Golf discussion: Retail sector fights its way out of the rough
Opportunity to reflect during lockdown produced leaner and meaner businesses
Very few business sectors escaped a pasting during the Covid-19 pandemic. That landmark facilities and venues, such as the Michelangelo Hotel in Sandton Square have closed down, highlights the true effects of the pandemic on the economy.
The golf retail sector, both on and off the course, did not get a free drop, so I revisited my midyear discussion with Jason Rowe, the CEO of the Golfers Club group, to see if any of the lockdown gloom had lifted.
John Cockayne: The last time we spoke it was touch and go as to whether golf retail was going to survive as we knew it — has there been any change since the lifting of the retail restrictions?
Jason Rowe: There was a lot of negativity midyear, quite naturally, but we have bounced back remarkably since reopening. So, although we cannot repair all the damage done by a two-month shutdown, things are looking much brighter. The other real positive is that golf is booming everywhere, especially judging by the rounds’ numbers being returned, since the lockdown ended.
JC: Have there been any plusses to bring forward out of this period?
JR. Most definitely, especially in terms of the opportunity to reflect in an operational sense. The “new” Golfers Club is already a leaner and meaner operation with tighter stock controls and more efficient use of floor space and we also have a lot more awareness about our on-line customers.
JC: The hotel sector is having to deliver the same levels of service as it was before the lockdown, but in most cases with rationalised staff complements. Has this had any effect on Golfer’s Club’s service levels in the key area of the in-store customer interactions?
JR: This has been another positive in that the vital importance of our customers was reinforced to all our staff and I am confident that our service levels are possibly even better than they were prelockdown.
JC: It might be still too early to tell, but given your bounceback comments, I would presume that sales volumes will not be quite as low as you might have feared against 2019, so have you noticed any uptick in trading terms?
JR: On the back of the game’s resurgence we have put up some very good numbers, so overall it appears we have been able to mitigate a lot of the damage inflicted by being closed down for two months.
JC: Black Friday — not even an SA concept — seems to have taken a firm grip in the minds of SA’s shoppers and in terms of the annual sales analyses. This year’s social distancing restrictions meant retailers needed to extend the single day to several days and even a week. Is this discount festival in danger of cannibalising the festive season’s shopping, especially as it is now sandwiched inbetween Black Friday and the traditional January sales?
JR: It can be an issue for some retailers, but we have our big annual sales pushes around the autumn in the form of our “March Madness” sale and our festive season sale, which runs from early November to end December.
November was great and there should be no reason why December won’t follow suit, so January is just a relatively slow month for us. Given what has happened on the shop floor since August, I am confident that we are going to return some really good numbers by financial year end.
JC: This is a tricky time for shoppers looking for gifts, especially this year with the income crunch experienced by most of us. The old jokes about socks and soap on a rope might come back to haunt us like the ghost of Christmas past. What are your suggestions for nongolfers looking for inexpensive smaller gifts for Christmas?
JR: Ouch, soap on a rope — I have not seen one of those for a few years! Like all reputable retailers, we have a groupwide policy which facilitates returns, so that “unwanted” gifts can be exchanged and colour and sizing issues with clothing for example sorted out at any Golfers Club store. It might be prosaic, but gift cards are always a very safe bet, though we also have lots of amazing and very affordable stocking fillers and golfers’ accessories.
JC: The golf equipment manufacturers have been under considerable pressure too, so for the golfer (or more informed purchaser) who knows what they need in equipment terms, and who is looking for a deal, which of the big, or smaller brands, has come to the party with killer offers this year around the bigger-ticket items?
JR: We import quite a few of our own lines, which are not quite “own label” house brands like the supermarket chains, but similar and so we shall have some great specials on these lines. For the rest, all the big golf brands have great seasonal offers, so anyone looking for gifts should just browse on-line or visit one of our stores to see what is available.
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