Since they bought Lynx three years ago Stephanie Zinser and Steve Elford have seen the business grow year-on year. Andy Brown spoke to them about their latest products, why supporting junior and ladies golf is essential why the golf pro is the most important person in their business.
Due to the fact that work is being done to their house I meet Stephanie and Steve at their home and sit with them in the living room as what seems like very organised mayhem occurs all around us, with numerous workmen performing different jobs. As we sit and discuss their entry into the golfing market and the success the brand has experienced over the last four years as work goes on around us it strikes me that there is a parallel between their home and their business – both are built on solid foundations.
“There are two ways of starting a business; one way is to go and buy a big building and employ a 100 people and say ‘here is our empire’ but it is quite a high risk strategy with a lot of expense and people. Option two is to grow it and make sure that whenever we lay a foundation stone we are doing it on solid ground. We do not take the employment of staff lightly,” says Stephanie.
Since the couple purchased Lynx four years ago they have worked hard to build the company up brick by brick and, in a market that it would be an understatement to call ‘challenging’ their growth has been impressive. “We have grown every year and our growth is now on a highly upwards trajectory which, considering the market we are in, is not a mean achievement and it is one that we are really proud of and that we have all worked hard to achieve,” confirms Stephanie. “We are now in nearly 700 stockists in our three years; when you consider that there are companies out there who have been going for a lot longer who have boasted about having 500-600 stockists, it is not bad.”
It is Steve who has the golfing pedigree, starting in the industry back in 1982 working as a rep selling copy clubs – perfectly legal at the time – before he ran golf shops and later successfully entered the retail clearance business, culminating in the purchase of Golfing Warehouse in 2010. Shortly afterwards, when the opportunity to own Lynx came up he didn’t hesitate, partly due to their heritage. “I remember going to golf trade shows in the 90s and Lynx was a huge brand and up there with anything,” he says. “I would argue Lynx is still one of the five most famous golf brands of all time over a 40-50 year period.” Stephanie’s background was financial – she worked in the City for a number of years – and later as a journalist, so Steve asked her to run the company with him and calls her the best ‘all-rounder’ in the business.
The couple are keen to stress that they want to build a long-term relationship with golf Pros and that they see part of this as being about product cycles; the average product cycle for Lynx hardware is two years, something they say is vital. “About three years ago I predicted to our team – to much ridicule – that one of the top of manufacturers was heading for a major fall because the way the businesses were being run was unsustainable,” says Steve. “You get companies with over half of the driver market share and they still push for more. We would rather throw stuff in the skip than do something which would damage the long-term health of the business by selling something off so cheap that it ruins your own brand.”
Strong words, but a sentiment that Stephanie agrees with wholeheartedly: “the shortness of some of the product cycles is taking the mickey out of the customers and I don’t like that – as soon as I feel a company is looking at me with disdain as a customer I will not support their product anymore and we feel that that’s exactly what some of the big players have done to their customers,” she says. “Things have been operated in a spirit of short-termism and because of that you can’t sustain a proper business. I would rather make a smaller profit in a year but consolidate my base and make sure that my products are great for next year than use any tactic no matter how damaging to sell and get something extra on our bottom line.”
As a business they are embracing junior and women’s golf and have made a good amount of their products open-stock so parents can buy just one club for their child rather than a whole set only to discover that they have grown bored of the sport after a few months. In terms of hardware one of their biggest success stories has been Boom Boom Irons, which have seen strong sales figures. The clubs have an innovative one-piece cast head with two cavities – one of which helps the club be forgiving and blows up the sweet spot so off centre hits go further and the second channel provides the power. The other product that they are both patently excited about is the Black Cat driver, something which Steve describes in almost reverential terms as ‘ridiculously good’ and which has only recently launched. In testing the driver has been adding 20-30 yards to both long and short hitters and the combination of the club with a True Temper Shaft sounds like it has been a match made in heaven.
These clubs – and the rest of the range – will be available in Pro shops and Steve is keen to stress that the company are doing all they can to support the on course green grass pro. “I grew up selling to golf clubs and I found it really frustrating that for a while their industry got taken away from them. That never should have happened, as they have a shop on course, customers coming in for lessons and all the knowledge,” he comments. “I’m a massive believer that the pros are the most important people in a golf club and we passionately want to work with them. I also think that the margins they have been offered over the last few years by some of the manufacturers is nothing short of scandalous. I know a pro who had 24 drivers and he sold 23 but had to sell the last one in order to make any money! That is crazy and it is unsustainable – business has to be fair and sustainable. We need to make a profit but so does the pro and the golf club and there is a middle ground where everyone is happy.”
The British brand have six full time reps and three full time demo day members of staff; this is a lot for a company of their size but does show that they aren’t afraid to have their hardware tested. Any pro wanting to have a demo day at their club can have one – they don’t need to have previously been a customer – and Stephanie points out that they have heavily invested into fitting carts and point of sale, so there is different collateral available to help the pros make those all-important sales and that the minimum spend to receive the best terms is £1,000.
As all comedians and golf players know, timing is everything, and having started their business at a less than perfect time but still thrived there is confidence in the robustness of their business model. “We started the business at the worst part of the recession and then we had two consecutive really awful winters for the golf pros so I don’t think you could have picked worse starting conditions!” says Stephanie.
Both Stephanie and Steve speak during the interview about the importance of custom fit and how hard they work to ensure their turnaround times are as quick as possible and custom fit ties in with one of the other main themes of the interview: helping the pro to build their business. “Pros lost a lot of their business but they have never had a better opportunity to get it back with fitting studios – custom fit has given all of the aces back to the golf pros,” says Steve. “If I can go and see my golf pro and try different options and listen to their knowledge why would I go to a high street retailer with someone who just works on a Saturday?
“The pros have all the tools so they shouldn’t stop doing hardware, they should be doing more than ever before, especially because they don’t have to physically stock anywhere near as much hardware as they used to. We are accountable to the pros and business is about relationships and we are here for the long-term. Revenue comes as a result of trying to get things right, but it won’t come if you only focus on making money.”