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What’s working so well for PGA Tour Superstore? CEO Dick Sullivan explains

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Popular perception suggests golf retail, particularly the large scale, brick-and-mortar variety, is under siege. So, I was intrigued by PGA Tour Superstore’s recent announcement of 15 percent same-store sales growth year-over-year and even more intrigued by the company’s plans for expansion (adding 19 stores over the next three years).

The company also saw a 42 percent growth in e-commerce sales and performed over 100,000 custom club fittings last year across its 31 retail stores. PGA Tour Superstore opened four stores in 2017 (Glendale, AZ, Hilton Head, SC, Jacksonville, FL and Las Vegas), with plans to open at least five in 2018.

I spoke with PGA Tour Superstore President and CEO, Dick Sullivan, about the company’s unique approach to retail and the state of the golf retail marketplace in general. Sullivan was an executive at Home Depot and the Atlanta Falcons prior to his appointment as head of PGA Tour Superstore in 2009.

Ben Alberstadt: Tell me a little bit about the PGA Tour Superstore model and what’s working for you.

Dick Sullivan: We take a lot of our same values that we had at Home Depot in terms of how we take care of our customer. In our case, we’re much more than…buying products off the rack. Anybody can do that. In our case, it’s so much more important that we bring the level of assortments, the level of service, and a level of experience that consumers really want. A lot of other retailers have tried to bring, say, a high level of service, but they just can bring the…assortments we bring because of the size of our stores…They’re 40-50,000 square feet.

We make multi-million dollar investments in technology every year to make sure that what our customers see inside of stores is really what the pros will see and what all the OEMs are using in terms of fitting.

In addition to the technology that we have, we hire PGA Pros in our stores. Just like Home Depot, where if you don’t have the right people on the floor…that’s a problem. We go out and we seek the best in class in golf, whether it’s students coming out of academies, whether it’s coming out of green grass shops…it’s really important to our customers that we have that level of expertise.

The broad assortment that we carry, not only the hard goods side but on the apparel side, are also important to our customers as well. And we don’t just sell products. We gave over 50,000 lessons last year. We fit over 100,000 customers. We put on over one million grips….We have large-scale putting greens. We have hole-in-one contests. We do closest to the pin. We do other contests.

BA: I don’t want to ask you for the recipe for the secret sauce, but can you talk a little bit more about applying the Home Depot model.

DS: Well, there’s no commission at all. If a customer comes in and doesn’t want to buy anything that day, that’s fine. We’ll have people come in…and say, “Well, I wanted to buy a new set of clubs, but an associate told me I should take a lesson first.”

Another thing is, our company has an inverted organization chart. Those who are closest to the customer are the ones who are in power to make decisions. Those at the bottom–the chairman, the CEO–we help facilitate and deal with challenges and obstacles…Every single day [information is coming back from the store]…and the customer is at the top. The customer is king…the associate is right below them in terms of the org chart.

Our associates solve problems on the floor of the store. They don’t have to go through some bureaucratic system or political power to make decisions. So, it’s a great experience for our customers.

BA: That sounds like it would yield both fluidity and continual optimization of the in-store experience for the customer…

DS:  Just like in the pro shop. You want that golfer to feel like they are king. Our associates get to do the things with our customers that competitors can’t…You think about the simulators inside our stores. That experience alone…the hole-in-one contests…things like that, those are the fun things our associates get to do. Lessons with kids on Saturday morning. All that stuff is really fun.

BA: It seems like you’re putting a premium on relationships and the service element, where others might sometimes feel that it’s not worth an investment, so it’s interesting to see you defying that line of thinking.

DS: Well at Home Depot, and Arthur [Blank] taught me this about 26 years ago: Our associates are not an expense, our associates are an investment. And another thing I’ll never forget him saying: “We’re not in the transaction business, we’re in the relationship business.”

We have nine-hole leagues. We tested them in Minnesota, and our customers really gravitated to it..It’s really fun for families to come in and play…There’s some wonderful new technology that’s out there that’s allowing us to do some unique things.

In the cold-weather months…we have not only one dozen-plus simulators in every one of our stores, but we have these practice bays–almost like an indoor driving range…that’s different. That’s an experience. Someone used the term “retailtainment.” I’d never heard that term, but I thought it was a good term.

