Friday, May 22, 2015

Green Grass E-Commerce

A note from Craig Kirchner:  Vanguard Pro Shop, a team headed up by the principals behind PGA Magazine and Bandon Dunes Resort launched in 2014 an e-commerce solution for private clubs and upscale golf resorts.   More than 50 leading clubs and resorts and more than 30 leading vendors have already committed to move forward on this effort.  Many of these resort and private club solutions are already producing impressive early results. I am part of the Vanguard team and proud to be involved with a solution and platform that I feel is such an important part of the future of our industry.  This article describes why we are passionate about what we have learned to date and what the future might hold.

Derek Thompson the senior editor at The Atlantic wrote an article titled "Death of the Salesman" discussing the decline of big box retail and department stores such as Sears and JCPenney as well as the decline in the retail job market in general. The article byline is "More Americans work in retail sales than in any other occupation, but these jobs are threatened by technology." He makes the point that - "Twenty years ago the shoppers went to the stores. Today the stores go to the shopper. Increasingly there seem to be two kind 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 however 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."

Golf shop retail is typically the first and last chapter of an amazing experience - 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 vanguard a new shopping environment 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. We speak often in this space about upgrading retail salesmanship through training and enhancing the ambiance of the experience with smart buying and smarter merchandising. The time has come to extend the shopping experience beyond the walls of the shop and endear members/regulars to shop a myriad of goods that are not typically available. The only way to provide this opportunity to your customers is to customize e-commerce to your facility.

At this moment, 98% of green grass retail is brick and mortar and is being cannibalized to some extent by e-commerce. This is a general statement and certainly isn’t true of all categories of goods or all shops, but is by definition true of the industry as a whole. What is more significant to me than the lost revenue represented by this is the loss of interest on the part of the consumer. I’m not talking about the consumer who is giving up on their favorite stores and enjoyable shopping experiences with retail staff that have become respected friends. I’m talking about consumers who are becoming used to being able to support these same stores from their laptop at home or computer at the office or from their phone for that matter. I’m talking about consumers who are also interested in more selection of brands, sizes, and product categories than would normally be carried in the shop. This is more the mind-set of today’s consumer and certainly the member at high-end clubs. The industry needs to realize that encroachment is coming at it from every quarter on the internet and provide the customer the avenue to frequent what has become one of their preferred modes of shopping.

The shop at a progressive facility should be looking to take advantage of the opportunity that e-commerce provides by giving their customer the following on-line service to utilize:

1.      Any e-commerce solution must be able to take advantage of the affinity that the members of the club already have for their club, for their PGA Professional, for their favorite buyer and for their club logo. It has to be a customized shopping experience that reflects an extension of the ambience and quality of the brand and product that has been established by the existing shop.

2.      An expansion of the product and vendor availability, especially to include more ladies and lifestyle goods than most shops are able to provide. This selection changes and updates itself so as to stay interesting but doesn’t need to be owned because of a drop ship partnership per vendor. Women are the shoppers of America, we must make them a bigger part of the golf club shop customer base.

3.      Both logoed an un-logoed options that aren’t available in the shop. This can include color and placement of logo obviously but also the availability of multiple logos including, for example, tournament, historic or member-only logos.

4.      The ability to send gifts drop-shipped to friends and family without calling the shop, using  staff time to hunt down what is needed, possibly special order it into inventory and then ship the order where it needs to go.

5.      A shopping spree as a tournament favor and customized to the tournament or outing budget so as to give the member, guest or corporate player an opportunity to pick their own gift, have it shipped to an address provided and patronize the club.

6.      The access to this service 24/7 – 365 regardless of season or weather.

7.      The site must be easy to use, professional in appearance, secure, and private (for members-only if for private clubs) and it must be able to offer custom pricing options that allow for special Mill River or similar member pricing.

Most internet research on e-commerce will immediately take you to articles that want to match traditional brick and mortar against new up and coming online shopping. I’ve never seen it as a contest or as an either/or, but always as how the aspiring golf shop can incorporate e-commerce as part of its service to its members, guests, resort guests, etc. If you throw out all the antagonist editorials and the accompanying statistics, you are left with an understanding that online shopping is important to people as a convenience, as a mode of shopping that isn’t limited to time of day or “is it snowing?” and that should continue to evolve and grow.

Expand your ladies selection

The ability to provide this enhanced service to members/regulars can only be accomplished with the cooperation of quality vendors who are interested in helping both their green grass partners and prospective green grass partners expand their retail horizons by providing a supplemental and changing product selection that can be customized and drop-shipped. One of the biggest benefits of this type of arrangement for the vendor is the exposure their product gets to the right demographic along with the ability to tell their brand’s story the way they want it told and with the imagery they provide.

Why would any retailer not want to offer more convenient store hours during the holiday shopping experience … but too many golf clubs have relatively little foot traffic at this critical time of year? We simply must deliver better member services or someone else will.  Member and customer convenience and broader selection are only the first two reasons to charge forward and find solutions – there are so many more.