How is the golf industry performing?

The team at 59club has exclusively shared with us a selection of its data from 2014 and 2015 to give an overview of how the industry is performing and to highlight what areas club professionals need to focus on.

Over the past few years, 59club has established itself as the industry leader in measuring and comparing customer-service levels and the analysis of key revenue streams for golf venues. It is committed to the ongoing development of club managers and PGA professionals and its ‘mystery shopper’ audits and member surveys provide detailed independent analysis of a visitor or member’s experience.

To recognise excellence in all areas of the golf service industry, 59club rewards the best performers with annual awards every February. In order to facilitate further improvement in golf businesses, in an increasingly challenging marketplace, 59club is exclusively sharing a selection of its comparative data results for 2014 and 2015 with GOLF RETAILING readers.
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The data explained

To ensure that 59club’s statistics don’t give a skewed picture of the industry, the company works hard to categorise its various sectors. With new clubs coming on board all the time, it would have been easy, for example, for the scores of these new, initially underperforming clubs, to slant the industry figures, when more than 500 mystery test visits were completed in 2015. To avoid this, 59club has taken the data from 10 clubs, with which it has been working for a minimum of two years. They call this sector ‘focused clubs’ and the data from these can be seen on the right-hand side of the table on page 28.

The industry average shown comprises data for both 2014 and 2015 with the consequent difference appended. This average includes 59club clients, new clubs which will not have previously seen 59club’s marking criteria, and clubs which have trialled the 59club service.

The selected elements included in this feature are deemed to be – at the majority of clubs – the responsibility of the golf shop team. For example, on the occasions when 59club tests took place, a dedicated starter was absent 70 per cent of the time, hence seven out of 10 golfers were reliant on the golf shop staff to communicate critical golf course information.

59club gathers its statistics by sending golfers to experience a golf club’s service ‘as delivered’. It gives its testers strict guidelines, but has virtually no subjective questions within its criteria, thus ensuring an impartial reflection of the experience.

Key trends from 2015

Like anything aesthetic, the look of a pro shop is, to a certain degree, subjective: your favourite colour scheme may remind some of a funeral parlour or grandma’s hall cupboard. But there are areas which can be looked at objectively and 59club concentrates on those elements of a shop’s appearance: the quality of the fittings and decoration; tidiness; product presentation and pricing; and promotional displays.

You can see from the table that one area which has seen an upturn in performance, across the board, is ‘upselling’ hire items, with the industry average improving by eight percentage points and by 16 at the ‘focused clubs’. This could be a result of a number of factors, such as a suggestion based on terrain or weather conditions, or by pushing a particular special or exclusive offer. It could even be that the benefits of training are bearing fruit.

Communication has also been an area which has clearly been worked upon, with the industry average for ‘notification of on-course maintenance work’ improving by 39 percentage points, while the ‘focused clubs’ also improved by 48 percentage points. Gone are the days when clubs could bury their head in the sand and not pre-warn customers, and some clubs will have learned this the hard way.

Elsewhere the changes were less dramatic, though ‘focused clubs’ did improve drastically their knowledge of product pricing. This could be, at the very least, estimating or guiding the customer to an approximate price, through to the very best performers who will be able to discuss price and also make relevant comparisons with other products.

Where should golf and retail managers look first to improve their service and revenue?

Overall, the data shows that the service-with-a-smile element of 59club’s data is at worst ‘acceptable’; the area which clearly needs to be worked upon is sales: from the creation of the opportunity right through to the closure.

One of the clearest areas of weakness, industry-wide, is the lack of attempts to upsell an additional item during a sales enquiry. The easiest way to encourage staff to start doing this is by simply linking an additional item to the original enquiry or sale, for example, a shoe bag with a pair of shoes.

And, on the subject of upselling, there is still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to offering hire items, despite the year-on-year improvement touched upon above.

One of the poorest areas of performance across the industry is data collection. The 2015 industry average score of just 12 per cent is nine percentage points down on 2014 and could be rectified simply. Even just collecting the data half of the time would increase chances of garnering repeat business and provide further opportunities for marketing communication.

Data collection is not a new concept; its value has been proven for years. And it doesn’t have to be intrusive or illegal. 59club simply measures ‘were you and your guests asked to supply any personal data at any point during your visit’. So the solution could be as subtle as collecting it when qualifying for a promotional offer or when gaining access to a free wireless network.

The industry average data also illustrates that for every two people who enter the golf shop, one is not approached by shop staff in order to help facilitate a retail sale. So, simply popping up one’s head from the latest spreadsheet and spotting a visitor and then approaching them with a smile and an attempt to engage with conversation will be a vast improvement.

What challenges does the industry face in 2016?

It is clear there is a necessity to take sales and upselling seriously. Clubs need to commit to doing something about it and making improvements. You will benefit financially. Fact. As a whole industry, we need to encourage staff to communicate and interact more with their customers. That is one of the key differences in the scores between the industry average and those clubs that have been working on service improvement for some time. Whether we like it or not, we all work in the service and hospitality industry, and the customer expectation has increased dramatically in recent years.

Over the past 12 months, 59club has been working with its client clubs to encourage the use of an ‘introductory question’. Put simply, all staff are encouraged to make an open or engaging question to start the conversation. This is NOT a ‘can I help you?’ question, which can be rebuffed easily with a big fat NO! Instead, start a broader conversation which will lead subtly into the sales process.

It is quite clear that many clubs have redesigned their stores, particularly around the till area, to encourage impulse purchases. If you are not doing it, or could improve these opportunities further, what are you waiting for?

The data also identifies that product knowledge can always be improved upon. Why not work more closely with suppliers to improve this within your team? There is a direct correlation with whether or not the customer makes a purchase based on their retail experience. 59club simply measures this as a score of zero for a no and 10 for yes. Just like real life. Looking at the data, across the industry, in more than half the tests the visitor did not feel inspired sufficiently to make a purchase, while at focused clubs, three out of four would have bought something.

Areas to focus on

Training

As always, training is essential. One can see from the table that, universally, the industry lacks a little something when it comes to closing the sale – even the ‘focused clubs’, with an improvement year on year of 27 percentage points, score just 56 per cent. The industry average is just 36 per cent. Here, sales training can clearly assist in increasing revenue, and return on investment should be palpable.

Checklist

Nobody’s perfect, so why not help staff by having a small checklist ‘till-side’ to which they can refer and mentally tick off the things they need to say to visitors and members when they’re booking in for their tee-times. Some things will apply only to visitors – such as course etiquette, facilities, yardage markers, data collection and pace of play – but, others, such as course condition, maintenance, upselling of hire items and a cheerful disposition apply across the board.

Test measure and learn

It is no good putting training and tools in place if you don’t check they’re working. You can do this yourself, by putting a system in place, but this is where 59club can really help. You don’t even need to use its team of trained mystery testers. This year, the company is launching a new software system, my59, which will enable clubs to self-test on an unlimited basis, and analyse and improve their service offering for a small annual fee. my59 can assist managers in assessing how the business operates in the absence of key personnel and identify training needs for selected staff and targeted departments, including bespoke member surveys and their own team of mystery testers.