Ivan Norman is best known in the golf industry as the man who brought the Nevada Bob franchise chain to the UK. He has now opened a 3,000 square foot A1 golf store at the new Greenwich Peninsula 60 bay driving range. Here, he tells Glyn Pritchard what tempted him back into more retailing.
Ivan Norman owns the A1 golf driving range in Barnet, north London, but the shop there is operated by American Golf, following Norman’s decision to sell three of his four stores to American Golf in 2010. “They came to me with a very good offer, mainly because they wanted my flagship store at Broadgate in the City of London and the retail shop located at my driving range in Barnet. I kept the freehold of the A1 driving range and the retail shop that we operate at Trent Park, a busy municipal course in Enfield, which was too small to interest American Golf. At that time I told my wife that I was done with any further retailing. After over 20 years I had had enough of squeezed margins, online discounting and all the other hassles. And then this opportunity came up.”
The opportunity in question was to operate the golf shop at the new Greenwich Peninsula driving range, located next to the O2 arena and directly across the Thames from the skyscrapers at Canary Wharf. The whole of the north of the peninsula is being developed by Knight Dragon, the international property development company owned by Chinese billionaire Dr Henry Cheng Kar-Shun. The total development scheme covers 200 acres and will see the construction of 15,000 homes along 1.6 miles of waterfront.
“In ten years this driving range site will be developed as riverside apartments, but in the meantime, Knight Dragon did not want the site to remain derelict, so they joined forces with Declan Malone offering a ten year lease on the site for a 60 bay double tier driving range”, Norman explains. Malone has developed N1 Golf Academies over the past eight years, operating a number of driving ranges and golf courses all with N1 Golf Academies, including an N1 Golf Academy at the A1 golf range in Barnet. “He’s my tenant there”, Norman confirms. “He knew that I had a lot of experience in golf retailing so he asked me if I would do some informal consultation on finding a store operator for the Greenwich site. When I put together the numbers I thought, wow this could be a great opportunity.”
Norman is no stranger to spotting great opportunities. He started his career in the mid-eighties as a golf pro with two shops at courses south of Manchester. “I went to Las Vegas for a golf tournament in 1988 and while I was there I saw a Nevada Bob golf shop. I walked in and the manager explained that it was a franchise operation. I’d never heard of franchising back then, but it sounded a great idea.” Norman met with ‘Nevada’ Bob Elton and together with his father they negotiated the European rights for the Nevada Bob franchise operation. “My father lives in the States and with some backing from him we secured the European franchise rights. By 1999 we had 50 Nevada Bob franchise stores across Europe and the company owned and operated three of them. Then Bob Elton wanted to take over the European franchises and terms were agreed to purchase the shares in 1999 and I continued as managing director.”
Elton in turn sold out in 2000 and Norman continued as MD of the group for the new owners until 2005 when he felt it was time to move on. “It was all very amicable and I took over the Broadgate store as a franchise operator. The overheads were high but there are a lot of well-heeled people in the City so we had a turnover to match. I eventually had four franchise shops in London, including the store at the A1 driving range, until American Golf came knocking in 2010.”
Asked why he chose to take the plunge back into retail Norman says, “A couple of high street chains took a look at this opportunity, but I felt it needed a specialised approach to make it a real success and not just another store in a chain. I believed that with my skills and experience I could make the most of the opportunity, I met with Declan at the site in January 2015 and we quickly agreed heads of terms. That gave us six months to get a 3,000 square foot store built, with fixtures and fully merchandised.”
The specialist approach taken by Norman is to give over sections of the shop to manufacturers, each with its own distinctive livery and branding. “A1 Golf Shop branding is on the store front, but inside the individual brands take precedence and set the tone. I didn’t want undistinguished racks of clubs along one wall. I wanted each manufacturer to be able to showcase their brand.”
