Friday, April 26, 2013

Mutual Respect

The importance of the relationship between local sales representatives and golf shop buyers and managers probably cannot be overstated. The potential for increased productivity on both sides of the table is often contingent on the value inherent in this partnership. What is also true as business tightens is that these relationships are stretched and/or terminated. It is human nature that as pressures, demands and expenses increase, nerves tend to fray and friendships are tested.

 Most reps are putting considerably more of their bottom line back in the business to stay on the road and to offset the cost of sample lines. Most buyers are being expected to do more with less not only with volume and margin but also in terms of ambience and most importantly service.

This has been explained to me lately by many of my colleagues and usually it is discussed in the context of “creating tension”. With this situation as the focus and “mutual respect” as the mantra I thought it would be interesting to listen to comments from some of the leaders in the industry on both sides of the table.

Our club is fortunate in that we have tremendous sales representatives who call on us to support their various companies. One of my internal wrestling matches as a shop owner is trying to separate the personal relationships we spend time cultivating, from the tough business decisions of what to stock season to season. The concept of "mutual respect" hinges around communicating to the sales rep those decisions. We currently have a rep that we've done significant business with the last 3 years, only to change directions this spring, The rep was (understandably) extremely surprised and disappointed with our decision. However, I made it a point to contact and discuss our reasons with them about needing variety. Without diversity, product lines carried too many years in a row become stale both in style and to our customers. I also expressed the multitude of alternative opportunities such as tee gifts, promotions and special events that can move the needle with the vendor outside of a seasonal buy. Fortunately our relationship is built on a "mutual respect", and the communication lines neutralized the conflict or tension.

Adrian Jolliffe, PGA - Head Professional - Cascade Hills CC - Grand Rapids, MI 

Coming from a background as a PGA Professional, I understand that our customers have many more responsibilities than retail. Taking that into consideration as a vendor by providing service and support throughout the season is something that is essential in our business. That effort of understanding your customer's business, and the golf professional understanding the rep's side of the business is most beneficial and creates "mutual respect". It is a partnership, as you and I have discussed in the past.

Brendan McHugh, PGA - Account Executive - Summit Golf Brands

It is impossible to completely understand one's position without a certain amount of information being exchanged between buyer and sales rep that often times leads to the creation of a bond transcending the business relationship. As the dialogue moves from business to personal and friendships are created it's important to understand the difference to avoid conflict and confusion. As friends you might enjoy a round of golf together, go to a game, share dinners, etc., but as business associates it's very important to understand each other's needs/motivations and work together to create a mutually beneficial solution. You must also realize there will be times when your personal relationship may be strained due to business decisions made by either party. Respect and understanding will provide the foundation for future growth both personally and professionally.

Scott Stone - National Sales Manager - Golf - Ahead, Kate Lord, PGA Authentic

Craig: I hope you are well. I believe I have a relationship based on mutual respect with all of my vendors and sales representatives. While I certainly realize that they have a job to do and that their job is to "sell", I also understand that my job is to make the best business decisions possible in order to maintain proper margins and product mix. To that end, I have to decide which lines i'm going to carry from year to year. Some decisions are based on member comments. Most are based on what I feel will offer a good variety - product mix and price. Obviously it's not possible to carry every line, and I believe everyone's time is extremely valuable thus I don't waste my time, or the rep's time, looking at a line that I have no interest in carrying. I feel honesty is the best policy.

Gene Mattare - General Manager, Director of Golf - Saucon Valley Country Club

You have to create a good relationship/partnership between buyers and reps to help make your business extremely successful. You have to work together as a team, not against each other. Each side needs to listen to the other and respect each other's opinions. You rely on your reps for product knowledge, upcoming promos, merchandising tips, etc....
At the end of the day, everyone needs to lower their egos and realize that whether you are a rep or a buyer that you are servicing the member's needs and building a level of service that keeps your members coming back to your pro shop time and time again. Create meaningful relationships with each other and treat each other like you do your members on a daily basis. We are all in this together.

