Golf simulator next to complimentary hand sanitizer at a PGA TOUR Superstore location.
Studies find that retailers offering engaging in-store experiences, such as PGA Tour Superstore's in-store putting greens, stand to gain as the pandemic ends. — PGA Tour Superstore

Why it matters:

  • About three million new golfers hit the links in 2020 amid the pandemic, and many may continue with the sport.
  • At the same time, 51% of consumers said they miss going shopping as a way to socialize.
  • Against that backdrop, PGA Tour Superstore’s emphasis on bringing golf to life via in-store experiences, like on-site putting greens, delivered by knowledgeable employees, helped fuel record growth.

PGA Tour Superstore leaned into its strengths during the pandemic, investing in the in-store experience it provides, which helped it capitalize on a massive surge in consumer interest in the game of golf.

Even though its stores were shuttered during what is normally its busiest season, the golf equipment and apparel retailer saw sales surges from 50% to 200% in some categories last year.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit right in the middle of the sweet spot for golf equipment sales, which occurs during March and April when manufacturers introduce their new product lines in anticipation of the upcoming summer golf season. That forced PGA Tour Superstore to close its network of stores around the country for an average of 54 days, with stores in some markets remaining closed much longer than that.

“There was so much pent-up demand that it shifted quickly to those stores that we opened back up in May, and from then on, it was clearly unprecedented,” Dick Sullivan, president and CEO of PGA Tour Superstore, told CO—.

The Atlanta-based company quickly pivoted to offering a click-and-collect service it called “Curbside Caddie” and was able to capture strong sales from beginner golfers and families seeking to enjoy some socially distanced outdoor activities.

Sullivan, who is also chairman of the of the National Golf Foundation, said the sport added about six million players in 2020, including about three million that were new golfers and three million that returned to play because of the pandemic.

“It's become a game that people have come to love again,” he said, noting that he was particularly encouraged by the number of women and families who took up the sport.

[More here on businesses that thrived amid COVID-19.]

You can Google just about anything these days and learn as much as you want about the product. We need to provide added value to that experience when that customer comes inside of our stores.

Dick Sullivan, president and CEO, PGA Tour Superstore

Store employee training during pandemic-imposed closures pays ‘huge dividends’

PGA Tour Superstore saw an 84% increase in sales of women’s club sets, the company said, and women’s apparel and youth club sets also saw strong sales gains. In addition, sales of packaged club sets, which are often purchased by beginners, rose 50%, and sales of practice gear surged 100%. All of that bodes well for the future of the sport, Sullivan said.

The retailer was able to swiftly capture sales as stores reopened, he said. That’s because the company retained its store employees while locations were closed and invested in thousands of hours of training. That included not only sales training, but also manufacturer-directed training around the utility of the equipment and clothing that the retailer sells, so that employees had the product knowledge to better serve customers.

“I believe that paid huge dividends,” said Sullivan. “We wanted to come out stronger from this COVID pandemic as an organization. That was our mission.”

PGA Tour Superstore, which is chaired by Arthur Blank, the founder of Home Depot, where Sullivan worked for several years, relies on some of the same retailing principles as the home-improvement giant, including an emphasis on having highly knowledgeable workers.

[Read here on how to retrain your sales force.]

Leaning into experiential retailing to serve social-distance-fatigued consumers

“You can Google just about anything these days and learn as much as you want about the product,” said Sullivan. “We need to provide added value to that experience when that customer comes inside of our stores.”

The retailer uses technology, for example, to help fit customers with the right golfing equipment. PGA Tour Superstore also features other experiential elements, such as in-store putting greens, where customers can test out their equipment or participate in some of the store’s putting contests.

Retailers that offer engaging in-store experiences such as these stand to gain as the pandemic ends and consumers seek more social interaction, according to a recent report called Vision 2021 from research and media company Future Commerce.

“Physical shopping is a group activity, but digital commerce is not,” the report asserts. “Shopping will have to be relational, fun, engaging, relaxing and keep our attention.”

The report found that slightly more than half of consumers surveyed — 51% — said they miss going shopping as a way to socialize.

 PGA TOUR Superstore store exterior showing its new "Curbside Caddie" drive-up space for order pickup.
When the pandemic hit, PGA Tour Superstore quickly pivoted to offering a click-and-collect service it called “Curbside Caddie,” which helped boost its sales. — PGA Tour Superstore

Growth opportunities: Store expansion via space freed up by retail closures and bankruptcies

PGA Tour Superstore plans to open at least six new stores in 2021, which would bring it to the 50-store milestone by the end of the year, Sullivan said.

When Toys R Us shuttered locations around the country a few years ago, PGA Tour Superstore was able to capitalize on those locations, which Sullivan said not only were well-situated, but also were “the perfect size” for the golf specialist to convert to its own banner.

“We are seeing, unfortunately, the demise of many retailers,” he said. “We are being opportunistic, and where we see locations across the country where there may have been closures or bankruptcies, and there's vacant property, you'll see us expand.”

The company’s original plans for six locations in 2021 “is certainly conservative” for this year, Sullivan said, citing some recent site visits he conducted in markets where the company had not previously planned to open.

Although PGA Tour Superstore has an e-commerce business, it is banking on the experience it can provide inside its boxes, staffed with subject matter experts, to drive most of its sales.

“Customers across America still want to come into our stores,” said Sullivan. “I often say that we're not a commodity business. We're not selling just groceries, where you really don't need any help to go buy a box of Cheerios.”

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Published April 13, 2021