Following on from the January issue article on Andrew Reynolds and the success of the Club Room at Royal Cinque Ports, Tony Clark reports on the new Golf Den installed by Aaron Pheasant at Hull Golf Club complete with Flightscope.
Aaron Pheasant is no ordinary retailer. He’s no ordinary golf professional either. Aaron has a vision and a desire to be the best he can be for the people he serves and he’s prepared to invest in himself and his stakeholders to achieve his goal.
You see Aaron recognises that it’s not all about him! Making a success of anything is about bringing people with you. Pushing against an open door makes life easier. So if what you want is what other people want, then you’re most the way there. And that’s the way it’s been both at The KP Club, where he oversaw a £4 million transformation from golf club to resort (which this year won a Golf Club of the Year award) and more recently at Hull Golf Club where Aaron is now director of golf and creating an amazing retail and coaching experience.
TC – So what brought you back to Hull Golf Club?
AP – I was assistant here before taking up the position as director of golf at The KP Club. The nine years there were amazing. I learned so much about myself and business and grew both professionally and personally. We had an extremely small team working in a tough economic environment but the quality of what we did helped weather the storm when lots of clubs around us were struggling to cope with modern leisure demands and social changes. I’m hugely proud of what we achieved at The KP Club and when the position at Hull GC became available it presented a very different challenge and one that was too big to turn down.
TC – Can you expand on that?
AP – This is very much a traditional club. In many ways this is a good thing but it brings with it challenges such as an ageing membership profile and the need to reinvent itself. But it’s a good course; a James Braid designed course no less and it’s located in an affluent area with an excellent catchment. So the potential is tremendous. I believe that my main strength is working with people and providing a high level of service and Hull Golf Club will allow me to develop something special that can sometimes be missing when a team’s focus is solely on the balance sheet rather than the overall vision of where we are trying to position the club.
TC – Do you see influencing the membership numbers and profile as your job?
AP – Yes definitely. The board of directors have included me in every aspect of the club and encourage me to express myself with the skills that I’ve learnt from my time in the golf industry. I understand that the professional team, and me as director of golf, are the face of Hull Golf Club. Members and guests tend to visit the pro shop first and it’s our responsibility to ensure that their first impression each day is a positive one. We treat all visitors as if they are members in the hope that one day they will be!
TC – When I look at your shop I see some pretty unusual things; a chandelier, a fancy coffee machine, a chesterfield couch and carved wooden furniture. And your range of merchandise is all high-end for want of a better word. What’s the thinking behind all of this?
AP – Where do I start? Frankly I couldn’t afford a ‘name’ shop fitting company and I’ve never been one for convention, plus I have always loved interior design. I get plenty of ideas of what I expect from a retail environment when I go shopping and I know what I like. When I research I tend to do it outside of the golf industry. I look at other successful consumer and retail brands, often with heritage, like Jaguar, John Lewis, Selfridges, M&S and so on. I look at how so many of these long standing brands have reinvented themselves, whether from a position of strength or sometimes having fallen behind, with products, service and marketing relevant to their target customers. What I have learnt is that being creative you can save money and at the same time create an environment that’s comfortable for the customer and I hope a unique shopping experience! For example the coffee machine was as much about the smell as the coffee. I didn’t want my shop to smell like a golf shop so I include Yankee candles to reflect the changing seasons. I also visit antique shops and that’s where the chandelier and furniture has come from. Where possible I try to blend the traditional with contemporary to connect with the clubs history and to provide the ultimate on course retail environment.
TC – So at a club with an ageing profile why Hugo Boss, J.Lindeberg and Titania Bling?
AP – I decided that I’d give my members the best and that this would give the club a lift. I believe that people want the best and that increasingly people aspire to youth and it’s a fact that the grey pound is strong. The bling thing was really about finding something different and of the right quality for the ladies and it’s already proved popular. And besides, I don’t see the business as ‘the golf shop’ I see it as a retail outlet in Hull. And it’s working.
TC – That’s a great point. So what about recruitment?
AP – I’m very fortunate to have a good team. All I ever want is people with the right attitude and to include them in the vision. Once you have that it’s plain sailing. It was important to have specialists in my view. Michael Dennington is an expert in custom club fitting, alteration and repair as well as actively pursuing his playing ambitions on the regions’ PGA tours; Carlo Ciullo is building a fantastic reputation as an instructor, PGA qualified and a member of the EuroPro Tour; and James Ratcliffe is a past junior captain of Hull Golf Club and a member of the club’s scratch league team. James’ next steps to the professional ranks are only round the corner. Currently completing a retail assistant qualification, James is looking to develop this alongside his grass roots junior coaching. But importantly we all have the same desire to make everyone’s experience a great one and to have a heap of fun whilst doing it. It’s a complete lifestyle feel and not a clinical retail-only store. And really that’s where the on course pro can make a difference as his relationship with his member has to be one of longevity and trust.
AP – It’s essential. If we’re to grow the game we have to coach. Whether it’s family and friends of members or clients from outside the club, and we do advertise externally, we have to get a club in their hand, make coaching fun and rewarding and get them hitting the ball and onto the course as soon as possible. I’d say non-members account for 20 percent of lessons but of course they are also retail customers and pay green fees!
Is the golf studio part of that coaching plan?
AP – Golf Den! Yes; this is our pride and joy right now. The support of the members has been outstanding. They’re all committed to the Hull Golf Club project and see The Golf Den as an important part of the overall plan to transform the club. It’s a significant outlay, almost £40,000, but an investment that really underpins what it is we are trying to do here at Hull Golf Club. We called it The Golf Den because we felt it should have a separate identity. When you’re in the Golf Den you’re truly away from it all. You could be anywhere. From a coaching perspective it’ll certainly give us more flexibility in bad weather, reducing the number of lessons that get cancelled but it has to pay for itself. It’s about entertainment as much as anything, another string to our bow and giving members what they should expect, whether they realise it or not.
TC – So where did the £40,000 come from to build and furnish The Golf Den?
AP – I organised the funding of The Golf Den myself. I sourced my own finance companies, negotiated a rate and term and did the deal through them. Cash flow is critical to any business and this way I could buy everything at once and have a clear understanding of my monthly outgoings versus forecast.
TC – Well that shows a real belief in yourself and the business. And what does the future hold?
AP – Well, we won’t be standing still. We’ve already agreed that the Trilby Tour Two’s will be at Hull GC in 2015, so this will give the course excellent exposure on Sky TV. We have plenty of work to do in 2015, with a dedicated re-branding programme, to establish Hull Golf Club as the premier golfing venue in the region. Please come back and see the changes in the next 12 months.
TC – I will!
Tony Clark is Owner/Managing Director of PlaneSWING Golf and a business consultant with Clark Management Group Ltd. He can be contacted at 01604 830880 or 07870 562777 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org