Golf Retailing caught up with the Ping Europe management team to find out how they have fared through the Covid-19 situation and how they are helping their retail partners through these unchartered times.
How has Covid-19 changed Ping’s year?
John Clark, Managing Director: It goes without saying, Covid-19 has had a significant impact on the company since we went into lockdown on 25th March but we are happy to report that the bounce back has been significantly stronger than what we had anticipated at that time. It certainly appears that golf is seen as a safe sport to play, given it is very much an open-space activity, and it has resulted in golf participation and membership showing excellent growth. As a result, the bleak forecasts we had in the middle of the lockdown now look far more positive, albeit still a long way from last year and where we expected to be at the start of the year.
Like all businesses, we have had to make significant adjustments to how we operate, none more so than in our club-building and shipping environments. As you know, all our clubs are custom built only when we receive a customer order and the requirement to adhere to social distancing has posed a challenge, which I am pleased to say we tackled head-on with the incredible support from our fantastic employees. The bounce back has reached levels that has required us to recruit an additional 30-35 people in the custom building and shipping departments.
How have Ping helped their retailers throughout lockdown and beyond?
Steve Carter, European Sales Director: From an account management perspective, our main objective has been to work closely and patiently with our account holders to help them manage their orders, stock and cash flow. It’s very important that we think long-term about the relationship and not demand quick resolutions. Demand for custom fitting has been very strong and we now have all club-building staff back at work and we have hired extra people to keep up with demand. That said, we are quoting a little longer than we would normally but we are working flat out, including overtime, to get our quote dates down. The size of the surge in demand is not making this easy but we will get their soon. Custom fit orders are very good for the account holder, because they deliver a quick payment to help cashflow.
What changes have you made at your Gainsborough plant to keep your staff safe?
Lisa Lovatt, General Manager: Following the government guidelines, while still being as efficient as possible, has been a challenge but one we have fully embraced with various new procedures and protocols to ensure the safety of our staff. Some of the changes include one-way systems, separation screens, face masks and staggered lunch times. Our staff have been incredibly supportive. We have made changes to increase output only when we believe we can do it safely and with the support of staff.
Are there different challenges for your apparel business compared to
Giles Birkhead, European Apparel Sales Director: The timing of Covid-19 fell right on top of the in-store SS20 launch, which has had an impact on the stock levels that the retailer has been forced to hold for a number of months. The knock-on effect of this has led to a reduced level of restocking of in-line product but our apparel service commitments, which include no minimum order quantities and free shipping on any order size, are ensuring that our apparel retailers can safely manage their stock levels with us. We have worked closely with account holders to manage their unshipped order commitments. Pleasingly, we have received excellent commitment to take AW20.
How have you adapted the sell in process for SS21, and how has the response been to the new product so far?
Giles Birkhead: Like many industries, our sales reps are adapting to new ways of presenting and taking orders from our retailers, whether that be through video meetings or showcasing product on a rail in the golf club car park. It is important we continue to be flexible for the different challenges each retailer faces, so we will be patient and only present SS21 to retailers when we know they have confidence in their situation and ready for us to do so. Ultimately, our goal is to provide the best support and service that we can, taking into account each retailer’s individual circumstances.
What positives can you take from the challenges this year has put in your way, and will they shape the company moving forward?
John Clark: You learn much more about your business, processes and people during challenging times than you do when things are running smoothly and to plan. The last four to five months has reinforced the incredible atmosphere and culture we have at PING. The Solheim family should be very proud of this and how they have looked after their people during and since the lockdown. In return, the staff have repaid that support with a willingness to go well beyond the extra mile. We are already looking well into the future to make plans that will be all the more effective because of the experiences we have been through. 2021 will be an excellent year for the PING brand. GR