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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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Tiger changes driver-weight settings, shoots even-par 70 at Honda Classic

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After missing the cut by four strokes at the 2018 Genesis Open last week, Tiger Woods is back at it again this week at the Honda Classic; it’s the first time he’s played in back-to-back PGA Tour events since 2015.

Opting for something other than driver off the tee much of the day, Woods made one double bogey, one bogey, and three birdies en route to an even-par 70.

It’s no secret that Woods has been struggling off the tee of late, especially with the driver. He’s hitting just 35 percent of fairways on the year, and he has already made one driver shaft change (going from a Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro White 70TX to a Matrix Ozik TP6HDe ahead of the Genesis Open). According to photos on Thursday, it appears Woods has also changed the weight settings in his TaylorMade M3 for a bit more forgiveness and fade-bias (as pictured above). At the Genesis Open and the Farmers Insurance Open, Woods had the M3 driver weights in the forward position, which moves CG (center of gravity) forward and tends to lower spin.

On Thursday, however, Woods hit a slew of long irons and fairway woods off the tee instead of drivers at the 7,100-yard par-70 PGA National… an approach that seemed to work. Well, he hit just 50 percent of the fairways on the day, but that means he’s trending upward.

One of the shots Woods hit with the driver was so far right it was literally laughable… but he managed to make par anyway.

Actually, his double-bogey 7 on the par-5 third hole (his 12th of the day) came after hitting the fairway; he was fumbling on and around the green after hitting his third into a greenside bunker. That blunder aside, three birdies and an even-par round at the always-difficult PGA National leaves Woods currently in T19, obviously well inside the cutline.

Do you think Woods will make the cut? Do you think he can contend to win the tournament?

See the clubs Tiger Woods has in his bag this week at the 2018 Honda Classic.

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Wednesday’s Photos from the 2018 Honda Classic

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GolfWRX is live this week from the 2018 Honda Classic at PGA National’s Champion course (par 70: 7,110 yards) in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.

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The field this week is stacked at the top, and it includes defending-champion Rickie Fowler, 2017 FedEx Champion Justin Thomas, four-time major champion Rory McIlroy, and reigning Masters champion Sergio Garcia, who’s making his first PGA Tour start of 2018. Also in the field is Tiger Woods, who committed to play in the event just last week. Woods is coming off a disappointing missed cut at the 2018 Genesis Open.

Last year, Fowler won by four shots over Morgan Hoffmann and Gary Woodland, despite playing his final round in 1-over par.

Check out our photos from the 2018 Honda Classic below!

Wednesday’s Photos

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

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USGA, R&A to roll out new World Handicap System in 2020

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A new handicap system is here, or rather, it will be once the USGA and R&A begin to fully implement the World Handicap System in 2020.

The new system focuses on achieving three main objectives: 1) encouraging as many golfers as possible to maintain a handicap, 2) enabling golfers of different abilities, genders, and nationalities to compete fairly, and 3) determining the score a golfer is reasonably capable of shooting at any particular course anywhere in the world.

Currently there are six handicapping systems worldwide, owing to the existence of six handicapping authorities: Golf Australia, the Council of National Golf Unions (CONGU) in Great Britain and Ireland, the European Golf Association (EGA), the South African Golf Association (SAGA), the Argentine Golf Association (AAG) and the USGA.

The six handicapping authorities represent approximately 15 million golfers in 80 countries who currently maintain a golf handicap.

Under the new program, the USGA and R&A will oversee the World Handicap System and the governing bodies will be in charge of local administration.

The USGA presents the WHS as a better system that simplifies the existing structures. Not surprisingly, the organization believes the WHS will compel more golfers to maintain a handicap.

“For some time, we’ve heard golfers say, ‘I’m not good enough to have a handicap,’ or ‘I don’t play enough to have a handicap,’” USGA executive director Mike Davis said. “We want to make the right decisions now to encourage a more welcoming and social game.”

Davis sees the new system marching arm-in-arm with the revisions to (and simplification of) the Rules of Golf.

“We’re excited to be taking another important step – along with modernizing golf’s rules – to provide a pathway into the sport, making golf easier to understand and more approachable and enjoyable for everyone to play.”

Key features of the WHS include:

  • Flexibility in formats of play, allowing both competitive and recreational rounds to count for handicap purposes and ensuring that a golfer’s handicap is more reflective of potential ability.
  • A minimal number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap; a recommendation that the number of scores needed to obtain a new handicap be 54 holes from any combination of 18-hole and 9-hole rounds, but with “some discretion available for handicapping authorities or national associations to set a different minimum within their own jurisdiction.”
  • A consistent handicap that “is portable” from course to course and country to country through worldwide use of the USGA course and slope rating system, already used in more than 80 countries.
  • An average-based calculation of a handicap, taken from the best eight out of the last 20 scores and “factoring in memory of previous demonstrated ability for better responsiveness and control.”
  • A calculation that considers the impact that abnormal course and weather conditions might have on a player’s performance each day.
  • Daily handicap revisions, taking account of the course and weather conditions calculation.
  • A limit of net double bogey on the maximum hole score (for handicapping purposes only).
  • A maximum handicap limit of 54.0, regardless of gender, to encourage more golfers to measure and track their performance to increase their enjoyment of the game.

The USGA and R&A conducted quantitative research in 15 countries around the world. 76 percent of the 52,000 respondents voiced their support for a World Handicap System, 22 percent were willing to consider its benefits, and only 2 percent were opposed.

The research also helped model the tenets of the WHS, but, as mentioned, don’t tear up your GHIN cards just yet: We’ve only just begun the two-year transition period prior to the implementation.

To provide feedback to the USGA on the new World Handicap System, golfers can email the USGA at whsfeedback@usga.org, or see usga.org/whs for more info.

Additionally, the USGA created this FAQ.

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