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Interview: PGA Tour Superstore President & CEO Dick Sullivan

PGA Tour Superstore President and CEO Dick Sullivan

Over 12 years at the helm of PGA TOUR Superstore, Dick Sullivan and his team have quadrupled the company’s U.S. store count through coast-to-coast expansion and built a robust worldwide e-commerce business.

Although its stores were closed for an average of 54 days during the spring of 2020, PGA Tour Superstore finished with a record-setting year for comp store sales growth. The company plans to debut six new stores in 2021 while continuing to grow its online business.

Sullivan is the Chairman of the NGF’s Board of Directors, the first executive from the golf retail side of the industry to hold the position in the NGF’s 82-year history. He weighs in on an unprecedented 2020 and expectations for 2021:

What was the overall experience like for PGA Tour Superstore in 2020?

“No one could have ever predicted the kind of bounce back we had in the second half of the year. All of our stores gradually opened back up, starting as early as April in South Carolina, but it took us to the middle of June to reopen New Jersey and New York. So, to see the kind of results, the only experience was like my days at home depot. I was telling Arthur Blank, our chairman and owner, this was like having 20 to 30 straight weeks of hurricanes at Home Depot. Whenever there were hurricanes there were people looking for lots of supplies, unfortunately. In this case it was similar in that we had record-breaking results as soon as the middle of June when everything started opening back up. We candidly bucked the trend of the industry. The industry was up 1% for the year; off-course was up higher than the on-course. It was terrific, and not just June and July. When you miss March and April… I can say that 7 of 9 weeks in March and April are the biggest weeks outside of maybe Father’s Day and Christmas, typically. So if you miss those weeks it’s really hard to make it up. If you miss January and February in the ski industry, it’s hard to make it up. We’re such a seasonable business. The weather was definitely in our favor and the number of new golfers who came into the sport. Basically six million golfers that hadn’t played in the prior year – the amount of gift giving that we saw in the December period slanted toward the game of golf was a real positive, certainly, for our business.”

How were online sales in 2020, particularly as many brick-and-mortar locations were closed for a time, at least to in-store traffic, during the spring?

“The business online was really incredible. And continues to be. We made a decision midway through the year that since a lot of places were closed down and people were going online, we expanded our investment online, all across the U.S. We picked up business and our PGA Tour brand is so strong, so we made sure those people in markets that didn’t have stores knew we were in business and had stock. Beyond the percentage of business that people would do online, we developed curbside caddie. Those words – pivot, fluid, flexible – we didn’t really care how the consumer and golfer wanted to buy product; come in the store, curbside, delivered to their house or wherever… We were prepared to do that and I think we’ll see that continue going forward.”

What’s been the secret to Superstore’s success in recent years?

“I think it’s because of our business model. We’re very experiential. If we were just a commodity, we probably could grow our online business and not have the brick-and-mortar presence. We’re seeing that in other retail industries. In our business, people still want to come into the stores and they want to be fit. That’s important. People want to see the assortments, whether it’s in apparel or getting fit for clubs. That’s a big part of our business and you can’t do that online. Plus, all the services, like the re-grippings, the lessons… those things can’t be done online. The customers vote and they want to come inside the stores and they want the experience.”

Did you see differences in your customer base in 2020?

The amount of new golfers that associates were seeing coming into our stores, the increases in women and juniors, the sales of package sets… that really bodes well for the future. We saw those families looking for something else to do. Golf has become the escape for people who have been sheltered. Ultimately that means they need equipment, apparel, footwear… so they come into our stores as families. That didn’t happen years ago.”

What can we do as an industry to take advantage of this momentum golf has?

“The simulators, indoor leagues, games, putting greens, all the things we do inside our stores, it’s all to create fun. You can’t do that online. On the facility side, certainly the golf course operators have to continue to make this fun. On the weekends, at my golf course where there’s more music played that I’ve ever heard before, it’s become more fun. It’s become more family-oriented. It’s really important at the place of golf that we make it non-intimidating, inviting, all those things. I think we’ve learned in the past year. 

Off-course, as customers come into our stores, it needs to be a safe environment, a fun environment. All these manufacturers who didn’t have product launches last year, they do this year. There’s a lot of excitement. You see golfers that hadn’t been around the game in a few years, or some beginners, they may step up now.  It’s sort of that first-tee envy.  They see somebody with the new TaylorMade, Callaway or PING driver.  I think people who have enjoyed the game this past year will step up and buy the newer product. That’s what we hope for in our business, but we just want people to get out and play.  We have to retain the 6 million that we didn’t have playing in 2019 that came to the game in 2020. That’s the key in my mind. And then there’s the 5 ½ million golfers who left the game. We saw this in 2008/2009 during the recession; as employment starts back up, these people start working again – in hospitality, restaurant, airline, they start to turn the corner after vaccinations and they come back to the game because of the excitement, and we have a full slate of PGA TOUR events. This could really be an incredible turning point for golf, between what’s happened with golf being a beneficiary of the pandemic, but seeing more people come to the game and back to the game. I’m cautiously optimistic.” 

Have you been playing more golf recently, like a lot of people?

“I really look forward to Saturdays because it’s the one day I do try to get out and play. You can’t always, but I’ve been able to join up with a group of 16 to 20 guys. They’re all walks of life, from 25 to 75. From waiters to CEOs and nobody cares what everybody does. It’s just fun. There’s a little bit of betting, but nothing significant. It’s pride and camaraderie of guys going out and playing. It’s been enjoyable.”

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