Practical business advice

The retail side of the business is crucial for all golf pros, so Andy Brown travelled to Sittingbourne and Milton Regis golf club to observe a meeting between head pro Chris Weston and TGI Retail Consultant Chris Taylor.

Not long after I arrive at Sittingbourne and Milton Regis golf club I end up talking about cars with Chris Taylor, one of four full time retail consultants that TGI employs. It’s an appropriate conversation given how many miles Taylor must do in a year – he covers pretty much everywhere in England south of Chester, meeting with TGI partners to discuss their businesses. He tells me that he might see some partners just once a year for a more general catch up, while he could meet others that have more specific areas of concerns three or four times a year. He’s here today for a more general catch up with head pro Chris Weston, although there are some specific issues Weston wants to cover.

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 16.36.46One of the things that’s immediately clear as an outsider to this process is that Taylor is good with people and has already established a rapport with the pro. Being able to get on well with people is vital if you are going to get them to listen to advice about how they could be managing their business better, especially if the advice completely contradicts what they have been doing themselves. Taylor, who has been in his current position for seven years, admits that when he first started, “It was about building a relationship rather than telling them things. Some guys had been in the business for 30 years and you come in and they think ‘what’s he doing, telling me how to run my business?’ but if you break the barriers down it gets easier.”

Over a coffee Weston and Taylor discuss how the shop’s hardware has sold this year and the possibility of trying out a new brand of clubs. Taylor offers advice about what brands are doing well and offering good margins for TGI partners and cautions against a particular brand – whose rep, it turns out, arranged a meeting with Weston but never showed up, thus making the decision to not switch over to them a straightforward one.

Apparel and shop layout is also discussed but it is clear that marketing is an area which can be improved upon, something that Taylor says is a recurring theme: “Pros generally aren’t brilliant at telling the world how good they are and how much they do for the club; they are not just someone that members can get lessons or a mars bar from, they add so much value to the golf club. Marketing is one that comes up a lot, and no matter how good someone’s shop is there are always ways that they could improve or different ways to display things or shop lay out. Marketing is a big spectrum; it is how they sell themselves, newsletter, point of sale, social media – it all comes under that umbrella.”

Taylor suggests that a sign is placed outside in the golf club’s car park which promotes the pro shop and services and also that another one is put into Weston’s custom fitting area. This is a section of the pro shop which used to hold stock, but has been converted into an area which has a Foresight GC2 and netting. Weston often takes lessons here when conditions are bad outside and it is where he does his custom fitting, but there is no sign to announce what this area is for those not in the know. The two of them (they met towards the start of November) also discuss marketing plans for the next year and Taylor suggests tying marketing into some of the big events of next year, such as having a longest drive competition at the same time as the Masters or the Ryder Cup. The two of them also specifically talk about Christmas promotions and what could be done to boost revenue and encourage golfers to part with their cash.

Weston became head pro at Sittingbourne in April 2013 and has worked at six different clubs in total since he turned pro in 1998. The club, which was founded in 1929, has a strong membership base of around 800 across different categories and had a good influx of members in 2015. The head pro joined TGI in November 2013 and says, “I knew I needed to be with a group because I’m realistic enough to know that I can’t do it all myself and that there is a lot of help that I need. I’m not too proud to admit that I have my failings and I’m here to improve in certain areas. The guys have been brilliant for me and helped me find the right things that I need to be doing.”

Screen Shot 2016-02-05 at 16.37.06When I ask him what the biggest issue he faces in his job is, Weston doesn’t take long to think about his answer. “To prove your worth,” he says without hesitation. “Whereas in the past it was a given that a golf club had a pro and that was a job for life and people will come to you for business, but nowadays you need to prove what you can bring to the table and that’s something I am really aware of. You have to always be trying to move forwards and thinking of the next thing that needs to be done and the club can benefit from – even if the club says no to your ideas, you still have to be proactive and go to them.”