BA: Another interesting element here is you’re doing very well online. Can you speak to that?

DS: Well, we have a 50-year license with the PGA Tour. When we did the deal with Tim Finchem…there was no license of that length. We believe strongly in the brand of the PGA Tour. They’re at the top of the pyramid. When you think of golfers, you think of the PGA Tour. The PGA Tour brand reeks of quality. If I said, “Volvo,” and I said, “give me the attributes of Volvo,” by the second, third, or fourth, you’d say “safety.” So when I say “PGA Tour,” it’s usually “high performance,” “quality.” All those things help us in the virtual space…versus “Bob’s Discount Golf” or something like that.

Second, the assortments that we have are just phenomenal.

Black Friday. I remember an article that said, “this is the death of Black Friday.” This was supposed to be the first time that consumers shopped online…at the level of 59 percent. It made me a little nervous. Across the company we had a 28 percent increase that Black Friday, and we had a 98 percent increase online. Then we were up 62 percent on Cyber Monday.

A few years ago, we didn’t have quite the national footprint and the name recognition…I think that footprint has helped us grow our e-commerce business, along with the reputation the PGA Tour brings.

BA: Given the success that you’re seeing, do you think there’d been some fundamental misunderstanding of the golf consumer, or was it just an element of common sense that was lacking?

DS: At the end of the day, the customer votes. We all know that. And I think some organizations maybe have an arrogance in thinking they have all the answers, and they push those decisions down. As I said, we have the reverse: Our associates listen to our customers. Our customers tell our associates what we can do better, and we make those changes.

One of core values is listening and responding. Putting our people first. Innovating. There’s a number of values that we’ve taken from that model of Home Depot and brought it over. The assortments that you see, the size of our stores, that didn’t exist 15 years ago…and I think the level of service, the investment in people, was never happening. And then the investment we make in technology…it’s not just magical marketing that convinces people they need to buy. They can actually see it [by hitting the club on an in-store simulator].”

BA: I think there’s such a level of skepticism at this point that marketing claims are so in-one-ear-and-out-the-other that the best thing OEMs can do, if they really believe in their technology, is to say “go try it out on a launch monitor.” We’ve reached critical mass in terms of marketing speak.

DS: Yeah. Getting fit is not just the little box on the floor and if you swing 88 mph you’re a regular flex…it’s come a long way over the years, and I think we recognize that. That makes it fun. And it makes it more challenging, because the product actually has to perform. It’s not marketing claims; people can actually see the results. Spin rate. Launch angle. All that. And if you’ve got the right fitters, they can quickly dial you in. And we fit for golf balls. It’s amazing to see people come in and get fit for golf balls

BA: That should be the direction of retail. That’s the stuff that really makes the difference, along with lessons. That’s what’s going to enhance how well a player plays and how much s/he enjoys the game.

DS: And if it doesn’t work on the course, they can bring it back. We want people to be happy. It’s fun to hear these stories on course about how a player changed his ball or changed equipment. And they’re all out there fighting for market share. There’s some unbelievable manufacturers. We just came off of a weeklong training session with hundreds of our associates at Streamsong…all the major manufacturers are represented. Every one of our associates goes through extensive training on products…our associates know as much as the reps know.

BA: To circle back, initially, I’m impressed by the scale of the operation, the growth year-over-year, but so much of what you’re doing seems almost like a small business in terms of attention, in terms of investment in employees, it terms of relationships with customers and not being as transactional in orientation. I think that’s a really interesting element of the story.

DS: Hopefully we’re never so big that we change the culture of our company. The investment we making in training…we believe in training probably more than any other retailer out there. It’s so important our associates come well trained and are able to work with customers, because this is not easy stuff. It can be overwhelming.

BA: That’s the point the consumer is at, I think. Technology has become so sophisticated that you either need to do a ton of research or you need help. You need background knowledge in addition to knowing about specific offerings, or, again, you need help.

DS: Right. And we try to make it all simple. We don’t just focus on the avid golfer, we cater to juniors, women, seniors, everyone. That’s part of our whole model.

