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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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The Gear Dive: Bob Lamkin discusses Jack Nicklaus’ small and hard grips

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Lamkin CEO Bob Lamkin joins host Johnny Wunder to discuss his family’s 93-year legacy in the business, going from all leather to all rubber, and making grips for the greatest players in the game. A great conversation with one of the true gentleman in the game.

11:05 — Jack Nicklaus and his hard/small grips.
22:02 — Justin Rose, his long standing relationship with Lamkin, and his ultimate precision.
25:45 — Keegan Bradley’s Super Custom Crossline grips

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes!

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Why the R&A tested 30 players’ drivers at The Open

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Yesterday in the Morning 9, we discussed Tim Rosaforte’s report that the R&A randomly tested 30 players drivers for COR conformance at the British Open.

It seems, however, that while the drivers were randomly chosen, players knew the testing was coming. According to Golf Channel’s Rex Hoggard, both players and OEMs were notified three weeks ago that the R&A intended to check drivers.

Traditionally, the R&A and USGA test COR on clubs from manufacturers, not players’ gamers.

“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players’ drivers straight out of the bag,” Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive, told Golf Channel.

Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day, and Henrik Stenson were among those tested (should’ve tested Stenson’s 3-wood!). No violations were reported at the practice range test center.

Interestingly/conspiracy alert: Rory McIlroy floated the idea that TaylorMade (his equipment sponsor, was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It’s a bit of an arms race,” McIlroy said.

That said, randomness or the size of TaylorMade’s market share could account for number of M3 and M4s tested, rather than being “singled out” as McIlroy suggested.

While this is the first such testing at The Open, the R&A apparently tested drivers at a Japan Golf Tour event earlier this year.

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GolfWRX Morning 9: The eternal allure of Tiger Woods | Lincicome vs. the guys | A pair of passings

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By Ben Alberstadt (ben.alberstadt@golfwrx.com)

 

July 18, 2018

Good Wednesday morning, golf fans.
1. “Box office” Woods
As he prepares for his return to the British Open, all eyes are on Tiger Woods. Sure, there are Woods’ usual detractors, and those who wish the media would focus more on other players, so it may be more accurate to say–many eyes at Carnoustie are on Tiger physically.
  • The BBC’s Tom English had this to say about merely getting to Woods’ press conference.
  • “When Woods is on his way to the interview room, media folk grow extra legs. They exit their seat like a greyhound from the traps and whizz past you in a blur. Lesson one about covering a major championship: don’t get in the way of a man on his way to a Tiger press conference. Dawdle and you’re dead. Roadkill.”
  • “Woods had a captive audience. We were literally queuing out the door. For reigning Open champion Jordan Spieth on Monday – a healthy attendance at his press conference, but not full. For Masters champion Patrick Reed – a decent turnout. For US Open champion Brooks Koepka – a respectable crowd. For Woods, a stampede.”
  • He said this of the endless scribe and fan interest in Woods…”Put simply, we will never get over Tiger. For good and bad, he is imbedded in our hearts and minds. People wonder whether he can pull off a miracle and win this week – or any week when there’s a major on the line. The miracle isn’t exclusively about him winning, it’s about us wanting him to win. That’s a miraculous event in itself. Despite everything that he has done, we’re still rooting for him ahead of most, if not, all of the field?”
2. Lincicome vs. the guys
Helen Ross checks on Brittany Lincicome as she prepares to tee it up at the Barbasol.
  • “Ten years, to be exact. When Lincicome steps to the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET on Thursday, she’ll become the sixth woman to play in a TOUR event, joining Wie, who was the last, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley, Shirley Spork and Babe Didrikson Zaharias.”
  • “And Lincicome, who is playing with Sam Ryder and Conrad Shindler, plans to soak it all in. “To be playing in the practice round today, hitting on the driving range, it’s kind of surreal,” Lincicome said. “I just can’t stop smiling. … I can’t wait until Thursday.”
  • “Lincicome has won eight times on the LPGA Tour and played in six Solheim Cups. She narrowly missed getting her ninth victory on Sunday, too, when a birdie putt did a 340-degree spin out of the hole and Lincicome ended up losing on the first hole of sudden death.”
  • “Lincicome’s average driving distance, measured on two holes each week, is 269.520 yards, which ranks her 10th on the LPGA. That’s just 6 yards out of No. 1 – but outside the top 200 on the PGA TOUR.”
3. A pair of passings: Marcia Chambers and Mark Hayes
The golf world lost a fine pair: Marcia Chambers and Mark Hayes.
  • John Strege writes of Chambers: “Marcia Chambers, a Golf Digest contributor who was on the leading edge of writing about gender and race discrimination in golf, died last Friday at Smilow Cancer Hospital in New Haven, Conn. She was 78.
  • “Chambers, a Senior Research Scholar in Law at Yale Law School, received the American Bar Association’s Silver Gavel Award for her series of Golf Digest articles dealing with gender and race discrimination in golf.
  • “She initially was asked to address discrimination against women in private clubs, but that was tabled when Shoal Creek and its founder Hall Thompson brought race to the fore in the runup to the PGA Championship in 1990.”
  • Jim McCabe on Mark Hayes…“Hayes, whose win at the 1977 PLAYERS was the last of three PGA TOUR wins in a solid 19-year career, died Monday at the age of 69 in Edmond, Oklahoma. Hayes’ death was confirmed by his oldest brother, Larry Hayes, the General Manager at TPC Craig Ranch in McKinney, Texas. He was 69 and had been ill for more than a year.”
4. Fun with skins

An unbylined AP report on some practice round antics at Carnoustie and more from the SB2K crew…in this case a Michael Greller-Justin Thomas bet that he could make par on a hole using just an 8-iron.

