PART 3: Q&A WITH JASON ROWE and Chris van der Merwe
JOHN COCKAYNE: The golf conundrum — how to keep customers amid permanent job losses
The ill-considered lockdown of golf clubs has been a train smash and all that can be done is salvage what is left
This is the third and final part in a series on the golf retail sector during the national lockdown. It is a Q&A with Jason Rowe, CEO of the Golfers Club Group, and Chris van der Merwe, GM of the Stellenbosch Golf Club.
John Cockayne (JC): Someone told me that because of the pandemic we are heading for a car crash. I replied that I did not know what parallel universe he was in, because in my world I was already sitting in a smoking wreck.
Jason Rowe (JR): I agree absolutely. The damage has been done and now we need to haul the car off to the workshop to see what can be salvaged. We have looked at the reopening of the courses and calculated that we should be able to trade back to some normalcy in about a year.
JC: We are all debating what the “new normal” might look like. What is your take on this from an off-course retailer’s perspective?
JR: We will certainly need to be a much leaner operation with a pared-down staff complement. Reducing stores’ floor space will be another change, as I also foresee us taking a much more aggressive approach to the use of the online store.
This will not be good news for many property owners. If all the retailers see this as the best way forward, and many already do, there will be a marked reduction in the number of tenants, as some business groups will rationalise unprofitable units and others will close permanently.
The job losses will be permanent, so we will need to work very hard on keeping our customer contact effective with reduced staff complements. We are nothing without our customers. Over the years we have developed a loyal customer base and many of our customers are now friends. We will need to nurture these relationships and keep up our hard-earned reputation for offering great service and value at the best possible prices.
As a counterpoint view to Rowe’s perspective and in an on-course environment, I spoke to Chris van der Merwe, GM of Stellenbosch Golf Club.
CvdM: The lockdown will have a longer-term repercussion across the entire golf sector. Opening the courses again is a great step forward, but what permanent damage has been done will need to be assessed.
JC: With your Club Managers Association of SA hat on, what concerns you most in the aftermath of the lockdown?
CvdM: We are still waiting for the casualty lists. We hope it is not too bad, but the key points from the original survey, which you included in an earlier column, showed a significant mortality rate within the periods indicated and we passed a number of key levels with this lockdown.
So now it is a matter of keeping our fingers crossed until the extent of the permanent damage is fully understood.
JC: What surprises me is that people still register surprise at some of the decisions that have been made. We have all had ringside seats as the ANC-led government struggled to deliver at so many levels in the past 25 years. If you are willing to take the plaudits for success, you must also be prepared to take the criticism. The outcomes about SAA, Prasa, Eskom, the failed municipalities and most recently the Land Bank are eloquent testimony to these failures. So why are we surprised now, or is it not surprise but rather an overdose of optimism or even a case of doing the same thing every day and expecting a different result?
We all understand that this is a global guessing game, but transparency in the decision-making process about ways to deal with the pandemic remains a key issue.
Is the outlook all negative, or will the golf business be able to negotiate this business dog-leg and get itself back onto an even keel?
JR: If we are objective about everything that has happened, and while I believe we are an optimistic nation most of the time, our faith in positive outcomes has had a severe reality check during the pandemic.
From a golf perspective, the damage that was done through the lockdown was unnecessary, when golf could obviously cope with the general protocols on social distancing almost from day one. The various departments involved in the decision-making processes seem to have been intent on making trouble for themselves.
Some of the decisions have been mind-boggling, such as allowing pro golf to start but keeping the courses closed. Where did the people making this call think that the pros were going to play! It would have been the same as allowing professional soccer players to go back into action, but keeping all football grounds and stadiums closed.