Trying to improve his offering comes in the form of new services – Weston is seeking to get involved in coaching those with disabilities – but also in his pro shop doing more business. Taylor mentions ideas he has seen in other businesses, such as one that got rid of old apparel stock by having a ‘name your price’ rail where customers would simply state what they were prepared to pay and then the haggling can begin. The retail consultant says that it got the ‘banter’ going between customer and pro and also provided something new to talk about. During the course of the meeting lots of other suggestions were fired out for Weston to consider, some which may be more applicable to him than others. It’s up to the pro to decide which ideas would work for their business. The fact that every meeting, and every partner, is different is something that Taylor thrives on.

“I enjoy the diversity most about my job and the result of trying to help guys. Let’s hope that in six months’ time when I come back here and see Chris again that some of the ideas we’ve discussed today have helped him and his business has grown,” he says. “That’s the real buzz of the job – helping the pro and the fact that no two meetings are the same. I could see a guy who is absolutely flying and has a half a million pound business but wants to know how he can get more out of it or someone who is struggling and really does need your help, so you never know what you are going to get.”

Communication with customers was one of the key themes covered, and both Weston and Taylor agree on the importance of the TGI newsletter that is sent out. “The newsletter has been a big help and it is so easy to use – a lot of pros’ background isn’t in academics, so to have something that is straightforward to use makes a big difference,” says Weston. “We recently did a promotion for Glenbrae and it took me half an hour to set up the newsletter and ping it out to 700 people and we had an open rate of over 40 per cent. It is great to have those stats as you can see exactly who has opened it and what links they have clicked on. The more that people are aware of you and your presence and what you can offer it has to help you.”

While the meeting at Sittingbourne was more of a catch up, the retail consultants at TGI do also perform more in-depth tasks, such as complete shop refits. Taylor recalls a time when they were doing a refit and he mentioned to the pro that his shop counter was too large and, if it was smaller, the layout of the shop would work better. Within half an hour the pro had got the greenkeeper and his chainsaw into the shop and the greenkeeper was busy chopping the desk in half. “Thankfully it did work and the shop looked better,” says Taylor with a wry grin on his face. The meeting at Sittingbourne wasn’t as dramatic, but seemed to provide some ideas for Weston on how to chop his competition down to size.

Top five tips for retail success

The retail side of a PGA Professional’s business is huge, with so many important factors contributing to its success. Due to this vastness, narrowing down the five most vital retail hints is nigh on impossible, but Ian Martin of TGI highlights five that are extremely important.

Buy for your customers, not for you Too many PGA Professionals order stock based on their preferences, long-term relationships with suppliers or what they perceive as hot products. This is not the way to do it. You should be buying for your customers, they are the ones who need to be turned on by products and therefore part with their cash. Look at the demographic of your customers before you make purchasing decisions.

Teach, train and reward staff Your workforce is the most important factor in your business. Great staff will take your business to the next level, while poor staff will only hold you back. Teach, train and reward your staff constantly; this will engage them in your business, drive sales and increase repeat purchases.

Embrace all forms of media and marketing There are many forms of marketing available these days and all PGA Pros should look at using them. Social media is, on the whole, free to use and must be explored. Investing in marketing is necessary but be wary of investing too heavily; make sure the return outweighs the investment. Suppliers do a great job of marketing their products so why not use these in your campaigns?

Move stock on after every season It is extremely important to move old stock on before the new season’s products land. Don’t be concerned about having enough stock in over the winter period, you can merchandise half the amount to twice the effect. Dead stock eats into your margin dramatically, so clean the decks before it becomes terminal.

Work closely with your golf club Relationships between the Pro Shop and the golf club should be as strong as possible; footfall for one will positively affect the other. The members and committee at your club are the lifeblood of your business, work with them, embrace them and show what a valuable asset to the club you are. Your club members will make up to 90 per cent of your sales so do everything you can to keep them onside.