and for corporate purposes co-branded?

Absolutely. There are a couple of options and we work with a great graphic design and printing partner to get this done quickly and effectively.

Ryan, Jann, Samual - thank you so much for your time. I am excited about your product and what it can provide in terms of incremental retail as well as service to the true aficionado of the game. Is there any other aspect of the product or its marketing that you would like to discuss?

I think it's best to let the product speak for itself. We were at the 2013 PGA Golf Show and were pleasantly surprised to see 3 other companies using our nets in their booths while demonstrating their products. I feel that's a huge vote of confidence. There were several companies with quick set up nets there as well and we were the only company that actually let people hit into our nets. We sold out our entire stock. I think that speaks volumes about what is out on the market right now. Golf Digest Magazine agreed and profiles us as one of the top six new products at the show.

Craig, I really want to thank you again for giving me the opportunity to present RukkNet to your readers. As I am sure you know, every small business involves a lot of sacrifice and struggle. But when I get the chance to present my design and my product it is worth every bit of it.

RukkNet is a product that serious golfers will take very seriously and that makes it a great gift item. It has an MSRP of $219.99 and the wholesale to pro shops would be the distributor price of $140.00. Jana and Samuel have agreed that they would refund the $140.00 sample price once the shop sells 5 units, basically making the sixth unit free. Any questions or concerns can be forwarded to Jana at jana@rukket.com. Her phone is 302-588-4483 and clicking on the banner to the right will take you to the Dealer sign-up page on their website. 

Friday, July 5, 2013

Fore the Kids

I am a grandparent and like most would rather buy something for the grandchild than for myself. It is typical I’m sure of most avid golfers and in particular most club members that there is a child in our life that we would love to buy for,  but the product has to be of the highest quality. I have been hanging around golf shops almost every day for 25 years and attending golf shows for the same amount of time and have not seen this product.

Enter Kelsey Abernathy McLean – the mother of the baby boy in blue to the left – whose husband is a member at Fieldstone CC in Delaware and whose locker is next to Vice President Joe Biden’s. She sees the niche, the need and the opportunity and designs product that one can be happy to have their loved ones wear and is embroiderable.  She quickly acquired placement at Merion and Medinah.  Kelsey will soon be shipping to Pinehurst, Pebble Beach and Sea Island and as they say the rest is history.

This is the type of product I most like to write about and the story that is most fun to tell. This is truly incremental business not only as the extra sale but more importantly for the customer/member who would not have been interested in shopping at all until they saw something in Pima cotton that had that “AHHH” factor going for it and now the range can wait a moment. There are shirts for juniors from major brands that look like add-ons and there are polyester lines designed for the young, but until now there has not been anything that you would want to take home to the toddler.

Kelsey, I did not want to steal any thunder, please tell us the story of how this started and define the customer that you are reaching out to and the size range that encompasses?

When I was about 8 months pregnant with my son, I went to the pro shop to purchase either a baby bodysuit (and or whatever other baby items) I could find that was embroidered with our golf club logo. I was disappointed and surprised to find there was nothing available for babies and toddlers.   Country clubs and golf clubs are places for families to gather, and not providing for the youngest members was a major gap in the market. We find that grandparents in particular are our biggest buyers. I was surprised to find that often clubs give away our products to members who are expecting babies. Our products range in size from newborn to 6T. We provide free logo embroidery up to 5,000 stitches on all our garments.

We premiered at the PGA Merchandise show in January of this year, and were thrilled with the response and orders we received.

Tell us about the quality that you are building into this product and some of the design considerations that I know to be incredibly important to you?

I wanted to provide the absolute best quality garments, timeless classic —no crazy colors or trendy styles.  30 years from now, the babies and kids won’t look goofy in photos while wearing our clothes! Our products are made of either 100% Peruvian Pima cotton or 100% Pima cotton and are the best quality textiles we can find. I wanted the products to withstand the rigors of heavy usage and still look beautiful. It has been a challenge to provide such high quality garments while still keeping an eye on cost, but we have managed to make that happen.

ForeKids Golf is less than a year old and already is in some great shops, has had some great testimonials and attracted some great reps. Other than the quality and value of the product what are you doing to partner with the shops that you are dealing with?

