Store layout and design can make or break a golf retail operation. Here Paul Sanders, design director with Millerbrown Golf shares over 20 years of experience in store design best practice.
The economic recovery is having a positive effect on golf generally, but why are some independent retailers succeeding, while others still struggle?
Some retailers have adapted better to fast-changing times than others. Spending customers are out there, but they – we – are more demanding, and also more savvy, not just on price but on the whole retail mix of merchandise presentation, perception of value and product relevance. This means that the right products have to be presented more logically, more neatly and with more visual impact than ever before. These products are usually the more impulsive items like accessories and textiles, and by getting both the product mix and the presentation right some retailers are talking of turnover growth of 30 percent in the last twelve months alone.
Does good store layout and design really matter to customers – isn’t price all they are really concerned about?
Price is important – sometimes! The recession has changed many things, one of which is the way we all shop. Retailing was already evolving prior to the recession, with e-tailers, high street and out-of-town retailers all jostling for market share. The recession simply brought all the various challenges into sharper focus. Price is one of these challenges, especially on known-value or higher-priced items such as balls or hardware, but there are many products where price is only a part of the buying decision.
To highlight the flexibility of this relationship between consumers and pricing, consider examples such as alcohol, or brand loyalty. The difference in price between alcohol sold in supermarkets and pubs is well-established, yet successful pub and club operators throughout the UK are persuading us still to pay their premium prices. Pubs could have kept prices lower by having customers sitting on beer crates, but most customers would have voted with their feet. Instead, many pubs have altered their business models by improving interiors and gardens, adding food and in many cases providing elaborate play areas, because consumers will pay a significant premium for their drinks if the overall product is right.
Brand loyalty commands price premiums for slightly different reasons. An item of clothing from a strongly promoted brand will command a higher price than a generic equivalent, even though consumers know that their function and realistic shelf-lives will most likely be very similar. The difference in image is what actually changes behaviour, with brand association being part of that image, and these positive visual signals will almost always command a premium price.
It’s logical, therefore, that to encourage customers to spend confidently and impulsively, a store interior has to present an image that at least matches up to, or preferably exceeds, ever-increasing customer expectations. Conversely, a store that is low on visual appeal and looks disorganised or cluttered is more likely to end up inadvertently encouraging its customer to focus only on price.
Isn’t it only prestige and resort style clubs that really make money from pro shop sales? For well-established members’ clubs doesn’t the pro shop just provide a service rather than a profit centre, so there is no need for whizzy design.
It’s easy to assume that the grass is greener for prestige and resort-style clubs, but one thing I’ve learned after almost 25 years designing golf shops is that some otherwise very ‘typical’ golf shops can make a lot of money! How do they do it? More customers are always welcome but very often the answer lies in selling more to existing customers, and retailers that get this right are more likely to enjoy a sustained increase in turnover.
A good example of maximising additional sales is petrol forecourts. 30 years ago, add-on sales for most petrol stations, which generally only had tiny shops if any shop at all, were mostly limited to spark plugs, engine oil and fan belts. Now we buy everything from skinny lattes to a weekly top-up shop, and increasingly from purpose-built mini-supermarkets that have been bolted onto the petrol forecourt. Why? Because we’re there – buying petrol. In some case we go there just to buy milk, but because we’re there we buy petrol! The symbiosis works.
It’s the same in golf shops. Golfers come mainly to play golf, and there will always be some that will need to buy something that they’ve lost, worn out or broken. But others will buy things that they never intended to buy – just because they notice them and then want one. It could be a driver, or a sweater, or four scrummy flapjacks for their fourball. But they’re all add-on sales – and the better the store is presented the more impulse sales that store will make. An added benefit of these impulse sales is that they are often of less price-sensitive items, so overall margin can improve as well.
Is it really worth investing in sophisticated lighting and graphics for a store – will they really pay back the investment?
Good lighting makes all products more appealing – and need not be expensive, but a surprising number of golf shops that I visit are poorly lit and sales, particularly of textiles, will be affected if the lighting does nothing to enhance them.
Too few light fittings, the wrong type of light fitting and even the wrong colour of light from the bulb are all common pitfalls. An over-reliance on natural light also causes many problems, because it can cause some areas of a shop to appear gloomy where the natural light doesn’t reach and the shop lighting can’t compensate.
The good news is that it’s not necessary to spend a fortune on whizzy lighting designs and I would always recommend getting advice from a specialist who understands where and just how much light will be required. A specialist will also advise the type of fitting that will give the best colour rendition, and also offer the most adjustability. Technical advice such as fittings that have the correct beam angle to ensure a balanced and even spread of light throughout the shop is also important.
