Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Extra Mile – Developing the Culture

3 Creek Ranch
This is a repost of a four part series I wrote a few years ago that broke down service and sales into the arrival, pre-service, shop salesmanship and follow up.

When someone mentions “exemplary service” as often as I do it is quite common to be quizzed about what specifically that phrase means. Does it mean simply being especially nice to customers? The obvious answer is yes, but exemplary implies pushing the envelope, always looking to make the member/ customer’s experience special in new ways without sacrificing anything that has proved itself well received in the past. Thinking outside the box is an important part of the culture that provides this type of service and should be encouraged as soon as a new staff member is brought on board. You never know where the next great idea will come from.

With this as mantra this posting will discuss the first of many hypothetical staff meetings where this attitude of team thinking is fostered. We will open the discussion with a preface on a particular area of the operation per meeting so as to keep everyone’s thought process focused. The introduction by this meeting’s team leader may sound something like this.

“Our customer has pulled his car to the bag drop. An attendant greets those in the car to the facility, assists them with their bags and explains what the next step in the process will be. This constitutes typical service. What can we do to enhance this part of the experience?”

The following ideas surface:

 It would be more personal to (whenever possible) be able to greet this member or customer(s) by name. 

At this point all the different tools that could be used to accomplish this are examined.
It is also important upon arrival to differentiate as much as possible between members/regulars and their guests with a particular warm welcome for the guest.
The best chance at creating a new regular and the most prospective new member is a wowed guest.

 It would be great if the greeter could volunteer not just to direct the customer to the next point of call but to accompany them and introduce them to the shop staff.

This is a nice touch and obviously depending on the operation the next stop could be to meet the caddy, the staff member managing the range or the locker room attendant.

 All of what we are discussing would be more seamless if we offered to valet-park the cars.

The attitude is once you are here we will take care of the mundane stuff and you will only have to remember the experience.

 If we start to valet the cars we could offer to wash and detail them while they play.

This is not as difficult as it sounds as it is subbed out to a contractor, takes a corner of the parking lot, is incredibly well received by most and of course has margin built in for the facility. This idea has the facility adding dollars per round before the customer has left the bag drop.

 Shouldn’t we be inquiring as early as possible if there is a particular beverage we can load into the six –pack cooler on the cart, we don’t have anyone play here who isn’t interested in hydrating or dehydrating as it were?

How many times have you waited until the fifth or sixth hole before the beverage cart makes an appearance? Maybe more to the point, once regulars are aware this service exists there will be no reason to bring your own.

 Should we inquire at arrival whether anyone could use balls, gloves, shoes or apparel so as to plant the seed and get them to the appropriate staff member to best help with their need?

Typically the first staff member exposed to the newcomer is a young person who either takes the bag from the trunk or retrieves it from the bag room and their conversation and social skills are often revealing as to the overall service attitude at the facility. While they should not sound scripted or rehearsed, they could be practiced, at the very least these young people should be at this meeting.

 We think of preparation to play as an opportunity to warm up at the range and to have the rules and peculiarities of the course explained; most people seem disinterested and even put off by me reading this recitation at the first tee, particularly if I am the first staff member to introduce myself and strike up a conversation.

This comment made by the Marshall working the first tee is making the point that while this is probably important to pace of play, etc. no one came here today to listen to the rules, they came for camaraderie, golf and a good time.

 We should explain to customers when they arrive what they need to do to depart. Many people get done playing and are confused as to what to do next. We could explain where they drop the carts or how to retrieve their car. It would also be a good time to invite them to spend some time with us at the 19th. 

Another seed planted and you can’t plant too many as it is really about total dollars per round.

 Shouldn’t we be providing a range attendant to help with the procurement of range balls and cleaning clubs. Maybe this is the fellow who can in a very friendly way mention some of the rules?

But this will probably cost more than we can budget - or maybe not with some vision. The point is that there are no bad ideas at this meeting and the young man who brought this up is obviously on board.

 We are already keeping a personalized golf ball inventory in the member’s locker and our locker room attendant is great at keeping up with the cleaning and polishing of shoes. Let’s suggest to the membership that if they purchase what we will call their locker outfit and turn it in with their shoes at the end of the round we will see to it that it is cleaned, pressed and hanging in the locker the next time they come out to play. It may or may not be what they wear their next round but it is there if needed.

I will not take credit for this idea. Gilbert Taylor runs the locker room at Kinloch and one of my favorite stops in my travels is coffee with Gilbert and sharing ideas.

Kinloch Golf  Club

The following stops along the extra mile will break up staff meeting topics into these areas of the operation; obviously no two facilities would necessarily have the same:

1. Arrival and preparation.
2. Pre-service – During the round – At the break
4. Shop Salesmanship
4. Post-play – Departure – Follow-up

None of the ideas presented at this pretend (Arrival) meeting were earth-shaking but all were thought provoking and would be fruitful at developing that culture that attempts to provide special enough service to be remembered, enjoyed and talked about by the most important part of the equation – the customer. In an effort to set your staff apart from the competition and have members/customers marketing your facility with word of mouth, mock meetings 2, 3 and 4 will take place over the next couple of weeks. The real key is to develop momentum at the meeting. Implementing ideas put forward by employees is as important as paying attention to the comments and criticisms of customers.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Thoughts on the Future of Golf Retail

In speaking about the future of golf retail it is important to designate short and long term plans. In attempting to analyze golf shop retail at the green grass level there has never been a cookie cutter formula, but there are trends in the market place that all facilities from elite clubs and resorts to municipals should be considering and everyone who runs a golf business has been told quite a bit lately that they should have a plan going forward that better markets your brand and enhances the golf experience.

