Golfsmith -- Chain Retailer/Mass Merchant of the Year
By Mitch Rustad
Salt & pepper. Ben & Jerry. Golf & tennis?
Though often still linked by their country-club reputations, golf and tennis aren’t exactly the yin and yang items they once were. More often, they seem at odds with one another these days, competing for their shares of America’s recreational dollars, television ratings, and overall popularity.
But don’t tell the folks at Golfsmith — they won’t hear a word of it. In 2003, the San Francisco-based golf retailer acquired six of the area’s best-known chain stores, Don Sherwood’s Golf and Tennis World, with an eye toward expanding their Bay-area business. Ironically, Golfsmith believed that its ideal doubles partner — or should we say twosome? — was tennis.
“Tennis is a natural complement to our national golf business,” says Jim Thompson (right), president and CEO of Golfsmith, a portfolio company of Atlantic Equity Partners III, L.P., a fund operated by First Atlantic Capital, Ltd.
And Thompson isn’t kidding. By fall 2005, 32 Golfsmith stores across the country were showcasing the finest tennis products on the market, part of a new store-within-a-store concept to adequately show off the sport. The ultimate goal? “To become the Home Depot of specialty tennis retailers,” says Matt Corey, the company’s vice president of marketing.
Golfsmith’s growth and commitment to tennis — along with its customer-friendly features such as certified racquet stringers, 24-hour stringing services, a demo racquet program, Golfsmith Gift Cards, and special financing programs — have earned the company RSI’s 2005 Chain Retailer/Mass Merchant of the Year Award.
Looking into 2006 and beyond, company officials are convinced they can bring a specialty retail approach to a nationwide consumer base.
“We believe the tennis retail market is very similar to the golf retail market in that there is a strong base of dedicated players, a fragmented national retail market, and the absence of a true national specialty brand,” says Thompson. “After serving tennis consumers for decades in the San Francisco Bay Area, we are convinced that this is a viable national market with real revenue-generating potential.”
“Nobody does it all at a national level,” says Corey. “There are some great local retailers, but our real goal is to become the first multi-channel tennis specialty retailer in the U.S.”
For now, Golfsmith has stores in 14 states. “We already cover a lot of metro areas,” says Corey, “but it’s not like we have a thousand stores across the country. We’ve got a lot of room for growth. Eventually, I’d love to retrofit tennis into 100 to 200 of our existing golf stores.”
But perhaps more importantly for the sport of tennis, Golfsmith is clearly interested in being a good industry citizen. “I’ve been super-pleased with Golfsmith and the way they’ve been reaching out to the tennis community,” says Kevin Kempin of HEAD Penn.
Golfsmith’s recent participation in the Tennis Industry Association meetings during the US Open shows “they’re not just coming into tennis with just a profit mentality,” says Kempin. “They want to understand the sport and support our initiatives and help grow the game.”
Golfsmith’s tips for success
- Go beyond the business and support industry initiatives to help grow the game.
- Customer-friendly features, such as a demo program, certified stringers, and 24-hour turnaround for stringing, go a long way to building customer loyalty.
- Get the best employees you can. “We’re a specialty retailer,” says Corey. You have to have the best people, so they can really explain the game to customers.”
See all articles by Mitch Rustad
About the Author
Mitch Rustad has been a long-time freelance writer based in New York City.