Shelley Puffer - Houston Country Club

Thanks for your message and opportunity to comment. Communication and understanding of the relationship are the key components to developing and maintaining a mutual respect between sales representatives and golf shop management. It is important to have an understanding throughout the relationship as to the goals, objectives, priorities and expectations of the merchandising operation so each side can be respectful of time, costs and commitment. the sales representative and golf professional management staff each showing a knowledge of business practices along with consistency of contact will be mutually beneficial and insure a lasting relationship.

Phil Owenby, PGA - Director of Operations - Kinloch Golf Club

While it may be impossible to completely avoid tension when conducting business,understanding the meaning of the word partnership by both buyer and seller is critical. My accounts are business partners (and often friends) not just customers or sales prospects. As a territory representative I strive to cultivate relationships that leave no doubt that I understand the challenges and goals of my partners and always will do what is in their best interests. Those who understand and value this approach have partnered with me for the common goal of growing our business. This type of relationship is built on clear communication and is the cornerstone of mutual respect. It goes a long way toward eliminating the tension that sometimes "comes with the territory" and makes it possible for all of us to face the challenges that each day brings.

Jim Guerra - Territory Sales Representative - Dunning Golf, Greg Norman Collection, American Needle, Winston Collection

Thanks for the opportunity to comment on what is the key component to both buyer and sellers success. Mutual respect is created when our customers feel strongly enough about us to share their goals and plans. Knowing the expectations of our customers creates a frame work to better service them. Having this knowledge allows both parties to work together buying, selling, merchandising and promoting a product to deliver a desired result. True partnerships develop when you can be open and honest with your customers avoiding possible tension and disappointment.

Jim Glass - National Sales Manager - Dunning Golf

As an owner of a relatively new golf company, I spend a good portion of my time working with our sales force and customer base.  Frequently, I get to hear both sides of the relationship between the buyer and seller in our industry.  I am not sure if the real issue is “mutual respect.” One of the best parts of this business is the mutual respect that we have for each other.  I believe that the real issue is time management.  It is a key component to any business relationship in which mutual respect is fostered.  In the day and age of multi-tasking, rising costs and demanding retail pressures, we need each other.  But we need each other to be more organized with the follow up after presentation(s)/meetings.  We need to be using more sales data, developing more effective ways to present product, using more digital photos, etc. I know I am not alone when I say, there are at least 5 ways in which I can be a better partner in this business that we are building together.  I am hoping that all of us might feel the same way.

Sharon Sunoo – Owner, Birdy & Grace

Since I am the one that begged Craig to write on this subject, I want to focus on the tension. It is much more apparent than I have ever seen it in my career and is definitely not productive. We have lost a lot of the fun and camaraderie that used to permeate our industry.
One of the most contentious subjects I have witnessed lately, through conversations with my peers and personal experiences involves "Trunk Shows". There are tales of reps spending half their day to sell two shirts, or two pairs of shoes at a trunk show. A bad trunk show is expensive to host and expensive to attend. The relationship then becomes strained between the rep's and the shop manager's embarrassment. The business model is often flawed and "trunk show" should be removed from our vernacular. We should be calling these "Club Events" and the reps should be an added feature, not the show! There is not one brand in our industry that alone can motivate a crowd to show up and spend money at a club.
A "Club Event" needs to be special, well coordinated and a heavily promoted collaboration between the club and the vendors involved to draw as many members and guests as possible. This increases the chance the chance for a profitable day for the club and the rep, and a memorable experience the membership and their guests.

John Brisbane - Mfr rep in Texas and Oklahoma

To John Brisbane’s point there is grist here for further discussion. Please leave comments below particularly in regards to opinions you have on vendor/shop partnerships and extracurricular activity such as trunk shows.
My personal feeling on the “trunk show” at a club is that it is a numbers game and the audience and attraction needs to be large enough for the event to be a win/win. Often in the past I have made sure that everyone at the club that is invited understands that it is desired that they bring guests, family, friends, coworkers, etc., it tends to give the event a member/guest atmosphere.