Trend 1 – Cater to the Affluent. 

When one talks about retail it is usually segregated to high-end or mass market – pricey or price driven. However it is the well-to-do who are carrying the day especially when it comes to retail and anything involving expendable income. While the unemployed have more time to tee it up they don’t have the capital and the debate about the vanishing middle class is not as important to the golf industry as the fact that the more affluent are driving the economic recovery.

According to Nelson D. Schwatrz’s article in the New York Times - “The Middle Class is Steadily Eroding. Just ask the Business World.” 

In 2012, the top 5 percent of earners were responsible for 38 percent of domestic consumption, up from 28 percent in 1995, the researchers found. Even more striking, the current recovery has been driven almost entirely by the upper crust. Since 2009, the year the recession ended, inflation-adjusted spending by this top echelon has risen 17 percent, compared with just 1 percent among the bottom 95 percent.

In Manhattan, upscale Barney’s is replacing discount Loehmann’s. Capital Grille is thriving, Olive Garden is struggling.

Trent 2 – Rethink with the Young in Mind

Today's millenials - nearly 80 million individuals in the U.S. alone - represent a staggering force in today's marketplace, spending roughly $600 billion each year. And their impact is only expected to grow through 2020, with estimates their total spending in the U.S. will top out at nearly $1.4 trillion annually. Despite this, most retailers today are millennial-challenged, largely due to their traditional focus and reliance on the spending power of Baby Boomers.

This is the first paragraph of an article by Venkatesh Bal in "Top News" entitled "How even the stodgiest retailer can win over millenials." Mr. Bala is the chief economist and director of the Economic Center of Excellence of the Cambridge Group.

Trend 3 - Customization and Personalization

Cotton Timberlake in an article in the San Francisco Chronicle "Retailers cater to customization craze" states:

There is a new kind of importance placed on self-expression and on items that are made just to be identified with an owner," said Robert Burke, who runs a namesake luxury consulting firm in New York. "It is very popular currently, and will probably have long staying power. 

Personalized merchandise is proliferating as the likes of Nordstrom, Williams-Sonoma and Burberry Group try to differentiate themselves - and persuade discount-addicted shoppers to pay full price. By allowing customers to monogram merchandise and "build" garments from a range of styles and colors, stores are catering to shoppers' yen to put an individual stamp on what they wear and put in their homes.

So the sum of the important trends say we need to cater to the affluent, the young and fit with customized product. Sound familiar? Sound like a golf formula? Does this sould like part of the marketing plan you have been formulating? Golf at all levels has always relied on customization at retail, starting with logoed apparel and accessories and more recently with personalized golf balls serviced by the golf staff with Custom Ball Programs. Golf lessons and club-fitting are a customization that is unique to the industry and should be enhanced whenever and however possible. All research I've done on the future of retail asumes two factors however that aren't now part of most pro shop retail - an extension of selection to members/regulars via e-commerce and digital merchandising. One of the best ways to sell a brand story including your own is to digitally market in the shop with videos on flat screen, be it TV near the register or in a sitting area or digital frame per display that tell that table or wall's brand story. This, by definition, is customized merchandising per facility and truly is assumed by retail experts discussing retail space in the future.

In last June's issue of "The Atlantic" Derek Thompson's article "Death of the Salesman" discusses the decline of big box retail and department stores such as Sears and J.C. Penny, two stores who have always targeted the middle class, as well as the decline in the retail job market in general. He makes the point that "More Americans work in retail sales than in any other occupation but these jobs are threatened by technology." Also, "Twenty years ago the shoppers went to the stores. Today the stores go to the shopper. Increasingly there seems to be two kinds of stores - those in a race to the price bottom and those closely guarding the patina of a shopping experience."

The article only alludes to Arthur Miller's award winning play by its use of title. It never mentions Willy Loman and the death of the American Dream as seen through Willy's dysfunctional existence. It does hoever leave us with this thought, "Cheap prices and cheap workers - that is our vicious cycle and the ultimate American shopping bargain. We are getting exactly what we pay for." This is a statement on the disintegratin of the service at most large retail entities and should be seen as an opportunity for golf shops to differentiate themselves.

Online sales complement brick & mortar retail, Harry Rosen CEO says

Golf Shop retail is normally the first and last chapter of an amazing event - a round of golf. As such we are already "those guarding the patina of an experience. "While many of the brick and mortar stores discount their way into oblivion there is obviously an opportunity to establish a new shopping platform playing on the strength of the relationship to the game as well as the club or facility while incorporating technology into the equation as an extension of the shop and its image. I speak often in this space about upgrading retail salesmanship through training and enhancing the ambiance of the environment with smart buying and smarter merchandising.The time has come to extend the shopping beyond the walls of the shop and inspire members/regulars to also shop a myriad of good that are not typically available and that are, in some cases, customizable or can be personalized. The only way to provide this opportunity to your customers is to e-commerce to your facility. The affluent and the young are increasingly gravitating to retailers and products that make the shopping experience just that, an experience. 

The retail in your future plans needs to be focused as much on this aspect of your faciltity's marketing as it is on the enhancement of the golf experience. Video and digital merchandising providing product knowledge and brand messaging is being developed by both third party providers as well as high profile golf vendors. E-Commerce solutions are also an imminent part of all retail and will be provided to the golf industry in the not too distant future. Both of these potential opportunities can be viewed as long term plans but the commitment to differentiate golf retail, with exemplary service cultures and customer friendly environments shuld be a short term goal ASAP.