We strive to provide excellent customer service.  We provide child size mannequins and child size hangers to all our buyers.  The products must be seen to be sold! They need to be featured beautifully and hung on appropriate sized hangers to showcase the garments. We also advertise through Facebook and showcase some of the clubs (with their approval) where our products can be purchased.

Our sales reps have been thrilled with the product and sell-thru, they have all said this is something that has been needed in the market place for a long time. Our reps are carefully chosen and have all been in the business for a number of years and know how to help partnering shops with orders and merchandising.

Margie Kestner of Deepdale Golf Club, Manhasset  - "The quality of the fabric is what attracted me to the product. Most kids clothing is poor to mediocre quality. Fore Kids Golf uses Pima cotton and it feels like high-end clothing from Madison Avenue. The ability to logo a garment is crucial for me. Nothing is cuter than a body-suit or romper with a club logo….. The members melt when they see it."

Jay Sutherland (PGA Professional at Buffalo Country Club NY was quoted in PGA Magazine as saying -
"Since bringing children's apparel from Fore Kids Golf into the shop this spring we have been thrilled with the sell-through. We expected that they would make great gifts around the holidays. but they have been a very consistent seller the entire season. They offer the quality and classic elegance that fits with the demographic of our club."  

 I have mentioned my desire to buy for my granddaughter rather than myself but what other opportunities are there for the retailer to consider? Have any clubs instituted a Grandparent’s Day for example?

A lot of the clubs feature our items on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and events for the women golfers and special events.

I think that it is important to point out that your target customer and current distribution is “green grass only.” As the line continues to succeed what are the plans for the future?

Our most important goal is to provide and continue to provide exceptional quality and customer service. So far, we have delivered our shipments two or three weeks early. As long as we can provide that kind of service and support, the sky is the limit!

Kelsey, it has been a pleasure to spend time with you and come to know your passion for this project. Is there anything else you would like to tell the industry about Fore Kids Golf?

We have just added a few new items to our catalog, as well as the “Topher the Gopher” doll, which is 18” tall and quite a colorful little guy! He has a story that comes along with him as well—so far the kids have gone crazy over him! We  currently provide baby bodysuits, footed coveralls, Polo’s, Rompers, a hooded spa robe,  baby blankets, burp cloths, baby towel with washcloth, giggle hats  and bibs—all are designed to be logo embroidered. New items to be added soon!

Sizes: Newborn to 6T
Suggested retail price: $20 to $65

See our online catalog and more information at www.ForeKidsGolf.com

We have just joined the AGM (Association of Golf Merchandisers) this month and are thrilled to be a part of their organization.

Upcoming Shows where our products can be seen:

Dawn Houze, Maryland, Virginia, W. Virginia
  • Sept 10 and 11 – The Rockville show
Debbie Forrest, South Florida
  • The President’s Country Club Golf Show July 30th thru August 2nd
  • Estero Golf Show August 13th thru August 21st
  • PGA National Golf Show August 19th thru August 21st
Kelsey Abernathy McLean,
  • Philadelphia Golf Sales Association Spring Merchandise Show, Aug 27-28
Joe Jo Gittleman, Hawaii
  • HGRA Show at Marriott Waikiki, Oahu, August 13-16

It is hard to imagine a member's club where this type of product would not be successful. It is also easy to make the case that almost every sale in this category would be incremental.This to me is a no-brainer that Kelsey and the team that she is putting together want you to succeed with and a quote like Margie's from Deepdale - "the members melt." It just doesn't get any better. 

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Think Outside the Box with No Fear

River Run Golf Club

Often in this space and always with the facilities I work with I champion the promotion over the discount. Simply put, the farther you move down in price the harder it is to get back; the more value you add to the proposition, the more attractive and hard to turn down. Discounting is easy, promoting requires more effort and the right idea.

One of my long-time clients and sagest friends in the industry is Hunt Crosby. Hunt is part owner of Pam’s Golf Getaway and the Director of Golf at River Run Golf Club in Ocean City, Maryland. Obviously the multiple hats  he wears cause him to be concerned when rounds are down. What I find most refreshing about our relationship and conversation is that Hunt is never without a new idea to throw at the problem, any problem.

Hunt, over the years we have had many discussions about increasing dollars per round as well as increasing rounds played and you always seem quick to the heart of the matter. What is your basic marketing philosophy that drives that insight?