As regards graphics, mainstream retailing is becoming increasingly visual and golf shops, which are very much a part of the UK retail scene, are no exception. This trend towards the visual will only accelerate as electronic and bricks and mortar retailing compete ever harder, and whizzy graphics and messages are key ways of highlighting seasonal and other offers. Provided the shop doesn’t have so many that customers feel like rabbits in headlights, this type of strong visual promotion definitely works. The golden rule here though is ‘less is more’. Too many messages and customers will subconsciously shut most of them out.
How do you create a positive ambience in a golf store; what makes people want to linger longer and buy?
Good store layout, the right ambience, and merchandise display systems that enable themed and interesting product presentation, all help to increase ‘dwell’ time – the amount of time customers spend browsing, and once customers spend more time in your shop, they usually spend more money.
From studying a shop’s location, product range and also its target audience, a retail designer will give each shop a unique identity, and create an environment where customers feel more inclined to spend. Within this framework each product range then has to be clearly and attractively merchandised. Shops that are badly merchandised, cluttered, or just frustratingly laid out are a big turn-off, and when customers don’t feel comfortable they buy less – usually a lot less.
A question I’m often asked is ’What style or design works best?’, but there are so many permutations. Some shops will be more brand and image conscious than others, some will be volume retailers, and some will sell only on price. Unfortunately this means that there is no magic bullet, so each shop needs to be designed specifically to suit its own circumstances.
Most golf pro-shops are small spaces. What can retailers do to cram in bulky items such as iron sets, bags and trolleys?
Cramming is not my favourite word – but I do often see it in practice! The practical means to avoid an appearance of cramming lies in the functionality – and the flexibility – of the display system, and a brief survey of high street retailers will highlight one important but common thread – that they all have generic display systems that perfectly suit their product range.
These modern systems allow the retailer to easily display every item that they stock, no matter how awkward, in an attractive and flexible way, so that displays can be changed at will. Generally these systems also allow the highest reasonable levels of stock to be held on the shop floor – particularly useful where there is limited storage space.
It’s for these reasons that the old style of fittings like pegboard and slatwall have largely been replaced, even by many charity shops who are now also switching over to the high street-style systems.
Can good design help golf retailers sell more footwear?
Footwear is no different from any other product in that it benefits from both impulse and demand sales, and good display will always increase impulse sales. For distress purchases, typically golfers who have forgotten their shoes, or whose shoes have sprung a leak, a sale is usually more certain, so it could be argued that good display may play a lesser part in the sale, but it will still help.
Two main benefits from having a strong generic footwear display are;
The impact of a good display will either reinforce a golfer’s existing brand preference, or possibly encourage them to try a new brand.
A strong visual display will help complete the sale because it will give the customer confidence that there were sufficient choices to enable them to make a buying decision.
Are there a few design fundamentals that all good golf retailers should employ?
Key design and merchandising fundamentals are similar to those for most retailers and include:
A layout that encourages a majority of customers to ‘shop the whole shop’ is a key factor in retail success. But it’s not just about a route to and from the counter, it’s also about where key product groups are located, and also the visual impact of the product display within each group to draw customers towards it.
Impact sells. Neat, generic displays of hardware, themed and colour-coordinated ranges of textiles with well laid out, comprehensive ranges of accessories will all attract more attention – because they are easier and more rewarding for customers to browse. More attention equals more sales.
Merchandise should be kept in logical groups. Bags and hardware are common culprits seen occupying most areas of a shop, but this drift should be kept in check because it not only dilutes the impact of the bag and hardware ranges, it also lessens the impact of other products. Think of the effect this drift would have in other shops – would you buy a box of cereal randomly located amongst wines and spirits – or a chicken quarter surrounded by beef steak? Displays that are random or illogical will result in lower overall turnover.
House-keeping matters. If customers see general clutter, half-unpacked boxes and a generally unloved looking shop, they will usually only buy what they have to and look no further.
If there is one piece of advice you would pass on, what would it be?
A very successful lifelong retailer once said to me “I’ve always concentrated first on selling more to each customer that I already have – and only then do I start thinking about attracting new customers”.
This simple philosophy served Terry extremely well for over 40 years and he was one of the most professional, and incidentally probably the wealthiest, independent retailers that I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. His philosophy proved to be a good way of focussing on detail – because in independent retailing it is attention to detail that makes the difference.
“My members know what I sell. If they need it they’ll most likely buy it from me”, is a comment I hear regularly. Even if this was true, it doesn’t even begin to take into account the considerable impulse sales opportunities so important to all retailers. To increase impulse sales each and every shop needs to look visually appealing, with regularly changing displays and that all-important attention to detail, to avoid the sales-killer of stock morphing into never-changing wallpaper.
It probably comes as no surprise therefore that my favourite mantra has always been ‘Retail is Detail’.