The end of the main season is upon us and the clocks have gone back. It’s a good time to review the year to establish exactly what has happened. This will enable golf retailers to compare their result to the national performance enabling better planning and budgeting for 2021. However, whilst it is important to look back to understand the reasoning behind this year’s performance, it’s equally important to look to the future to think through how recent events may change our behaviour. Covid19 has certainly had a major impact on the world we live in, accelerating some of the trends already established in our society. Some of these took effect following the lockdown and may peter out as time goes by, while others may still be with us for years to come.
Quarter 1 January to March
January weather started much warmer than in 2019 – in fact the sixth warmest since 1884 helping to get the year off to a good start. It appeared that golfers had loosened their wallets following the conclusion, for the time being, of the Brexit negotiations which had dampened retail sales generally. However, this didn’t last long as Ciara swept in bringing with it flooded roads, trees down and some snow. Result, cumulative sales at the end of February already dipping below the same period last year. Then the bombshell fell on March 23rd with the introduction of a lockdown. Worst still Cabinet minister Michael Gove confirming that people should not be playing golf. This resulted in cumulative sales at the end of the quarter being -22.1% down compared to last year.
Quarter 2 April to June
April’s sales not unexpectedly hit a low at -95.3% compared to 2019 – less said the better. Good news came on13th May with the government giving all clear for golf to restart. This benefited the month with sales improving but still at only -66.9% compared to last year. June sales improved dramatically being close to last years at -3.5% which yielded at the end of the second quarter, year to date results of -43.6%
Quarter 3 July to September
July saw the start of a very positive upward trend with the month’s sales +24.2% followed by August and September respectively at +25.2% and 28.6% compared to the same periods last year. This reducing the deficit at the end of the third quarter to -18.8%. A great recovery – long may it last. Interestingly clubs have led the way throughout the recovery and are only -11.5% down in the year to date. At the other end of the scale is apparel at -37.8%. This is consistent with clothing in the general retail marketplace, brought about by a shift in buying preferences for example to household goods and sports equipment. So, what of the future?
At the outset of the virus we were told to ‘Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives’ although we were encouraged to exercise. Cycling got the early go ahead and certainly got a major boost from revived interest in the sport. It was not until 13th May that golf courses were allowed to re-open. This created two short term opportunities.
The ability for sports men and women who were unable to undertake their preferred activity for example in gyms or on football fields to play some golf. The CEO of England Golf estimates that this has given rise to an increase of 20,000 new membership since May across England alone.
The reluctance of holidaymakers, particularly older generations who make up a major proportion of golfers, to fly through fear of catching the virus in aircrafts resulting in them making better use of the many fine courses here in the UK
Preliminary figures for rounds played from Sports Marketing Surveys show a 61% increase in June, 40% increase in July 2019 and 60% in August compare to 2019
Time will tell whether or not these effects remain permanent. Hopefully, a significant proportion of those returning to the sport and those taking it up a fresh can be encouraged to remain golfers. To ensure this happens many clubs need to shake off their old and often seen as stuffy traditions many of which are out of date and accept that this is now a new world. These relate to not just the course, competitions offered and types of play such as Speed Golf, but for example a more relaxed dress codes, more modern bar and food facilities particularly suited to families that need to be encouraged.
Over recent years society has been changing. There has been a clear trend to more people wishing to work from home benefiting them in a number of ways:
Reduced stress and lost time during travelling to and from work
Increased discretionary spending brought about by the reduced cost of travel
More free time for the family or recreational activities such as sport leading to a healthier lifestyle. A sorry fact is that only 30% of males have their correct body mass index!
Some employers have been less than willing for this to happen fearing a drop in productivity. The Covid-19 lockdown and the government’s encouragement for people to stay at home has forced the issue and a general rethink. Many companies using modern data processing can now see that the feared loss of efficiency is minimal and that they too have benefits from reduced cost of office space and happier more effective employees.
The net effect of all this is a better work-life balance which from the golf industries viewpoint is great. Many golfers are now either playing before work in the time they would have been travelling or starting work earlier leaving more time at the end of the day for a round. Clubs need to capitalise on this opportunity thinking through how they need to change to improve their member’s general experience of playing and socialising.
The other important long-term change is how we buy, which will affect golf retailers in the same way as retail in general. Strong growth in online sales has been experienced over the pandemic. According to The Office for National Statistics online sales in August were 46.8% higher than February’s pre-pandemic levels. Over recent weeks many golfers will have become reliant on the internet using it as their first choice for shopping. It’s all too easy for them while browsing to drift into a golf site which may encourage them to make an impulse purchase. So, having a web site can be a valuable part of the business. However, the decision to run one should not be taken lightly. To compete in what is becoming a crowded online market place a website needs to offer the following:
- Wide product ranging with clearly presented copy highlighting the benefits of moving up from good merchandise to better or best
- Good stock availability enabling a quick order turnaround
- Fast processing
- Easy to use search facility
- Easy to use payment facilities such as PayPal
- A clear and customer-oriented returns policy
- Quality customer service
For many golf retailers, this is not going to be possible given their limited resources – cash, space, technical expertise and lack of time. For most, it would be better to focus on their existing customers and delivering excellent levels of customers service and convenience. Bringing members back into the shop and reclaiming some of their online spend might be more productive. After all, what’s more convenient. Searching around online, filling in lots of personal details and then waiting a day or two for a product to be delivered, or picking something up while walking to the first tee? Communication with existing customers may well produce a better return than trying to attract new ones.
The long-term social, economic and health effects of Covid19 are still very much unknown. Currently, with almost half the country in some form of lockdown it is impossible to forecast what the future will hold. Even so there are already lessons identified above that can be learnt by both club management and golf retailers. It’s a time of change and those that adapt quickest to customer needs are most likely to succeed in the future. GR