Golf venue sales and the wisdom of the Great Helmsman

Having looked at the overall comparative performance of golf venues by type (resort, members’ clubs, and pay-and-play venues) Simon Wordsworth, chief executive of 59Club, looks specifically at the level of sales skills each venue type presents to visitors.

Mystery-Shopper-Graphs-January

As a regular reader of this column, you may have noticed that I’m prone to throwing in the odd inspirational quote to make a point. And this month is no different – but I’m not going to work up to it, I’m going to hit you between the eyes straight away.

To my knowledge, the Chinese communist revolutionary leader Mao Zedong, wasn’t a great golfer – unlike the late North Korean president Kim Jong il who famously recorded 11 holes-in-one in a single round – but he did hit the spot with words. One of my favourites Maoisms is this: “We think too small, like the frog at the bottom of the well. He thinks the sky is only as big as the top of the well. If he surfaced, he would have an entirely different view.”

It’s true in so many areas, both personally and professionally, and it’s certainly appropriate to the overall conclusion of this month’s column, for we are looking at the area of sales by type of venue: resort, members’ clubs, and pay-and-play venues. Perception tells us that their ratings should be in that exact order, but the truth is … well, exactly that. And, putting aside Mao’s responsibility for the death of some 40-plus million people, one could argue that he was right: golf venues do need to surface from their proverbial well.

In every area 59Club looked at in terms of sales in the pro shop and golf bar, the three venues ranked resort first, members second, and pay-and-play third. One can only assume that there is a certain level to which they aspire and, having attained it, lack the motivation to improve further. But, there is no reason why the sales processes can’t be as effective at a municipal as they are at a Ryder Cup venue.

And, delving deeper into the 59Club system, even the resorts don’t always fare well when placed up against the podium score – that of the three best-performing venues. When our mystery shopper shows interest in a product in the pro shop we wish to see a member of staff approach within a minute to instigate a conversation. Resort venues scored 57 percent here – which isn’t an astounding performance – and trailed the podium score by a whole 20 percentage points. Members clubs recorded 53 while pay-and-play dropped to 42.

Once the conversation was in full flow, however, it’s clear that staff were happier explaining the features. Resort venues actually topped the podium score here with a, relatively, impressive 73 percent, while members’ clubs were a mere three percentage points adrift. The podium score was only 67 percent, which illustrates that you can exceed expectations if you ‘surface’.

We’ve touched on the lack of ‘upsell’ initiative in the past and our overall experience shows that opportunities are being missed throughout the industry. Poor scores abound here, with only the resorts achieving more than a desultory 20 percent. If the checkout staff in newsagents WH Smith can try to sell you bars of chocolate, you can surely expect golf shop staff to suggest a sleeve of balls or a course guide…

These figures improve slightly when one moves to the golf bar where resorts scored 42 percent when it came to upselling ‘either by size or an addition’. Members, pay-and-play and the podium score are all in the mid-20s here, which leaves plenty of scope for improvement.

Closed questions are an ideal tool for ‘making the sale’ and it the responsibility of the retail professional to utilise it when the opportunity arises. Yet, only the podium score reflects this being done on more than every other occasion – and, even then, only at 60 percent. Resorts scored 43 percent, members’ clubs 36 – just a little more than one in three – while pay-and-play venues brought up the rear with 29, less than one in three.

Arguably the most telling statistic of all comes from the shop once again – it’s a natural conclusion to any potential customer’s visit: ‘Did the tester feel encouraged to make a purchase from the retail experience?’ This is, obviously, crucial.

We’ve already established the consistent order of performance and the ratings here are 62, 61 and 43, with a podium score of 73 percent. As standalone figures these do not appear disconcerting but we should take into account that the resort score of 62 effectively means that fewer than seven in 10 visitors to the pro shop ‘feel encouraged to make a purchase from the retail experience’. Quite simply, that ‘retail experience’ needs to be improved if to convert the vast majority of opportunities that present themselves.

So, the reality is how we perceive it, in a golfing reprisal of the classic Frost Report skit, with pay-and-pay looking up to the others and resorts looking down on them, etc. But here, to reiterate, we are not looking at facilities, we are looking at techniques and processes which can be improved by training. Or is it simply that resorts pay their staff more, which, in turn, leads to better and more motivated staff? That, perhaps, is a discussion for another day, and, as Mao Zedong probably never observed, is a completely different well of frogs.