Is COVID-19 Giving the Golf Industry the Boost It Needed?
Many industries have suffered at the hands of the coronavirus pandemic, especially retail stores that rely predominantly on in-store selling. However, much like it has done throughout its 250+ year history, golf is rising to the occasion as one of the few sports that facilitates social distancing. InStore Design Display has been fortunate to work with a number of leading golf equipment brands, and we see a number of key opportunities for in-store displays that complement the digital presence and ride the growing interest in golf.
Current State of the Golf Industry
Before 2020, the sport of golf was experiencing a decline. The National Golf Foundation (NGF) reports that approximately 499.5 golf courses have closed since 2006. In 2012 alone, 154.5 courses closed. The number of core American golfers (those playing eight rounds or more per year) fell at a rate ranging between 3 and 4.5 percent every year between 2006 and 2020.
To put that into perspective, in 2006, the U.S. reported 30 million golfers compared to 25 million golfers in 2016. However, this isn't unique to the United States. Similarly, England Golf says that 4 million Britons played golf in 2006 compared to 2.78 million in 2016.
And then came the new coronavirus.
Unlike other industries that came to a grinding halt during nationwide stay-at-home orders, the vast majority of golf courses remained operational. While there was a period where some courses (44%) were required to close, officials quickly recognized the low risk, high reward that golf courses offered.
Based on data from the National Golf Association, more than 98% of U.S. golf courses were open for play entering August. In large part, because golf is consistent with the concept of social distancing. The activity can be enjoyed, even in groups, without any close physical interaction among players or golf facility staff, thanks to advanced tee time bookings that help control people's flow into all that open space.
"Today's growth is driven by new players as well as pent-up demand from the closures of physical golf retail stores and golf courses. The sport is also reaping the benefits of being a social distance-friendly activity," says Matt Powell, NPD's sports industry advisor.
Based on NGF research at the midway point of the year, "there's evidence the number of junior golfers (ages 6-17) could swell by as much as 20% this year. With approximately 2.5 million kids having teed it up on a golf course last year, that's a potential COVID-related bump of half a million junior golfers by year's end."
What Does This Growth Mean for Golf Retail?
During a recent quarterly earnings call, David Maher, President / CEO of Titleist and FootJoy parent Acushnet said,
"One element we're seeing is that the more folks play, the more they think about equipment. So I think that's been an accelerant to the strong equipment sales we've seen over the last couple of months, but fair to say that this participation we're seeing is coming from all angles. And it only affirms, again, that correlation between rounds of play and the commercial element of the game and the spending component of the game."
Maher's comment about the direct correlation between the more rounds played and golf equipment sales is more than just a hunch. The NPD Group reports significant growth in the sales of clubs, gloves, balls, and tees. They suggest that this trend is in response to new, entry-level players joining the activity. To help paint a better picture of the sales growth for these pieces of equipment, let's compare sales in June 2020 to the same month in 2019:
- Golf equipment dollar sales grew by 51%
- Sales of full set golf clubs rose by 68%
- Golf balls were up 45%
- Glove sales increased by 51% for the month
- Tees grew by 49%.
In July, total golf equipment sales were $388.6 million, a single-month record—at least since Golf Datatech began tracking retail golf sales in 1997. Balls, irons, wedges, and gloves set all-time monthly sales records, proving that the more people play, the more they spend on equipment.
How Does a Golf Brand Take Advantage of this Influx, Without Overextending?
InStore Design Display has worked with several prominent golf retail brands to help them create engaging, scalable solutions that highlight their products in brick-and-mortar retail locations. This experience in golf retail and expertise in the broader retail landscape allows us to help brand managers in the golf space navigate the unique challenges they may face as we look toward the end of 2020 and beyond. Our team advises three key areas of focus for golf brands: consistent brand placement, consumer engagement, and support retailers.
1. Consistent Brand Placement
When golf brands begin to strategize how they will capitalize on golf's current popularity, it's crucial to remain consistent. This means that the brand look, feel, messaging, and purpose needs to be reflected uniformly across the digital landscape and brick-and-mortar locations.
Here's an example. If your golf brand specializes in grips and the in-store experience is centered around choosing the grips that best match your profile. Your online efforts (social media, ads, blogs, etc.) can focus heavily on that notion. Golf equipment is a high-value item, which means consumers tend to do their research online even if they end up purchasing the products in-store. The more consistency your brand provides from channel to channel, the more consumers will identify with your brand and ultimately trust it.
2. Consumer Engagement
One of the things golf brands are concerned about is the retention of golfers new to the game. Just like baking sourdough bread and taking long family walks—some things will fade out of our everyday lives when COVID-19 eventually subsides. To maintain retention, brands must heavily engage with consumers, especially those who are new to the game. Your brand must meet consumers where they are, and more often than not that's outside of the pro shop.
Much can be said about how to increase consumer engagement, but let's focus on the segment of newcomers that offer golf the best opportunity for growth and sustainability and equipment sales over the long run: kids.
NGF research states, "There's evidence the number of junior golfers (ages 6-17) could swell by as much as 20% this year. With approximately 2.5 million kids having teed it up on a golf course last year, that's a potential COVID-related bump of half a million junior golfers by year's end."
It's likely that if golf manages to keep these golfers on the course, their parents and possibly even friends will follow suit.
Let's be clear; if you want to engage with the 6-17 age group, you need to focus on doing so via social media platforms and with video. These efforts could come in the form of influencer marketing or consistent content creation (see Tip #1).
TikTok or Instagram Reels are great channels to focus on. Their viral trends allow for organic brand engagement, and the short (30 sec) videos provide opportunities to offer education. An example of this type of content would be a yard golf challenge that offers free products or even tickets to golf tournaments like the Masters to the creator with the best homemade course. Brands could also use their own accounts to offer tips and tricks on becoming a better golfer, while using their products in the video. The content created specifically for these platforms can also be used across channels like Facebook and Twitter.
3. Support Retailers
No retail golf location is the same. Thus, it's essential to provide retailers with displays that offer flexibility and adapt to their unique footprint. By designing engaging displays and increasing attention to your product, you will drive sales, a win-win for your brand and the retailer. If your equipment brand is category-specific, you may focus on creating a display that elevates that entire category vs. just your brand.
Back to the grips reference mentioned earlier, if your display offers education about the importance of custom grips, you aren't just elevating your product, instead grips in general. Demonstrating this level of expertise will lead consumers (and even retail staff) to believe you are the category expert, thus increasing trust and brand loyalty.
The coronavirus pandemic has many people seeking new ways to get outside, stay active, and socialize. Golf has demonstrated it provides all those things when conducted safely and responsibly. Your golf brand would be remiss to not take advantage of this unique opportunity to elevate your in-store presence alongside your digital one.