Golf retail is not for the faint of heart and at PGA Tour Superstore Jill Thomas Chief Marketing Officer Retail and Ecommerce knows effectively serving customer needs is the secret. Each of us from our own experience has seen this is an absolute but that doesn’t make it easy.
Those who are successful, however, reap a huge payoff.
At the recent PGA Show I had the chance to sit with Thomas, a key figure in the industry’s largest golf-specific retailer and the first topic was the company’s growth plans for this year. She said PGA Tour Superstores presently has 66 locations with plans for eight more slated to open in 2024 in markets where they don’t currently have a presence.
PGATSS has seen a consistent increase in market share and in the past five years doubled their sales with ecommerce tracking along with in-store gains. Thomas was quick to point out a big reason is the way they look at the business. “Our focus is on the experience customers have in our stores, the services we provide and, on our people,” she said.
Club fittings are an integral part of customer interaction and to ensure employees are properly trained a multimillion investment was made in a Performance Training Center for fitters and the fitting procedure in all their stores has been revamped.
Thomas, who has been in the top marketing job for four years, went on to describe an investment by the company in Five Iron Golf who have golf simulation entertainment centers in urban areas. Their city locations offer indoor golf, food, drinks and foster a fun atmosphere emphasizing socialization while hitting balls into a course simulation screen. Five Iron locations are typically in places such as New York City and Boston where PGATSS does not have an outlet and in 13 of Five Iron’s locations PGATSS has installed one of their STUDIO fitting centers.
Commenting on the obvious synergy of the two companies she said, “As we accelerate our growth strategy, working with Five Iron is a perfect fit for us to enter and build our presence in large metropolitan cities.”
If anyone doesn’t understand the role properly fit clubs have in player enjoyment and retention it has been explained that a fitting should be viewed as an insurance policy to get the most out of the investment in time and several hundred-dollars you are making.
PGATSS numbers in this area are mindboggling. Last year they did almost 235,000 fittings plus their instructors gave 80,000 lessons and they sold over a million clubs. Stores offer free advice and no charge fittings when a customer purchases a new driver or putter. Interestingly Thomas said clubs must be viewed as a tool to be used not a magic wand which can be interpreted as “you can’t buy a game” and as Hogan said the best way to play better is to “dig it out of the dirt.”
She also reflected on the changes in our game that those of us who have been around for a few decades may have trouble putting into perspective.
Golf is a $102 billion industry with 45 million participants including those playing both on-course play and off-course in entertainment venues such as Five Iron. We are in the era of “modern golf” and on-course that means a more relaxed atmosphere including players’ attire. Go to any public course and many private ones and you will see hoodies and joggers, tee shirts and sneakers…definitely not “traditional” golf wear.
Smart phones are ubiquitous, being used to keep score, to track friends in other foursomes and determining shot distances, not to mention playing music.
The number of new golfers hit 3.4 million in 2022 and for the fourth year in a row the growth topped 3 million. The player mix includes 7 million women participants, up 25% since 2019 and Thomas pointed out how PGATSS is dedicated to growing the number of women and juniors. They supported almost 159 charitable organization last year and the company obviously places golf’s growth as a continuing obligation.
Thomas said woman have been and will continue to be a vital part of PGATSS’s future. More and more are seeing golf as fun and a lifelong social activity. All their stores have a broad selection of women’s apparel and shoes in addition to clubs specifically made for them.
Perhaps the most significant remark Thomas made which to me illustrates PGATSS’s success and the core of future growth was that customer focus groups have said time and again, “This is golf’s happy place.”