Golf Retailing Editor Dan Owen caught up with Mark Sanders, Head Professional at Knowle Golf Club, to find out how the 2020 roller-coaster has been for him and his shop.
“I’ve gone full circle,” explained Mark Sanders, Head Professional at Knowle GC. Located
just outside of Bristol, it’s a traditional parkland layout founded back in 1905.
“I started out as a junior member here, and when I was a kid, Gordan Brand Sr was the professional. He was great to be around and helped massively with my game. Through him I played a lot with his son Gordan Brand Jr and Paul McGinley who he coached. I was the English Amateur Champion back in 1998.
“I had stints on the Challenge and European Tour, before getting into coaching in 2007. From 2008 to 2017 I was based at a club nearby, Stockwood Vale, with my final year taking over the store. And then I took over as head professional back at Knowle in 2018. It’s been nice to be back; it’s always felt like home.”
Like everyone else in the golf industry, scratch that, everyone in 2020, this year has had its challenges. “To keep my sanity through lockdown I worked on the course with the greenkeepers. And I quickly learnt which reps were more helpful than others, and which companies are more supportive.
“There is a private Foremost Facebook group which has been really insightful, you can find out how fellow pros have got on with different brands. It’s a useful tool, and I’ve found it helps me make more informed decisions.
Mark took it one step further setting up a WhatsApp group for his fellow local Foremost members. “It’s called All Fore One, and One Fore All’! It’s been really useful throughout lockdown. Asking what their clubs were doing to work through the issues we were all dealing with. Any information that we could share to help one another we did.
“As we transitioned out of lockdown, it was great for finding stock. It’s been a tough year for the manufacturers, and many have found that they are short of stock due to cutting their orders back in March. In their defence, nobody knew how this year would turn out. Demand is definitely outstripping supply as golf has gone nuts over the summer! I recently got quoted February for a driver a customer had ordered. I managed to find one within the group and kept a happy customer. “Will Fox, my TaylorMade Sales Rep has been fantastic, as has Simon Smart at Mizuno. They’re always available. They’ll always get back to you even if it’s late in the day. They keep you informed, good news or bad, and will go the extra mile to find the item at another retailer whenever possible. The good reps are thoughtful and thorough. Some reps come in, take the order, and then you won’t see them for another year.
“Reps are still visiting in person, all complying with wearing masks. I take their temperatures when they arrive. They present from PDFs, rather than showing product, to stop retailer after retailer touching their samples and potentially passing on any infections. They really are doing their best in what is a tough situation. But however good they are, the product has to sell and there needs to be a demand for it.”
“All the TaylorMade SIM metal woods have flown out of the door, as have SIM Max irons. Customers are drawn to the two SIM screens we’ve got in-store, they’ve been a massive help. Callaway Mavrik has been steady, while Mizuno irons, especially the MP20 HMB have been huge sellers. I also stock Ping and Cobra. I also added Evnroll putters this year and they’ve done well. We’re the only local stockist and golfers are travelling to try them.
“Our TaylorMade fitting days, since the end of lockdown, were fully subscribed, and nearly everyone fitted bought the products they were fitted for.
“My big surprise this year, and I can’t believe it’s sold so well, is the TaylorMade PIX. I’ve had to reorder those three times this season. Tour Response is another ball that has gone well. It’s a Urethane cover golf ball at a very competitive price point.”
This year’s golf boom has influenced what brands Mark will be stocking in 2021. “We’ve had 68 new members this year, and I’d say 75% of them are under 30. They want sportswear brands, lifestyle brands. Traditional golf apparel brands don’t appeal to them.
“Under Armour shoes have sold through really well. We’ve got a lot of younger members, especially newer ones who would have been playing football and rugby, who trust the brand and want a casual style. The only downside is they’re pretty much sold out of shoes and apparel now, so I can’t restock.
“On the flipside, Skechers shoes haven’t sold well for me. Again, I think this because of the younger audience, so we’re bringing adidas footwear and apparel into the store in 2021. Seeing Tyrell Hatton winning in the hoodie was great. I personally don’t have an issue with hoodies on the course, I have a bigger issue with a golfer who shows no etiquette or respect for the golf course.”
Mark has been a retailer for a relatively short amount of time; however, he has seen some significant changes in the industry. “Custom fitting is essential, as is having a studio. We currently use a GC2 with HMT, although off the back of this year’s success, I’ve invested in a GC Quad. Our studio is in the back of the shop, and it allows us to offer fitting sessions and coaching all year round.
“Golfers don’t invest in themselves with instruction as much as they do shiny new hardware, and that’s something we all need to improve. Sometimes you need to help them improve their swing before you can help them improve their equipment. The younger generation of pros is becoming very good at promoting themselves on social media and definitely picking up more lessons because of it. Having the studio means we never have to miss those lessons.
“Most, but not all, brands are being much more flexible. They are also offering extended payment terms.
“I’m a Foremost member and make most of my payments through them, it’s much simpler making one payment each month. But I’ve found their EMP newsletters a great bonus for my business. We can write something relevant for our membership, send it to the Marketing Editors at head office, and they will whip it into shape for us. We’re also able to add personalised video content which has helped engage my members.
“Click & Collect is good too, as it enables me to offer products we don’t currently, whilst they have recently started offering a single item order service too. Through Foremost, we can offer financing options which help us compete with the high street retailer. And there is a good camaraderie among fellow Foremost members, and we do help one another out.
“I can’t necessarily compete head-on with online prices. But customers buy on personality. Engage with your members, and they will support you. And if they help you make a sale, especially with a golfer from another club, I try and give them some credit in the store as a thank you. And it’s amazing how far small gestures like that go. GR