  • “The challenge was for Thomas to make par using only an 8-iron…Once he got it in the fairway, Spieth came over to advise him how to navigate the pot bunkers more than 200 yards away. The ball stopped rolling, finally, about a yard short of a bunker to the left of the green. Getting it over the bunker with that club was going to be a problem.”
  • ‘”Where’s my caddie?” Thomas said in mock panic…Spieth was preparing to hit a bunker shot on the other side of the fairway when he looked over and said, “Sorry,” then ran to Thomas for more consultation. He told Thomas to open the face of the 8-iron and slide it under the firm turf. Spieth pointed to a spot on the slope beyond the bunker. Greller watched nervously as Thomas pulled it off to perfection, the ball rolling out to 3 feet…With the leading edge of the 8-iron, he knocked it in for a 4. And then, as usual, they all debated the size of the bet.”
5. The Golf Engine predicts…
Pat Ross and his Golf Engine predict the top 25 finishers at The Open.

 

How does it work? “In this model, we use machine learning to evaluate 1,500 different statistics for every golfer on the PGA Tour over each tournament since 2004. The analysis of this massive dataset allows gives us an opportunity to predict players that are sitting on low round scores.”
  • A taste…”The field for the 147th British Open is set at the historic Carnoustie Golf Links. The Golf Engine modeled over 1,500 statistics tracked by the PGA Tour for every tournament dating back to 2004. We looked at how each stat contributes to what we can expect from players on this stage, at this tournament. It’s a complex web of information that can only be properly analyzed by a machine, yet yields some objectively surprising results.”
  • “This year’s British Open is no exception as the model is calling for Webb Simpson (125/1 odds) to make a run into the top 10 at least.”
  • Some surprises…Back-to-back U.S. Open winner Brooks Koepka (22/1) inside the top 5…Webb Simpson (125/1) and Phil Mickelson (66/1) inside the top 10….Emiliano Grillo (100/1) inside the top 15…Kevin Na (175/1), Luke List (125/1), and Ryan Moore (150/1) inside top the 25.”:
  • “Perhaps just as surprising are the golfers that may under-perform this week. Rory McIlroy and Tommy Fleetwood don’t make the top 10 cutoff. Alex Noren, Francesco Molinari who finished T2 at TPC Deere Run last week, and Sergio Garcia are all projected outside of our top 25.”

 

6. Confessions of  Yipper
More specifically, a confession from Kevin Na that he contracted a strain of the yips.
  • “I went through the yips. The whole world saw that. I told people, ‘I can’t take the club back,'” Na said on Tuesday at Carnoustie. “People talked about it, ‘He’s a slow player. Look at his routine.’ I was admitting to the yips. I didn’t use the word ‘yip’ at the time. Nobody wants to use that word, but I’m over it now so I can use it. The whole world saw it.”
  • “It took time,” he said. “I forced myself a lot. I tried breathing. I tried a trigger. Some guys will have a forward press or the kick of the right knee. That was hard and the crap I got for it was not easy.”
7. Hello again, John Peterson
He’s back! (Sort of). Golfweek’s Kevin Casey (former GolfWRX writer!) with the details.
  • “It was less than two weeks ago that John Peterson seemed to say farewell after he just missed out on conditional status following the end of his major medical extension…The 29-year-old had for months stated that if he did lose his PGA Tour status by the end of the medical, he would retire and go into real estate development. After his lost status came to fruition, Peterson seemed to indicate he was indeed going through with this plan.”
  • “But now – at least for one week – he’s back…Despite having no status, Peterson was on the alternate list for the Barbasol Championship – the opposite-field event being played during Open Championship week…He quickly moved up the alternates, too, due to field changes and has now earned a spot in the event!”
  • “How did he get in this field? Peterson apparently earned his spot via being in the “50 finishers beyond 150 on prior season’s money list through Wyndham Championship” category.”
8. BioMech and the future of putting analysis
Michael Williams chatted with the CEO of BioMech Golf among others. BioMech Golf is, well, I’ll let Michael tell you…
  • “A couple of years ago, Dr. Frank Fornari and BioMech created a stir with the BioMech Acculock ACE putter, a radical new putter design that integrated the principles of biometrics, the science of motion. The putter was designed to be used with a specific type of putting stroke that would be proven by the BioMech team to be the ideal method for putting. The putter developed a cult following, but the BioMech team is back with a tool that just might break into the mainstream.”
  • “Fornari’s team has developed the BioMech putting sensor and app. The sensor attaches to any putter and transmits data about each putt to an app that can run on any iPhone or iPad. It provides key data on what the player is doing, when they are doing it and why they are doing it, making the BioMech sensor effective whether you are a player, an instructor or even a manufacturer. With the golf industry driven more than ever by technology, the BioMech sensor could become as essential to putting and the short game as Trackman is to the full swing.”

 

9. Phil’s phantastic flop
Do yourself a favor if you haven’t checked out Phil Mickelson’s insane full-swing flop from a tight lie over the head of a man two yards in front of him. Imagine trying this shot? Heck, fluff up the grass and place the ball perfectly, and you’re still killing the guy or robbing him of his ability to father children. Mickelson’s short game is a trope that gets more discussion than it should, but this is just crazy.

 

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