It was a shock for all of us when the UK went into lock down. With no time to plan for the next few weeks and just a few hours notice to shut the shop and leave for home: our new base for work. As we approach week 6 of lock down,just how have the UK's golf pro's and retail managers been biding their time? We're talking to golf professionals up and down the country for some behind the scenes insights, hints and tips, possible inspiration and to ask how they've continued with "business as unusual".
Paul Cunningham, Retail Manager, Hartford Golf Club
To go from a shop and clubhouse that is buzzing every day and a constant hive of activity to total lock down was a pretty surreal experience but we’re trying to take the positives out of it and constantly remind ourselves that this is only temporary. When we re-open again, the chances are the weather will still be pretty good and a lot of people are now realising how much they really love their golf!
Lock Down Shock
As soon as the lock down was announced on the Monday evening, we were inundated with messages from members, asking about what was happening at the club. I went into work as usual on the Tuesday and we made sure that our members and customers knew that we were having to close temporarily. Keeping communication lines open was key. We had the shop number diverted to a mobile so people could still get hold of us rather than it just ringing out. We also had to come up with a plan for membership renewals pretty quickly as they were due for 1st April.
The Big Ask: Membership Renewals
We knew it would be tough to ask golfers to renew memberships when we were just closed, especially as so many people are taking some kind of financial hit. We knew we would need an incentive to get members to renew as normal and, after a brain storm with the team, we knew we didn’t want to change the renewal date. We came up with a plan to give everyone up to end of April to renew at the usual price and, when they did this, we would give 10% of their membership fee back as credit to spend in our pro-shop or clubhouse bar. Full membership is £699 this year so anyone renewing would get nearly £70 back to spend. Some members won’t even ask for the 10% back - it was just important to be able to offer something back to the members.
"Some members won’t even ask for the 10% back - it was just important to be able to offer something back to the members."
This kick back has been well received and, when you think that courses in Germany are already re-opening, we are hoping it won't be long before our members are playing again. We also let members pay monthly and operate a flexi-membership: which is also popular, especially with golfers with young families.
Luckily, our members have stood by us and I’m convinced the key to that is the constant communication with them - even now. As soon as it became apparent that we may close, we set up a Whats app group for members, and club owner, Tim, and I, are on the group to answer questions 24 hours a day.
About 18 months ago, another course near us sadly closed. We picked up about 15 members and, this April, one of these new members phoned me and said, "We’re all paying our memberships now through bank transfer. We’ve seen one club close and we don’t want to lose another". This kind of support from members is much appreciated and is the reason why we will survive these uncertain times. We will ride this out and the fact we are constantly in touch with our members and customers obviously re-assures them in these tough times.
I’ve been able to devote even more time to our weekly newsletter. Readers are obviously keen to keep in touch as the read rate has gone up by 10% since the lock down. Each week, we include a member’s profile, updates from the Green keeper, back garden challenges and a weekly golf quiz. It isn't just sales orientated and is a great way to keep our ‘virtual golf club’ going.
Ironically, we invested a lot of money in a total shop refurbishment that was only finished a couple of weeks before lock down. The shop is brimming with new stock that we can’t sell.
"We are already running Version 2 of XPOS and it’s invaluable in making future buying decisions. I need to have clear picture of the shop and a realistic plan for re-opening."
One challenge will be to speak to the various top brands that we stock, to come up with a plan for how the stock will be paid for and how it affects pre-books going forward. I’m glad that we are part of the Foremost group, who will be supporting us and communicating with the suppliers.
We are already running Version 2 of XPOS and it’s invaluable in making future buying decisions. I printed off some yearly reports and have been going through the best selling brands and categories, as well as comparing stock turns and ROI figures: both good and bad! I need to have clear picture of the shop and a realistic plan for re-opening.
Running a Successful Business .. From Home
Our bedroom looks like a golf shop at the moment as I have spent 2-3 hours each day on developing our eBay shop. We have used eBay for the last few years and have over 1,000 positive reviews. During lock down, I've listed a lot more second hand equipment, as well as older generation clubs. And previous model GPS watches seem to sell well, too.
We've sold nearly £8,000 worth of golf equipment so far this month and it’s all stock that would’ve been gathering dust in the shop. I honestly believe that many people are out in the garden practicing so still might want that new golf club to practice with. We aren't making huge profit margins but being able to move some stock on has been a godsend. On some occasions, we've even sold a Club on eBay at a higher price than in the shop!
Social Media, Competitions, Online Training ... and 'that' Retweet
Social media is key for us. As well as posting in our Whats App group, I make sure that I post 3-4 times a day on our Facebook and Twitter pages. Instagram is also just taking off for us.
We have over 6,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter combined, and I know from the large amount of interaction and comments that many people are reading and engaging with our posts. I posted a funny golf video of back garden practice going wrong that a member sent to me and, amazingly, within 48 hours it went crazy. When Sir Nick Faldo retweeted the post, it received over 105,000 views, thousands of likes and we were delighted with the worldwide exposure this gave to our little golf club.
We also held a virtual Masters competition on the Sunday evening that would’ve been the Masters last round. For a bit of fun we’ve also feature the worst ‘lock down haircut’ photos and a keepy-up challenge, which some guys have become almost obsessed about. The leader is on a staggering 1469 keepy ups!!
If you struggle to come up with inspiration for posts on social media, just follow some other clubs and even the main high street retailers and use some of their ideas whilst trying to add your own style, or twist, to your posts. There’s nothing worse than the boring generic posts that have no thought put into them. I cannot emphasise enough how important social media is and will be to modern golf clubs. And now you can’t really use the excuse that you haven’t got time!
I’ve also completed some free online training modules I would not normally have time to do, using resources from PING Academy and Titleist University. I've also taken part in some Zoom brainstorming sessions with other Foremost Golf members.
So, I’m quite busy working from home and next week, we’ll have to process all the membership renewals and start thinking about plans for when we re-open. In my spare time I’ve been exercising in the garden, we have a rule - no TV between 9am-5pm, and it’s a win-win as I’m keeping fit but also working on my tan!