Ian Hayward, Head pro and retail manager at Hoebridge Golf Centre, which is part of BGL Golf, is perhaps rare among golf pros – he actively seeks out the retail environment.
Hayward says that he first loved golf from the moment he picked up a club, but that it was actually the retail side of the business that truly got him hooked. “I worked previously at Club Golf for five years and I really enjoyed the buzz of volume retailing. It was a very busy environment with lots of customers and it was a commission based environment, so there was a carrot there to make you get out there and speak to people,” he explains. “As I started my PGA training the retail side of it was such a small focus and I did actually miss the buzz of volume retail, which is why I went to American Golf, which got me back into that market. Hoebridge was the perfect opportunity to combine what I enjoyed about the retail perspective whilst still being on a golf course.”
For a man who loves the retail side of the business he’s certainly picked the right club: the pro shop at Hoebridge is impressive. It’s around 2,000 square foot and Hayward is responsible for around eight members of staff with some crossover between the shop and the academy. He’s been in his current role for over five years.
There are a host of brands in both hardware and apparel in the store (around 12-15 at any given time) and in 2015 the shop actually saw an increase in hardware sales. “This is the first year in three that we have seen an upturn in hardware sales. It is only minimal growth but it’s still nice to see that after a couple of years of it falling a little behind it has started to level up and now pick up a little bit,” comments Hayward.
The head pro points to PING and Cobra as performing particularly well for them and, regarding apparel, highlights Oscar Jacobson. “This is something that we put into the store about four and a half years ago, really as just a trouser brand initially, but has gone from strength to strength for us. The trouser part seems to just be a small part of their business; it is more their outer-garments that we are experiencing real success with.”
With such a wide variety of stock it is vital to identify which products are performing well – and which ones need a push. “We do monitor the sales of our products and how they have performed against the previous year. That’s something we do keep a close eye on as it is very important, certainly from a stock perspective, to identify slow sellers as quickly as possible and how we want to change this, whether that is through remerchandising or marking them down.”
Of course, if items aren’t selling then it can sometimes be too easy to simply blame the products rather than evaluating whether they are in the correct position in the store to tempt customers to part with their cash. It’s also, as Hayward confirms, all about ensuring that you are selling the items that you really want to. “It is getting the things that you want to sell into the customer’s face – when you come into our shop we have a lot of our higher margin products and the products we want to sell and ‘pick up items’ that people will buy without thinking about too much on the way to the till. It is identifying hot points in the store and drawing the customer towards the items that you want to sell.”
Capturing data from customers has become increasingly important, as having a strong data base to send offers out to can make a large impact on a club’s bottom line. This is something that Hayward’s club try to achieve, and their custom fitting team also capture data which is shared within the operation. “If someone bought a PING driver nine months ago and a new range is being launched in February and we have a PING demo day we can target them and get them down,” says Hayward. “Maybe they need a fairway wood or a hybrid, so have we got something that will work better than their existing driver? We try and get people back through the door and see if we can get them to purchase from us.”
As a golf pro who completely embraces the retail side of the business, Hayward says that he finds it staggering how many pros allow someone to walk around their shop without speaking to them. “Communication with customers is a massive focus on ours – customer engagement is key,” he confirms. “It is just about getting out from behind the counter and having a chat with them about their golf or an item they are looking at. It doesn’t have to be a simple closed question like ‘do you need any help with that?’ Open questions are good at building up a rapport. If you can get the customer feeling relaxed and having a chat then it is a lot easier to assist them with the sale.”
Hayward is positive about 2016, not only because of the work he and his team have done, but due to matters in the wider world of golf. “Big events such as the Ryder Cup definitely make a difference,” he asserts. “At the start of the season when the Masters comes on TV it is amazing how much interest there is around golf and there is always a buzz around the Open – you can see it from a sales perspective. Having a Ryder Cup in a year can only be a bonus and will mean that towards the end of the season there will be another peak.
“I definitely think that the golfing community reacts to these events and it does peak the interests of people. Pro shops can do things to tie in with these events, whether it is special offers or sales around those periods. It is a great opportunity to improve sales and margins and also to turn stock over as well.”
Mike O’Connell, senior general manager at Hoebridge Golf Centre, gives an overview on how the centre is performing
Hoebridge golf centre is a large and diverse operation and, in his role, O’Connell oversees the golf courses, a driving range, an adventure golf course and a large café. The golf centre has also embraced Footgolf and, while O’Connell admits they are in the fortunate position of having three courses so two can be dedicated to just golf, he describes Footgolf as positive for them. “We’ve seen new customers who have never visited us before come into Hoebridge for the first time,” he confirms. “We have already seen some of the people playing Footgolf who had never been to a golf course before picking up a golf club and giving it a try on the driving range.”
It is clear from meeting O’Connell that two of his firmest beliefs regarding golf are providing good customer service – he is responsible for doing customer service training for the BGL group – and getting as many people into his centre as possible. “We welcome golfers that are novices to the game compared to some others that require a minimum handicap,” he confirms.
O’Connell also has a hand in the retail side of the business and he says that for them it pays to keep an eye on how Tour players are performing. “For us, going after the trends that you can see on the TV and in the media works well, so the golfers that are being successful on the Tours we see a clear connection between our younger golfers wanting to have the same apparel. Our purchasing teams work very closely with the brands and keep an eye on what is happening on the Tours.”
The golf centre has a heavy focus on custom fitting which O’Connell believes adds value to their customers and also reduces their risk. “By focusing heavily on custom fitting we don’t have the liability risk of holding a lot of expensive stock and it means that we can fit a customer to their exact requirements which works very well and fits in with our customer service ethos.”
He believes that, in terms of retailing, it is all about planning. “By the start of December we have a locked down plan of what 2016 will look like in terms of brands and kits,” confirms O’Connell. “That is 80 per cent the same across the group with the 10 stores, with some regional variance. We commit a number of weeks to do this every year as its really important to get the range correct and that we are confident it will sell; the worst thing is when you have a range that looks good on paper but when it comes to November you still have a lot of it and you have to sell it at a low cost.”
At Hoebridge it is clear that they believe their work is never done; “We are always looking at the store layout and changing things round, there’s never a time we don’t think about this, and it’s an ongoing progress. We can always improve and do more so we are always looking for the next win.”