Norman was delighted by the positive response he received from the manufacturers. “I still have a lot goodwill in the industry so that helped when we pitched the idea to suppliers in February. Everybody agreed to come on board. We got the shell unit at the end of May and then had a month of fitting out, before the suppliers came in to fit out their own areas. We then had three days to get over 5,000 stock lines booked onto the EPOS system, merchandised and ticketed. The suppliers were fantastic, even unboxing stuff for us and I’ve also got an excellent team.”
Naturally enough Norman went to some of his best former managers to come and run the new store. “Colin Hickman was my manager at Broadgate for 15 years and he is a superb business manager. Gary Scott managed my A1 Barnet store for eight years. He’s here as sales manager and is probably the best salesman I know. And Steve Spencer, the assistant manager, was with me previously for five years. With the rest of the team we’ve put together I know that the place will run well and exactly as I want it to operate, without me having to be here.”
In terms of market potential, Norman is bullish. “In fact we have two markets. The obvious plumb is Canary Wharf where 110,000 very well paid people in financial services work. It’s one tube stop from Canary Wharf to North Greenwich and then a 400 yard walk, so it’s somewhere they can visit easily in the lunch hour.” Anticipating demand for top of the range merchandise, Norman is stocking the Vega range of Japanese prestige clubs. “But 250,000 people live in Greenwich and many of them are coming to the range and trying golf for the first time. To meet that need we have starter ranges from £99 and we also operate a price match policy.”
The new shop should also benefit from the nearby Intercontinental Hotel. “It has over 450 rooms and one of the largest conference centres in Europe. There’s an access road from here directly to the hotel.”
Custom fitting is available on all the major hardware lines says Norman. “We have demo sets and custom fitting carts for all the brands and at the moment we’re offering free custom fitting until the end of the year. We have installed a Foresight GC2 swing analyser with Head Measurement Technology (HMT) because it’s the best analysis tool available. We’re also giving customers a free ten minute taster session so they can see the benefits of analysis and custom fitting.” (See side panel for details).
The Peninsula Driving Range also offers a gourmet restaurant, up-market wine merchants and a N1 Golf coaching academy. “It’s a great location, a terrific facility and a major retail opportunity. Retailing is not just about the hardware and pricing but the expertise you offer with it. Everything we learnt as a team at Broadgate and the other stores is going into this place. I’d washed my hands of retail but I’ve got a new lease of life here, because it’s not only a great opportunity, it’s great fun too.”
Foresight is the A1 choice
For the A1 Golf Store Ivan Norman selected Foresight Sports Game Changer 2 (GC2) and Head Measurement Technology (HMT) for his team of golf professionals to carry out club fittings using the most accurate data available in the golf industry. He explains, “We were first attracted to the GC2 after receiving some very good feedback from suppliers, golf professionals and fellow retailers. After visiting Foresight’s showroom and experiencing the system myself, I had no doubt that the GC2 launch monitor, coupled with the HMT camera, provides the very best data and information available to ensure we can offer our customers a first-class custom-fit service.
“Most golfers looking for new equipment now expect to be offered some form of custom-fitting, and being able to offer a comprehensive service – from what is rapidly becoming the most respected and used system, by the majority of major manufacturers and many tour professionals – will definitely enhance the experience for our customers.
“With online sales increasing significantly, providing a professional custom-fit service from trained expert friendly staff, using the latest technology, will provide a huge difference compared to online retailers and should have a substantial impact on our sales.”
The GC2 directly measures all essential ball data at launch using ultra-high-speed cameras, while HMT directly measures all critical club data independently, to provide the most-trusted and accurate data in the industry for every club, every shot, every player and every swing.
Foresight’s technology images the exact movement of the dimple patterns on the golf ball, to ensure pure, reliable data, making it the only technology suitable for all seasons and conditions – whether indoors or on the range – and produces data for every club, every shot, every player and every swing, all to the highest accuracy levels in the industry.
More at: www.foresightsports.eu