But we’re growing. We’re going to double the size of our company over the next four years…basically open a store every other month. We see a lot of opportunity. There’s a lot of real estate out there. There’s plenty of real estate in some markets we haven’t been in, and customers are calling and writing asking when we’ll make it to those markets, so you’ll see us growing in some new places over the next three or four years.

BA: Great. Any final remarks on the state of the industry?

DS: Most people call me up and say, “What’s wrong with golf?” I say, “What’s wrong with golf? I don’t think there’s anything wrong with golf.” Golf Channel just announced there were more viewers than January than ever before. Golf rounds have stabilized. We’re bringing more kids into the game than ever.

I don’t want to be falsely optimistic, and certainly there are some things that still need to be fixed, but there’s certainly more positives in golf now than not and the buzz at the PGA Show was great. You know, there were lots of clouds the last few years…but I felt a real positive buzz at the show, more so than I have in many years. I think that bodes well for the game, whether it’s outdoors, or whether they’re coming inside and hitting on simulators, just as long as they’re having fun with a golf club in their hand.

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10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. Bill

    Feb 12, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    This dude should do undercover boss or something. He’s delusional if he thinks half of his stores operate this way. Also the WORST repair service I’ve ever seen…or at least close to it.

  2. Jon K

    Feb 12, 2018 at 11:11 am

    First of all, sales were up for one simple reason–no more Golfsmith. And for all the smart sounding talk about “great customer service” and “our employees are an investment”, PGA Superstore is just another big box retailer that likes to hire a lot of part-timers, pay them very little with no benefits, and provide no incentive for sales people, nor provide any of them a means to actually make a living in golf retail. Just look at the turnover. Also, golf and golf retail is a very specific world with its own culture and values. Big box retailers lack the authenticity and the integrity of a real golf shop, or of a great independently owned store like Carl’s Golfland.

  3. alexdub

    Feb 12, 2018 at 10:29 am

    I go to PGATSS for one reason — the fitting bays. I may just be stopping in to buy a grip or something small, but I’ll stay for 45 mins and try the new drivers in the simulation bay and roll some putts. I think PGATSS does a great job with the model they are implementing.

  4. Reeves

    Feb 11, 2018 at 12:11 am

    The day you walk in and the price of a Callaway, Taylormade, Ping etc. product is at a discount over the OEM controlled price is the day I will know they have something special to offer…to many years the OEM’s have been able to control prices on new stock and even one and two year old models. Time this price fixing comes to an end…if a retailer wants to sell the $499 Callaway driver for $429 then he should still be able to carry and sell that item..OEM’s should not be allowed to price fix period.

    • peter collins

      Feb 13, 2018 at 6:34 am

      I can’t abide any form of price fixing

  5. allan duncan

    Feb 10, 2018 at 6:48 pm

    If you want to see how not to operate a golf store, please come to Myrtle Beach and sit back a laugh.

    • Steve P

      Feb 10, 2018 at 8:09 pm

      Totally correct! i was there last summer over the 4th of July for the Ripken baseball tournament for my son. As someone in golf retail for 25+ years I wanted to check out their store as we don’t have one in our market. It was the dumpiest large golf store I had ever set foot in! This, in one of the largest golf destinations in the world!
      I couldn’t believe how sad it was. I bet I could increase their sales 50% at that location within 6 months.

      • Matt B

        Feb 11, 2018 at 8:15 am

        I too agree. I have been going in these MB stores for years. Love the merchandise options but the staff is rude and overbearing.

  6. Joe D

    Feb 10, 2018 at 2:36 pm

    There is one in Irvine, about an hour away. If only it was closer. I’d pay the $99 and you get 30 minute launch monitor sessions for a year.

  7. Bruno

    Feb 10, 2018 at 12:49 pm

    Visited the Las Vegas store and it was like a boy in a candy store. I bought some overpriced tees and fled before I made a big mistake. 😎

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Tour Photo Galleries

10 interesting photos from Monday at the Zurich Classic

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana, were, among other things, a giant three-legged crocodile roams.

Now in it’s second year, the tournament’s unique two-man team format has attracted a wealth of top talent, including 10 of the top 14 golfers in the OWGR. We’re on the scene snapping bag pictures, and have WITB looks at Matt Jones and Roberto Diaz, in addition to a general gallery from the TPC Louisiana range.

Let’s dig in.

