Northern Lights – The Mere

Built around an 80-year-old James Braid golf course, The Mere has become one of the most exclusive and highly rated parkland golf destinations in the north-west, complete with luxury hotel and spa. We spoke to golf director Joe Gates.

What is your career history in 50 words?

I have worked at The Mere as Director of Golf for just under three years, and my previous roles have been specialised in pre-open propoerties at four and five star resorts.

What has been your personal playing highlight so far?

One which stands out was my victory against the two owners of The Mere, Mark Boler and Gary Corbett on the Laranjal, Quinta do Lago. The wine tasted so much better that evening!

What is a unique selling point of The Mere to golfers?

The Mere is a privately owned, independent business, and this shines through. We are able to react to market trends immediately, offering our customers outstanding value for money. I do believe our facilities are second to none in the north of England for both visitors and members.

 How is trade in 2013 comparing to 2012 so far?

The Mere -  15th hole

2013 has shown growth in all areas of our golf business. Green fees, membership, and additional spends have all grown year on year, and looking forward to 2014 this trend is certainly set to continue.

What specific targets did you set for your business this year?

It is essential for all customer-facing businesses to not only set financial targets, but also strive to achieve figures based on customer service. Internal and external audits become an integral part of moving the business forward, allow you to develop your team into market leaders and will always have an impact on future revenues.

Financially, I look at five key areas every year to look at showing growth; green fee, membership, shop spend, buggies and driving range.

Have any supplier promotions or initiatives proved particularly successful for you so far this year?

I believe this is an area across the industry which is beginning to show signs of strain. We have brought in initiatives to encourage members’ spend, such as loyalty cards, but nothing works better than a demo day. People like to touch and feel and be told what works best, and our suppliers are always keen to offer these days.

Which brands of hardware and software tend to get the till ringing the most in your shop?

Individually, The Mere works very closely with TaylorMade, and there is no doubt the marketing campaigns and products they have invested in over recent years have gone a long way to ensuring our sales are stronger in their brand than other hardware competitors.

From a clothing point of view, we are slightly different as we treat our shop more as a resort shop, offering fashion pieces from Ralph Lauren alongside the industry leading Galvin Green.

What is your opinion on pro shops entering into e-commerce?

The Mere - Open Qualifying

My only question would be; “Why?” The majority of pro shops’ regular custom is of a demographic that hasn’t moved towards e-commerce. Will it benefit your members if they can go onto your website and purchase a new driver, or would they prefer to speak face to face to an expert in the shop?

Look at your customers, and if you think they are the correct demographic group to be purchasing online then why not, otherwise don’t spend the time and effort to try and compete with industry giants.How far up a Google search would your pro shop feature if somebody wasn’t specific with their search? Unless you have the expertise in search engine optimisation it will be almost impossible to compete.

How important is custom-fitting to your business, and what kind of fitting facility do you offer golfers?

Custom fitting is not a major part of our business, although we do have the ability to custom fit. Hardware is only a very small part of our retail spend.

How do you keep in touch with your members and customers?

Communication is key to any successful membership. At The Mere in the past two years we have installed a members’ website with daily news-feed and monthly newsletter. We also hold a monthly ‘Board of Members’ meeting at which elected members can discuss any items they wish with the management in a proactive environment.

Our pay-and-play customers are kept up to date with our monthly golf e-newsletter with green fee offers, and information about upcoming events.

All of this is great, but there is still nothing better than getting in and amongst the customers for feedback and to share information. Face to face interaction is key.

Will you be attending the 2013 Harrogate Golf Show, and have you attended the show in the past?

Yes I will be attending, and this will be my third year.

What has been the event’s biggest benefit to you?

Networking with fellow members of the golf industry – I come back from the event with more business cards than anything. It is obviously of benefit to spend time with suppliers and view their ranges, but our purchases are usually based on marketing campaigns and collateral which is going to be put behind the products to promote them on a global scale.

How did you think it could be improved?

Better refreshment options, and it needs to be more interactive.

Not naming names, but what has been the most ridiculous request you have been asked by a golfer?

Not necessarily a request, but I had a golfer stand on the first tee, rocket his drive straight down the middle of the fairway, only to find out he was facing the wrong way and he had just played down our signature 18th hole. It is a long way back from there.