My basic marketing philosophy is made up of two parts. First, know your box. Every market is its own unique box, with certain specific segments. In Ocean City, for example, and particularly at a semi-private facility like River Run, we to market to members, locals, outings, tourists and the package players that we book through Pam's. This is the box we live in and it's clich√© but we want to be everything to everybody. It is very difficult to accomplish that without conflict between segments. Basically each segment needs to be addressed individually but the effort needs to hang together coherently. The second part of my philosophy is - if it doesn't interfere with the box - Let's try it.

A few years back you enticed me to bring a group here to play River Run with a combo package of a round of golf and a steak dinner. It was an easy sale to my buddies and everyone was happy with the deal. This may not sound like a towering testimonial, but this was a tough group and this is an incredibly competitive market.

Lots of owners talk about the need to add value to their experience, but at most clubs when the staff brings up an idea they get a lecture about how much it will cost. Then one of two things happens, the idea is tweaked to reduce cost to the point that there is no perceived value to the golfer or they decide not to try it because it costs too much. Either way it is a failure. Worse, the boss blames the messenger for a bad idea, and the visionary thinks the boss is unwilling to take their ideas seriously. Bottom line you try fewer and fewer things and nothing changes.

When adding value (not reducing cost) I say go big or go home - it is usually better to try something outrageous than to worry about tweaking it. The ownership at River Run is always willing to try new ideas and the steak dinner promotion you refer to is one of our best.

The basics are pretty simple - book a round of golf after noon during our golf package season and we throw in a free steak dinner. This is the same steak dinner we have on the menu at $27. The free entre√© includes the steak, starch and vegetable, golfers are told they have to pay cash for the sales tax, gratuity and other incidental purchases. There is no doubt that the golfer perceives this as a $27 value. He/she can see the price on the menu. The course can now maintain its higher morning rate until 3PM and pays the restaurant $20. Our food cost for this is $9 - the neat thing is they typically spend another $16 per person on drinks and appetizers on which our cost is $6.

Bottom line is everyone wins. The course has had some days where we have had 100 afternoon rounds as a result of this promotion, the restaurant makes money, the staff makes money, and most important the golfer gets a "great deal".

I recently overheard you on the phone suggest to a long-time regular whose group plays every Thursday morning that you wanted to provide them with the format for a member guest tournament. I thought this was off the top of your head genius. Would you expound on this concept?

I always say in theory all any course would have to do to be successful is simply to get everyone who plays your course to play one more time per season. Great theory but can be tough to do.

Every public course has groups of regulars. What we try to do is get them to have a member guest type of event in addition to their regular play. We try and provide the same experience a member at a private club would receive. This builds terrific loyalty and because we schedule them when we need the business it generates added revenue.

Sometimes it is as easy as asking for the sale - every group we have approached has scheduled an event.

The weather in this area has caused the start of the season to seem like the light at the end of the tunnel. What are you doing at River Run to try to offset the loss of rounds both short-term and long-term?

Short-term the mind-set is bad spring needs a good summer. We have dramatically increased our email campaign to locals - the part of the "box" we know to be here. We also have a radio and newspaper campaign that offers "Pay full fare for the first round and play as a member the rest of the week which is a significant savings and yield management savvy. Long term we'll do more of the same and hope for better weather.

We have done service seminars together for your group at River Run and I know you to survey your customers both through Pam's data base and at the course. These are both customer-centric business principles that are getting a lot of talk lately. 

Service seminars are important particularly at the beginning of the season because of employee turnover. Aside from setting parameters when new employees are hired and on-the-job-training, the staff needs to continue to be inspired.

I do ask for feedback from members/regulars in a variety of ways because it's not what I think about our product or the marketing plan, it's what the customer thinks that matters. The truth be told you can garner everything you need to know by asking two questions:

How likely is it that you would refer us to a friend or colleague?

Is there anything about your experience (good or bad) that you would like to comment on?

Hunt, I really want to thank you for your time and sharing your thoughts. Are there any other words of wisdom?

You and I talk often about enhancing the experience and adding value but it starts with being good hosts. My favorite first-tee sign I saw at a public course in Florida -

"Ladies and Gentlemen Don't Require Rules"

Obviously, Hunt is willing to "think outside the box" when it comes to promotions and marketing, but his philosophy is that you have to thoroughly know and have analyzed that box. The same can be said for promoting in the shop - once the relevance to the customer is understood and believed in, you should be able to proceed with no fear.