The continued evolution of Golf Town

Golf TownI recall quite vividly getting an invitation for the opening of the flagship Golf Town store in Scarborough. I had just started at the National Post and had written a story for Marketing Magazine about ClubLink, one of my first forays into golf writing. Suddenly I received an invite for a store opening of a place that just sold golf gear? How cool was that?

Of course I attended and I remember thinking it would never work. All the golf retail stores I’d spent time in to that point were small and unimpressive. Hard to envision a store as large as a hockey arena selling enough golf equipment to make the numbers add up. Yeah, Stephen Bebis was involved, and sure he’d help create the big box home reno concept in Canada (with Aikenheads), but I just didn’t see how it would work.

I was wrong, at least until now.

It is no secret Golf Town has struggled in recent years. The company, owned by the Ontario Municipal Employees Retirement System, went very deep with TaylorMade equipment, and inventory levels got out of whack with that OEM’s challenges. The stores I went in often seemed jammed with sale merchandise, and displays were haphazard.

Then this week word came out that Golf Town was eliminating its teaching pro position, effectively ending the jobs of about 32 pros. Golf Town’s Mike Crisp, the company’s senior director of field operations and a former Walmart exec, confirmed the jobs were departing.

“We’ve offered them all other positions in the company and we’re hopeful they’ll take them,” Crisp said, though other sources have told me this isn’t entirely the case. Others have suggested Golf Town is developing a relationship with Golf Tec, another teaching outfit, which already has an operation in Golf Town’s Markham, Ont. store.

In some ways I think this hits at the seasonality of golf, and the fact that if Bebis had created a combined golf/hockey store it would have been a real home run.

Crisp said Golf Town is not closing stores and looks forward to growing its business.

This has led some to suggest that Golf Town killed the country’s pro shops and is now dying a slow death.

I don’t see it that way.

In fact, I think Canada, by and large, is better for Golf Town. Remember buying a $100 golf shirt? I do, but not in the last decade. In fact, Golf Town forced green grass retailers to be more connected to their customers, to be fair with margins, and to recognize service would be their saving grace. In some instances, like the creation of the Boutiques Pro Golf buying group out of Quebec, it has made pro shops stronger and more forward thinking. It forced shops to act like legitimate retail operations, instead of mom-and-pop shops selling inflated year-old merchandise.

Some of the struggles of Golf Town may simply be related to changing consumer trends. Golf equipment is more expensive, specially with the changes to the Canadian dollar. A lot of the great leaps in technology have already occurred, meaning advances in new gear is more nuanced. Heck, even apparel lasts longer now. Remember those old cotton shirts? New tech fabrics mean you don’t have to replace shirts all the time any longer.

Golf Town will surely survive. I don’t think anyone should read too much into this latest news. Yes, it bungled the Golf Smith acquisition and the decision to move buying to Texas, before finally admitting it made a mistake and moved operations back to Canada. That now seems to be repaired.

But every dollar in the golf industry will be battled for in coming years, and green grass operators are much more competitive. The consumer will surely benefit, so don’t expect this to be the end of Golf Town’s issues. But for now, I’d say this is just the latest in a business’ evolution, even if some teaching pros unfortunately are out of a job because of it.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

2 CommentsLeave a comment

  • “Golf Town forced green grass retailers to be more connected to their customers, to be fair with margins”

    You do understand that margins in the golf industry are terrible right? A $60 box of ProV1’s are $50 wholesale, and that $1000 set of clubs is $850-900. At 10-15% profit margin, I’m not sure how much more fair you’d like them to be. And that’s at full retail. Problem with Golf Town is, they’ve trained the consumer to never pay full retail (via their annual demo sales, grip sales, and premature price reductions) so the meager margins are ultimately even less than that.

  • Golftown has killed the golf market and has trained customers to wait for markdowns and lost leaders… the end is near for them as Taylormade has promised no markdowns on M1 or M2 this year. Running at under 30% margin will close any business and it seems to be ok for golf stores to have to deal with it. Green grass shops stay connected to their customers with service and golf professionals and golftown took that away… I will bet they are done by the fall of 2016

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