Founded in the late 1970s with a single store in Ashton in Makerfield, American Golf today has 116 stores and a flourishing online business. The company still retains its northern routes, with an HQ in Warrington, but also has e-commerce support in London.
In recent years the company has become proactive in its efforts to get more people playing more golf and has launched its own free tournaments and free golf shows the finals for which take place at The Belfry this weekend. As well as welcoming hundreds of golfers to The Belfry the company is also hosting its first Awards Ceremony.
We thought this would be the ideal time to catch up with Daniel Gathercole the company’s Director of Marketing & Communications to find out more about how Europe’s largest golf retailer has reached out to consumers and is bringing its retail solution to courses across the UK & Ireland.
There seem to be a few new faces at American Golf this year. What does this mean for the business?
Barry Leach has recently been appointed as CEO, but he has held the position on an interim basis since February. Barry has been with us for the last 2 years and comes from a sport retailing background, so he is the perfect person for the job. He has made some important appointments that strengthen the leadership team. Colin Archibald joins us as Retail Operations Director and Colin Russell as Buying and Merchandising Director. Both Colins have significant retail and sports experience and are already driving positive changes behind the scenes.
How has business been this year?
So far it’s been a really interesting year for us. We’ve had double digit growth in sales and footfall and we’ve acquired 148,000 new customers. We’ve also opened more stores than ever before and have created a new post, held by Elliot Fleming, to look after new business. Elliot’s been with us for over 20 years so has a great understanding of what’s important in making an American Golf store a great retail success.
We’re seeing more American Golf stores opening on course. Is that where you see the future of retail?
We have two main aims. First, to get more people playing golf more often and secondly taking our business to the places people play their sport.
There is still a place for High Street and Retail Parks, but our research shows that golfers want convenience. This means that you’ll be seeing American Golf shops opening at driving ranges, adventure golf courses and traditional courses.
What does this change in strategy mean for Pros and Pro Shops?
For us, Pros are the heart of any golf club. A good Pro is the most valuable member of staff and that’s why we keep them in place. What we do is take away the time burden that’s put on them as a result of running the shop and for the site owner we alleviate the financial burdens associated with staff costs and stock. If the site can’t get access to the product its users want they’ll probably end up shopping elsewhere anyway. By having us on site they keep their business.
How are these new sites benefitting from your involvement and what do they get in return?
Basically, our on-course model is designed to help facilities who are struggling to get retail right. Every partnership is different, but we take over all aspects of retail, including the shop staff. Our first job is to refit and stock the shop. We invest tens of thousands of pounds in developing each store. We provide staff education and even have a marketing package in place to promote the store opening to local golfers.
The results are almost immediate. The owner has money to invest in the facility, the PGA Pros are free to use their time to run lessons and customers start spending money. Venues also see new golfers coming through the door. As the site grows, so does the revenue and in turn the commission that we pay to the facility.
How much have you invested in ‘new’ stores this year?
The amount we invest is obviously heavily dependent on the existing facilities available. For instance, we’ve recently opened our first Channel Island location at La Grande Mare Golf Club in Guernsey, which we totally refitted to include a state of the art fitting studio. The Ageas Bowl, which is our first partnership with Hilton Hotels, was entirely different as it was a brand new site. Our biggest investment so far has been in Bournemouth where we have spent over £250,000 on a store located at a driving range. We’ve invested a significant amount of money, but we’re by no means finished!
How many more stores do you plan to open between now and the end of the year?
Our target is to open as many as we can, but it is important that we find the right partners who share our golfing and business values.
If someone is interested in finding out more about this what are the next steps?
Anyone interested in exploring a retail partnership should contact Elliot for an initial discussion: Elliot.firstname.lastname@example.org
Daniel, thank you very much. Have a great time at The Belfry this weekend