By ED TRAVIS
Retailing has taken an unprecedented hit. According to the U.S. Census Bureau the Sporting Goods/Hobby/Musical category had 38% lower sales in April than in March and Adobe’s Digital Economy Index reported online purchasing increased 49% in April.
It is easy to see the most immediate task for all retailers is to figure how to take advantage of the “new normal,” whatever that may be.
As shelter-in-place restrictions are being removed stores of all sizes are faced with figuring out how to attract customers, perhaps in ways never considered previously. E-commerce was already a major factor but due to the recent health requirements the trend is sure to gain momentum. Consumers, many for the first time, are taking advantage of the inventory variety, ease of comparison shopping, speed of ordering and often lower prices.
According to one major golf retailer, PGA TOUR Superstore (PGATSS), the solution is continuing a customer-centered instore experience and doing business at “Two Club Lengths.”
Dick Sullivan, President and CEO of PGA TOUR Superstore, has a reputation for dynamic management that is readily apparent while leading the company for the past decade. PGATSS’s results and his leadership were recognized in 2018 when he was the first retailer to be elected chairman of the National Golf Foundation. We had the opportunity to ask him questions about the present retailing situation and what it means for his operation.
Ed Travis: With store closings forced by the efforts to contain transmission of the COVID-19 virus did PGATSS lay off employees? If so, will they all be eventually reemployed?
Dick Sullivan: Our number one priority remains health and safety of Associates and customers. After that our focus is on preserving jobs. We have not furloughed Associates or had pay cuts. Our vision and business strategy are driven by a long-term approach in everything we do. That means making good, smart decisions for our business for the months and years ahead.
ET: An online ordering program with Curbside Caddie pickup was initiated. Considering the circumstances do you consider it a success?
DS: Absolutely, we were still able to accommodate our customers in our local markets while the stores remained closed to the public. We conceived the Curbside Caddie idea and integrated it into our digital experience in less than 48 hours. It has represented approximately 25-50% of our total e-commerce orders since launch.
ET: During the stay-at-home period were hard goods sales hurt more or less than soft goods?
DS: There has been significant demand in the accessory’s category because the majority of our sales are being driven by people that are out playing golf or practicing at home. Not surprisingly, many Customers have bought training aids, push/pull carts and golf balls, etc.
375% reflects the increase in push/pull cart sales from April of this year, compared to April of last year. With nearly 95 percent of golf courses open across the US, many facilities have put in place walking only protocols. Golf is a game that offers many physical and well-being benefits. Walking nine holes of golf is equivalent to 5,000 steps.
What has been the consistent number one category of products sold online was clubs. Our online club sales were up 120% vs. prior year and we attribute this to excellent blended offering of both repositioned and new clubs. It’s interesting to note, we’ve seen a noticeable increase in women’s packaged sets being purchased. Soft goods have seen smaller comp increases during this time compared to hard goods.
ET: With approximately two-thirds of your locations reopened have there been problems for employees and customers with social distancing and other preventative measures?
DS: We’ve done a good job of “doing the right thing.” Sanitation supplies, on the way in and out of the store, signage to reinforce social distancing, Associates wearing masks and we provided them with individual hand sanitizers in addition to multiple sanitation stations throughout the stores. We are also regularly wiping down clubs that are being demoed, golf balls that are being used in the simulators and on the putting green, and high traffic areas and surfaces.
We implemented a new ‘Starter’ position to help customers navigate the rules and to clean any equipment that is brought in for repairs or regripping. It gives the customer an opportunity to ask questions and hear what we are doing to help make them comfortable and safe.
We have also established a que line at check-out and labeled spacing to ensure social distancing guidelines.
ET: Will the costs of extra cleaning, etc. result in increased prices?
DS: No. Putting people first has always been our top core value. The health and safety of our Associates and customers will always be our top priority. Comfort, care, and cleanliness, has been our operational approach driving us during this time. For example, we have secured disposable masks, reusable masks, gallons of hand sanitizer, individual hand sanitizer, gloves and set up 450 hand sanitizing stations.
We also set up social distancing protocols reminding people to stay “two club lengths” (six feet) away from each other. And, then there is the signage throughout our stores and at the Store Support Center reminding people to practice social distancing, frequently wash hands, etc., all based on CDC and other government guidelines and recommendations.
ET: Before the closings, the growth trend in both instore and online sales had been extraordinarily strong. What special promotions or other initiatives will be done to reestablish that growth?
DS: We will continue to manage online business as we have working different exclusive promotions and offers. For the stores, we will celebrate Father’s Day with our usual focus on gifts for Dad and special offers. After Father’s Day, we will assess the results including what we heard from our customers and Associates and then plan the balance of the year as needed. I think it goes without saying that we are moving into uncharted territory with the season shifting to the second half of the year. The typical playbook is not going to work in 2020 and we want to be as agile and responsive as possible.
ET: Instore sales at the Altamonte Springs, Fla. location have shown a very significant increase since reopening May 4. What were the contributing factors and have similar results been seen in other locations?
DS: We have seen a significant year over year sales increase since re-opening our Altamonte Springs location. This is due to a couple of factors. The first being that a local competitor closed their location prior to and unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic. Secondly, the Altamonte Springs location relies more on its residential community rather than tourists. As you know, when they rank the top cities in the US for golf, Orlando is always in the top-10. http://theaposition.com/golf/courses-and-travel/1526/the-a-list-what-is-the-best-golf-city-in-the-us
ET: Given the depressed conditions some retailers are permanently closing locations while PGATSS is opening a new store in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla. What is your thinking about such expansion right now and are more new store openings planned in the near future?
DS: Our brand has tremendous momentum and many markets that are not yet served. We support a game that is well-positioned to serve a higher purpose – particularly right now. Our growth plans have not changed. Not only Palm Beach opening, but we will open a store in Columbus, Ohio the week of the Memorial.
ET: An attraction and strength of PGATSS stores has been the “experience” consumers get when making a visit. How do you see that going forward?
DS: We have a very strong brand and history of consistently delivering positive experiences and trust for our Customers. Customers have thanked us for creating a safe environment for them to continue to enjoy shopping in our store and leveraging all that our store has to offer – putting green, hitting bays, fitting studio and more. We have made many enhancements to continue to facilitate the in-store experience that our customers enjoy. Their feedback and input have validated that they feel comfortable, are easing back in gently but looking forward to getting back into the store.
ET: The stay-at-home rules and retail shut down resulted in an immense increase of online transactions. According to some analysts this means basic changes to retailing in general as many shoppers may have simply gotten the “online habit” rather than making trips out to stores. Do you share that view, or do you see retailing returning with a similar buying pattern as it has had in the past due?
DS: We expect to continue to have strong online sales and will continue to elevate the digital experience – as we always have. That said, given the strong retail results we’ve been experiencing, as well as the feedback and insights directly from our Customers over the past month, we believe that our retail experience will be an opportunity for consumers to get custom fit and connect with others over their shared passion for the game, as well as continue to be mindful of their own self-care – mind, body and spirit. Golf is the game that provides that solution.