Matt Jones doesn’t need his name embroidered on his headcovers: tape and a marker will do just fine, thanks

Last week, Faaaabel the Goat. This week, someone who would eat Faaabel

Roberto Diaz: Brand agnostic

Wesley Bryan’s Taco Bell(t) lives

Homemade putting aid or soon to be seen on a Golf Channel infomercial (or both)?

UDI with a side of lead

Shaft bags: Assemble!

Roberto Diaz Fourteen RM wedge

What more do you need in life?

A bouquet of Circle T putter covers

Check out our photos from Monday below!

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the photos in our forums

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Monday’s Photos from the 2018 Zurich Classic

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GolfWRX is live from the 2018 Zurich Classic at TPC Louisiana (par 72; 7,425 yards), designed by Pete Dye with consultants Steve Elkington and Kelly Gibson.

The Zurich Classic is a unique event on the PGA Tour because it’s not an individual stroke-play event. Instead, the format consists of two-man teams playing best-ball on Thursday and Saturday, and alternate-shot on Friday and Sunday.

Last year, Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt won the event after four playoff holes against Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown. The Smith/Blixt duo will be back to defend their title, and the Kisner/Brown pairing will be back avenging their loss.

Other notable pairings in the field include Daniel Berger/Gary Woodland, Wesley Bryan/Jon Rahm, Patrick Reed/Patrick Cantlay, John Daly/Rory Sabbatini, Jason Day/Ryan Ruffels, David Duval/Jim Furyk, Tony Finau/Daniel Summerhays, Sergio Garcia/Rafa Cabrera Bello, J.B. Holmes/Brand Snedeker, Matt Kuchar/Bubba Watson, Louis Oosthuizen/Charl Schwartzel, Sean O’Hair/Jimmy Walker, Pat Perez/Jason Dufner, Justin Rose/Henrik Stenson, Jordan Spieth/Ryan Palmer, Justin Thomas/Bud Cauley and more!

Check out our photos from the event below!

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Discussion: See what GolfWRX Members are saying about the photos in our forums

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Tour Rundown: Moriya Jutanugarn and Andrew Landry win their first titles

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It was a week of firsts on two of the world’s major professional tours. Moriya Jutanugarn claimed her first LPGA title in an impressive manner, while 2016 U.S. Open surprise Andrew Landry seized control in Houston to inscribe his name on the winner’s trophy for an initial time. Elsewhere, a pair of underdogs upset the favorites at the Champions Tour’s Missouri affair, while two veterans added additional titles to their resumes in Europe and on the Web.Com tour. It’s an interesting brew in this week’s cauldron, so let’s give it a stir and see what we taste in this week’s Tour Rundown.

Landry holds off resurgent trio to claim Houston Open

Andrew Landry led that U.S. Open at Oakmont after day one, and hung around the top of the leader board until the fourth day. When his name resurfaced at this week’s Tour stop, few were certain he could hold off a resurgent Zach Johnson, the two-time major winner. Well, few other than Zach Johnson thought Landry might pull it off.

How Landry locked in

From the 10th hole on Friday, through the same hole on Sunday, Landry made zero bogeys. He had 13 birdies in that stretch, on a course that gives a few up, but not in buckets. That 36 hole run of brilliance, including birdies on Sunday’s first three holes, staked Landry to an advantage that he would not relinquish. For the entire week, only four bogeys dotted his scorecards, and two of those came on Thursday. Landry’s putter was hot all week, and his driving game was laser-accurate. The sum total: welcome to the winner’s circle, Mr. Landry.

Click here to see the clubs Landry used to win the 2018 Valero Texas Open

Who made a run?

It wasn’t Johnson. Iowa’s favorite son hasn’t won since the 2015 British Open, although his game has shown its old fire of late. Johnson couldn’t find a groove on day 4, making as many bogeys in that round as Landry did all week. In the end, Johnson had a top-5 finish, amid signs that another victory may not be far in the offing. Sean O’Hair had the low round (66) of the day, and that magic was enough to boost him to a second-place tie with young Trey Mullinax, who followed a Saturday 62 with a notable 69 to rock steady. Jimmy Walker, finally recovered from a bout of illness, had the day’s 2nd-lowest score of 67, and he moved all the way to 4th spot.

