PGA Tour Superstore (PGATSS), the largest golf-specific retailer in the U.S., continues to have record sales while expanding the number of locations and says clubs, apparel, and accessories specifically for women are an important focus to fuel additional growth.
In an exclusive interview with CEO and President Dick Sullivan he described how the company is working to erase the traditional male-centric approach to golf retailing and the ongoing program to create a woman-friendly experience in their stores. This initiative is an important part of Sullivan’s plans for PGATSS’s future and is already producing impressive results.
To illustrate Sullivan related how at the grand opening last August of the new store in Fairfax, Va. a long line was queuing prior to unlocking the doors and the fire marshal-imposed occupancy limit of 375 was hit within a half an hour. Perhaps this could be considered not too surprising as PGATSS prides itself on each customer’s visit being “experiential” which is a strong attraction in today’s post-pandemic retailing. Sullivan however also told me that the Fairfax grand opening saw more women’s apparel sold than men’s, a complete reversal of the usual pattern.
Consumers respond to retailers with a large stock of aggressively priced inventory where salespeople are friendly and knowledgeable. This of course applies to golf and especially when targeting women golfers, many of whom are new to the game and are looking for help purchasing equipment, plus they are demanding functional yet stylish apparel. Golfers of both sexes are drawn to PGATSS’s size with locations up to 50,000 square feet having multiple hitting bays offering computer simulators for lessons or practice, in-depth inventory of not just equipment but shoes and clothing and in fact most anything needed to play or improve.
As the pandemic changed everyone’s life it was soon realized golf was a perfect antidote for cabin-fever stress and an outdoors activity in which the entire family could participate. The number of golfers and number of rounds saw a dramatic rise of roughly 3 million in 2020 and the National Golf Foundation is forecasting the number to be higher in 2021. A major part of the increase was due to women finding the game fun and recent data shows about 40% of new participants on and off course are women.
According to Sullivan, “Thirty four percent of the new women golfers are under 18 years of age, and we plan to encourage them with more in-store events such as clinics.” He added women’s golf apparel has very much become a reflection of their lifestyle and pointed out, “Women are shopping for and choosing functional apparel and are used to a more relaxed wardrobe.”
“Fitness and wellness spending is exploding. Wardrobes are more casual, and more and more people are OK with a casual environment on the golf course.”
Emphasizing women have been and will be a focus of PGATSS efforts to grow participation in the game the company began “Get Golf Ready,” a series of six one-hour group sessions for novices. The goal is to make women more comfortable with golf’s sometimes-bewildering jargon, etiquette, and rules not to mention with the arcane world of equipment. Participants are taught the basic swing with PGTSS supplying clubs if the student needs them.
PGATSS is the official retailer of the nationwide Women’s Golf Day and a sponsor of other programs introducing women to the game. Showing the across-the-board commitment is a slogan the company often uses, “Girls Got Drive.” Growing-the-game is a long-term goal, so each location runs weekly free clinics to help juniors become part of the sport and last summer a First Tee Leadership Summit for 40 teens was hosted at PGATSS’s owner Arthur Blank’s ranch in Montana.
Additional support is provided to several other organizations dedicated to bringing more women into the game including “She Who Golfs,” “Fore the Ladies, and “Women on Course”
Sullivan was candid about the company’s struggle during the pandemic. “All our stores were closed 54 days during the Covid pandemic, but every vendor was paid on time and not a single employee was furloughed.” A remarkable record few companies, especially in retail, can match.
There have been inventory and supply chain concerns since first quarter 2020 leading to some items being in short supply. Sullivan said for example push carts and package club sets for women and juniors, “were going out the door as soon as they come in.”
At times extraordinary efforts were called for to meet customer demand. Sullivan told of taking delivery of several thousand wedges with no grips as an expedient from an unnamed manufacturer. However, typical of the pervasive make-lemonade-from-lemons credo, not only were the wedges made available to golfers for purchase, but the lack of a stock grip meant “each could be customized for the individual golfer to match the grips of the other irons in the bag.”
Speaking of the bounce back from being hit with the problems from closure and inventory supply Sullivan said, “We were able to have a rapid recovery, quick pick up and there was no slow down going into 2021.”
As chairman of the National Golf Foundation’s Board of Directors Sullivan is a recognized industry leader in both golf and retailing and was the first retail executive to be elected to be board chairman in the history of the Association.
Addressing the future of PGATSS Sullivan said, “We did as much business in the first half of 2021 as all of 2019 which was a record year and projections for 2021 have been increased 20 percent.” The growth of the largest golf-specific retailer continues. By the start of 2022 there will be 50 stores nationwide with plans to add as many as 10 each year and a National Hiring Day was held in early November to find all the new employees required.
Typical of Sullivan’s personal focus he closed our conversation with, “We are most proud of overcoming traditional barriers in golf retail while keeping our culture and attitude to be customer friendly.”