In the Pro Shop with Carnoustie’s Colin Sinclair

With the recent opening of his Indoor Golf Performance Centre, a brand-new club house, newly-sited pro shop, a staff team of 35, and the 147th Open Championship at his club this summer, it’s fair to say that Carnoustie Golf Links’, Colin Sinclair, has quite a bit on his plate.

This month, we caught up with the PGA Head Professional for a behind-the-scenes snapshot of life at Carnoustie during The Open, and to garner some of the secrets behind running one of the UK’s most successful pro shops.

Starting out, could you have imagined overseeing your third Open Championship at Carnoustie?

Not at all. It’s a blessing and a privilege to have The Open here. It’s our moment in the sun, we need to be up for it and it’s my job to make sure we are.

What are the major factors for you, strategically?

We check-in around 70,000 rounds of golf across our 3 courses each year, so we need exceptional systems in place, to ensure we offer the best experience possible for everyone.

As well as our 2,500 members, we have around 18,000 guests each year who come to play our championship course. The 70% of visitors, who come from North America, are looking for the same hospitality they enjoyed at clubs like Augusta and Pebble Beach. We have to see Carnoustie as a ‘destination` course, and our primary role is to give everyone a great experience from the minute they arrive.

We have one of the best courses in the world and our aim is to match that experience off the course. If a visitor comes to Carnoustie, they will have been to St Andrews as well; so we are always trying to be different.

What do you do differently now?

When I first came to Carnoustie, footfall was good but limited, largely because golfers didn’t check-in.  If you want footfall to go up, you need to engage with people, whether they’re members or guests.  We do things very differently now. The new pro shop is positioned so everyone has to go through it in order to get to the course, and all golfers are checked-in by the Pros.

We have a meet and greet team, locker attendants and concierge service. There’s also a tagging system to identify slow players who might be causing delays further on in the course.

As a team, our role is about hospitality: whether you’re serving a golfer in the shop or in the bar, or welcoming that person to the course, everything we do is focussed around the customer experience.

What’s your best advice for a successful pro shop?

Retail-wise, I learnt everything from my first boss, Gordon Kinnoch, at Blairgowrie Golf Club. Gordon bought for space and I still stand by that. You have to buy the right amount of stock for the space available. Whether it’s in the bays, on the tables or on the hanging rails, you can only get so much on.

It looks like there’s a lot of stock in our shop, but there isn’t really. We’ll buy a line and select particular sizes. I see quite a few Pros buying too many ranges.

We have a £350K stock holding, so we do small, regular stocktakes, rather than one big one. We buy for March to September and ensure all the product arrives in time for the first visitor on 1st April. We maintain stock levels to a point until September, and then let them drop down to a stock holding of £150K.

It looks like there’s a lot of stock in our shop, but there isn’t really. We’ll buy a line and select particular sizes. I see quite a few Pros buying too many ranges: A smaller range with a few sizes will be more manageable and keep profits healthy. We have a stock turn of 10, which we achieve by regular spot checks and placing frequent, smaller orders.

Another good tip is to put the onus on your vendors. We book drops in March, May and July, but if we run out, we’ll want to bring them forward. We also send sales reports from our epos system to our vendors, so they can see when we might be falling shy of certain items.  And we also ask them to hold stock for us, which they do.

It’s crucial to know who your customers are. 93% of what we sell is to visitors, which obviously dictates what categories, products and sizes we buy, but also pricing and positioning of merchandise in the store.

It helps to remember that value isn’t all about price. Again, it’s about the whole experience.

What essentials do you rely on for the business?

I always say there are two things I couldn’t do without – my team, and XPOS.

I’m lucky to have a strong management team.  Everything we do is a team effort. We don’t work in a silo mentality, “that’s not my job, it’s his job”. Everyone rolls up their sleeves and gets stuck in, which is what makes it all work so well.

XPOS is an outstanding system, really. Stock creation is quick and easy too, so it saves us hours of time.

I’ve used XPOS for 5 years now. It’s an epos and business management system provided by Crossover Technologies. It’s simple to use and has very much changed the way we do things. The system tells me in a second, what I need to know, whether it be a general picture of shop sales, or if I’m running out of a particular product.

We send sales information reports to our partners every week to let them know how they’re doing, too, and XPOS makes that simple. The reporting system is strong and it helps me manage my stock levels across the business. It's an outstanding system, really. Stock creation is quick and easy too, so it saves us hours of time.

A couple of years ago I started a VIP scheme for members, which has been super, and is easy to run from XPOS.  It keeps the members happy, makes us more profit, and gives us an engagement we’ve never had before.

What are the extra challenges for the Pro shop with The Open this year?

When it comes to planning around The Open, the biggest challenge is walk-ins.  We can budget for 18,000 visitors spending around £55 each, but we can’t budget for walk-ins, who are generally after mementoes of the Championship such as shirts, hats and ball-markers.

In the lead-up to the 2007 Open Championship, Saturday mornings were heaving with walk-ins and, although, profits doubled that year, I ran out of stock.  I’m more confident about buying for this event now though.

During the week of the Championship, we shut the pro shop but the online business kicks in, for sales from customers who might be watching it on the TV. I always use an external company to run the online business, so we don’t need to hold any of the stock, buy it in or do repeated trips to the post office.

How is the business evolving for modern times?

Golf is changing and it’s important not to sit still. We’ve made some big changes here over the last couple of years. As well as a new golf facility, called Links House, we have a new performance centre with fantastic indoor facilities, including 7 state of the art simulators.

It’s a cool place to hang out, and the introduction of indoor options, such as events and courses aimed at women, girls, seniors and wheelchair users, means we are now engaging with a whole new audience. Everything’s about golf but the rule is, we want you to have fun.

As PGA Pros, we have a responsibility to grow the game and help it to be accessible to as many people as possible.

At just £10 to rent a bay, our indoor facilities aren’t expensive. It’s all about engagement and enhances the experience of coming to Carnoustie.  As PGA Pros, we have a responsibility to grow the game and help it to be accessible to as many people as possible.

There’ll never be a year that we sit still. After the Open, we’ll pat ourselves on the back for 5 minutes but I’m always thinking we can do better.