Mighty Moriya holds off Korean trio for first tour title

Moriya Jutanugarn of Thailand has been close before. She has seen little sister Ariya hoist victory awards before. On Sunday, it was her turn. Jutanugarn and Marina Alex were two of the leader with no title to their credit, heading into the closing 18 holes. While the key to victory still eludes the young American, it was Jutanugarn’s turn to triumph.

What Moriya discovered on Sunday

Actually, she dug deepest on Saturday. The older sibling opened round three with a double bogey, stood 3-over on the day after six holes, and appeared to be sinking. The ship’s wheel steadied with two birdies and hole-out eagle coming home, and then it began the final day with four birdies and no bogeys in the first 15 holes. A late bogey served only to add faux drama, as Jutanugarn calmly closed the deal for victory the first.

Park, Young and Yeon can’t win this case

Reading a bit like a law firm, Inbee Park, Jin Young Ko and So Yeon Ryu made their runs at Moriya. Inbee had a bogey at the turn, and needed perfection on Sunday. She didn’t get it, so a tie for second was in the offing. Ko might have had the best opportunity at day’s start, but a 2-over outward nine took her too far off pace for a 3-under inward half, to provide recovery. She also came second, at 10-under. Ryu put an opening bogey behind with four birdies through 12 holes, but could not go deeper over the closing stretch. Her fourth-place finish was her best of 2018.

Levy wins for third consecutive year on European Tour

France’s Alexander Levy nearly has a five-year win streak. His first two tour titles came in 2014. He skipped 2015, but hasn’t missed in the subsequent years. His work in Morocco this week added up to a one-shot win over a literal blast from the past, Spain’s Alvaro Quiros. Eight golfers finished within three strokes of the top spot, adding drama to the finish at Royal Dar-Es-Salaam.

Nothing spectacular leads Levy to win

There were no great streaks of brilliance, no runs of multiple birdies, for the 28-year old. All that he did, efficiently, was make enough birdies to stay ahead of his pursuers. After bogey at the antepenultimate hole on Sunday, Levy responded with a dart at the par-three 17th, to re-establish his lead. The win was the fifth of his career.

See the clubs Levy used to win

Oh so close for Oh so many

Let’s begin with Quiros. The Spaniard, compared with Dustin Johnson (for his length off the tee) in his early years, has been adrift. Sunday was his best chance in forever to secure a tour title. His first 16 holes were a tangle of bogeys and a pair of birdies. The Iberian closed admirably, with birdies at the final pair, to claim solo second, one back of Levy. Also close were Mikko Illonen (tied for third with three others at 7-under) and England’s Andy Sullivan, one more back at 6-under, in a tie for seventh.

Two more for the road: Axley wins on Web, while Broadhurst/Triplett claim Legends

Eric Axley would have preferred to win his 3rd professional event in glorious fashion. He’ll take a rain-shortened title at the North Mississippi Classic, his second career Web.Com title and his first title of any sort in 12 years. Waaaay back in 2006, Axley won the very same Houston Open (see above) contested this week on the PGA Tour, and a bit of success was predicted for the left-hander. Success, as we know, doesn’t come to all hands, and Axley was able to birdie his final two holes on Saturday to stake a one-shot advantage. Tied for second were the USA’s Willy Wilcox, Columbia’s Sebastian Munoz, and Korea’s K.H. Lee.

Triplett and Broadhurst birdie 1st playoff hole for victory

The rules for the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf are slightly simpler than those of field hockey, which means that they aren’t very simple. Both courses in use boast par-3 holes alone, but each has a different number of holes, so numbers on the scoreboard are meaningless. With the two Spaniards (Olazabal and Jimenez), the defending champs (Franco and Singh) and two major champions (Lehman and Langer) in the mix, the undervalued pairing of Kirk Triplett (he of the hat) and Paul Broadhurst (he of the …) were not anyone’s favorites to emerge. And here we are.

No one seemed bent on making any heroic moves on Sunday, so it came down to which teams would find their way. Lehman/Langer joined the eventual winners at the 9th hole. Triplett played the hole to perfection: tee shot into bunker, bunker shot into hole, thank you very much. No birdie putts were holed, and the title belonged to the unlikely pairing of Kirk and Paul.

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