Do you sometimes wonder what Rip Van Winkle thought when he woke up 100 years later?
If it were to happen this year, the sleeper’s last known news would be USA declares war on Germany, a stamp cost two cents, Chicago White Sox won the World Series, cars and airplanes were still in their formative stages.
All the rage in golf came in 1901 with the introduction of Coburn Haskell’s one piece rubber-core ball to the masses. Also, just after the turn of the century, hand-forged metal club heads with groove-faced surfaces were becoming available with great demand.
These new club heads offered an increased amount of backspin compared to wooden club heads. Sales were hot. Some product was sold through department stores, some through sporting goods outlets and there were a few bits sold via golf club pro shops.
In those times, people only bought items they needed. No extravagant changes made with every new model because the models only changed every few years. A golfer had one bag, one set of clubs, a few balls and that was it.
Imagine waking up and finding families owning two and three cars, global air travel, TV phones, internet and indoor plumbing?
Golfers now own several sets of clubs, bags, shoes, umbrellas, rain suits and bags of balls. Of course, all are sold through department stores, sporting goods outlets and pro shops, but a great deal of product is now sold on the internet.
The internet? What is that?
Do you mean to tell me I can look at every conceivable product available made anywhere in the world, research every concern I have about it, fill out a form placing an order, pay for it without using money and wait a few days for it arrive?
If I don’t like it, I can wrap it up and send it back without ever going outside? No driving around looking for a parking spot? No commission-based sales person trying to sell me add-ons or up-sell me something I don’t want? No standing in line?
Man, that’s so cool, Rip might say.
So what will happen 100 years from now?
As I hear through industry reports, the 2017 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando had evidence of changing times.
I have been to the show many times. It is very hard work walking about 10 miles up and down aisle after aisle of hundreds of golf-oriented products – shirts, shoes, balls, clubs, bags, bag tags, travel information, giftware, all being hawked, some subtly, some aggressively, but all are promoted with one thought .
That is get your customer to buy more.
You can try out all new club designs, talk with sales reps to gain product knowledge, attend information seminars and simply meet people. One huge benefit is the expenses to attend the show are tax deductible for retailers looking for a way to spend a few days in sunny Florida during the winter months.
This year, the big news at the show came from TaylorMade, which announced its signing of Tiger Woods to help promote sales of their clubs.
TaylorMade already has a significant stable of the finest players in the world endorsing its lines. It must feel the influence gained by paying millions of dollars to star performers enhances sales or it wouldn’t do it.
But what does the future hold?
With internet sales beginning to take over retailing, is it possible a product’s identification with a star performer will become even more important?
I attended the show the first year that the Demo Day was held at Orange County National. To say the crowds were sparse is to exaggerate by a large volume. I was there for about four hours and I doubt more than 100 people came and tested clubs.
This year, according to reports, 20,000 were there to try hundreds of clubs and balls, to watch Bubba Watson and Annika Sorenstam and hear Hank Haney.
Even though 40,000 industry people walked the halls, the general observation held by previous attendees is that crowds were lighter. The number of displays is decreasing every year and some extremely big manufacturers don’t attend.
The struggles with Golf Town (Canada), Golfsmith and Edwin Watts are well-documented. Large department stores have reduced their offerings to include only the bare basics and top-selling items. Even pro shops went through some difficult times selling hard goods and began to focus on clothing and other soft goods.
Strangely, in the past few years, golf pro shops have begun to promote custom fitting in a far more in-depth way and they should. After all, a good golf professional is an excellent source of information and understands golf from a playing perspective, as a teacher and as a custom club fitter.
How can you get better value for your money, particularly when the tired myth that pro shop merchandise is more expensive is not true?
But what’s next?
There is no doubt internet retailing is here to stay and it will dominate all retail sales. Golf is a unique game and each player is different physically, requiring properly-fitted equipment or suffer having to make swing adjustments to compensate.
I believe golf professionals are perfectly poised to capture the next marketing trend, which is to provide the correct fitting information to a customer for a fee.
The customer is then free to order the clubs from the golf professional or take the information they paid for and put it into an order form on the internet.
The golf professional gets paid as a club fitter and teacher. With any luck, they also sell a set of clubs, but perhaps not. People need driving ranges, teaching centres and pro shops to provide club fitting and lessons, but they don’t absolutely have to have a retail store at their favorite facility.
In fact, future equipment manufacturers might very well sell direct via the internet and lower the retail pricing while doing so.
Large retail stores are on shaky ground as clothing styles are moderating and people are wearing anything that is comfortable, particularly since dress codes are relaxing at golf clubs.
Things are trending away from retailing as we know it and those who are ready can benefit handsomely. Those who aren’t will be playing a lot of golf.