This post is dedicated to the intrepid women entrepreneurs in the golf industry who are trying, against tough odds, to bring beautiful products to market for women golfers. (Here’s to the sisterhood of golf entrepreneurs. You know who you are.)
Last year about this time, I returned from the PGA Show in Orlando, Florida, with lots to say about what I’d seen. This year, instead of being a surveyor, I was a purveyor – with a booth – and instead of looking at what was up, I had my ear to the ground to collect the scoop from the many pro shop owners and buyers who came by to meet us.
Oh, the stuff I heard. The antennae were pinging as I chatted and schmoozed with people from all over the world, finding out all sorts of stuff – that I guess I knew – but finally had confirmed. Golfers are, by and large, a good lot; but there are still some folks out there (the US comes to mind) who don’t want to see the golf-boat rocked, especially by upstarts who don’t understand ‘how things work’.
THERE’S A DISCONNECT
There are golf industry people who tune in occasionally to read these posts and they might be surprised to know that despite the proliferation of ‘women’s golf product’ being presented by many of the major brands, women, in the trenches, either aren’t seeing much of it or liking much of it. There seems to be a big disconnect out there. I say this because I hear it all the time from women golfers – and because there are so many women starting businesses in the golf industry to make the stuff they want but can’t find.
THERE’S MONEY IN THEM THAR HILLS
If what I heard from a lot of pro shop buyers (still predominantly male) is any indication, I have my answer: they think that what’s been offered to women till now is good enough and they aren’t especially interested or motivated to change their ways. I mean why should they? If the major brands are willing to take back any golf shoes and accessories they don’t sell, it means the pro shop owner doesn’t have to put anything on the line and is more inclined to play it safe with what he already knows. In short, he’s less likely to hang his keester out there just for your shopping pleasure.
This poses a problem for the women golfers across the land who are hankering to see something new in their local shops: the buyer is not taking any chances on a new brand if that brand isn’t similarly willing to loan out its inventory. Under this shortsighted scenario, being adventuresome or creative isn’t in his tea leaves. What he doesn’t seem to understand, though, is that these women have credit cards, lots of them, and an appetite for shopping that can only be satisfied if their palates are being titillated. They’ll buy more and pay more for products that tickle their fancy – we’re living proof of that – than for undifferentiated, ubiquitous commodities like white + pink/beige/black (take your pick) golf shoes.
BREAK OUT YOUR CLIMBING GEAR, LADIES
The PGA Show produced a ubiquitous (and curious) stream of women club members sent on reconnaissance missions by their pro shop owners, who had neither the time, nor interest, nor attention span, to try to figure what their female players would want to buy, wear, use, etc. This army of volunteer foragers, deeply engaged in the mission and enthusiastic as all get out, were utterly impotent. (Forgive me.) They could look, covet, recommend – but they could not buy. No authority.
So, there you have it. This is why golf companies just like mine are sprouting like mushrooms in the south of France, eager to address your deepest desires when it comes to your golf attire – and why we still have some very steep mountains to climb. It explains why all of us have our own e-commerce sites and why you are increasingly shopping online or at special events for your golf needs and skipping the pro shops altogether. (Let’s not forget trunk shows. Where would we be without those?)
GOLIATH PAYS A CALL
I’m probably going to be in a lot of trouble after I post this, because I’m going to dare to share the upshot of my encounter with one of the industry’s Goliath’s (They-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named) and leave you to your own conclusions about which behemoth I’m referring to here. It says a lot about the industry and why the boat needs some serious rocking. (I’m talking shoes here, since that’s my biz, so you do the math.)
Goliath’s emmissary, a corporate fellow, tall, navy-jacketed, sporting a badge turned in on itself so that I couldn’t see where he hailed from, but with the telltale initials on the strap that gave him away, marched himself right into my booth (without being invited) to examine my product line. Up close. (By the way, if you never hear from me again, just assume that Goliath took out a contract on me.)
Now, for those of you who don’t do trade shows, I’m here to tell you that this is a cardinal no-no. You don’t walk into a competitor’s booth to examine their product line, particularly if you’re big enough to squash them like a June Bug in July. It’s not cool. It’s not done. It’s, dare I say it, kind of flattering, though?
FORMULA vs VERVE
Reticence has never been my best event, so I walked up to this fella, introduced myself, and remarked that the telltale initials on the strap holding his ID badge told me he was a competitor and ought not to have come into my booth without being invited. I asked him to, please, step away from the shoes and step back into the aisle.
He dismissed my request with a barely concealed snort and continued to fondle, yes FONDLE, my shoes, turning them over in his hands like a fine bottle of wine. When I pointed out, a bit more insistently this time, that it was inappropriate for a competitor to enter a booth and scrutinize product so brazenly, he didn’t budge. He just said that I was welcome to come into his booth anytime and look at his – stuff. (Didn’t we do that in grade school? Anyway, why would I want to do that? His stuff is WHITE.)
SOMEBODY GRAB THE BUG SPRAY, PLEASE
Now for the punch line. This corporate guy, this head of operations (or something-or-other) actually looked me in the eye and said, with a dead straight face, that his company had ‘ALL KINDS of shoes just like mine in its back room’, but had decided not to market them, because – get this – women overwhelmingly preferred white shoes. (Whew. That leaves room for the rest of us to delude ourselves, I said.) Anyway, as soon as I recovered from the cheek of his remark, I thought to myself: the only reason women seem – to him and his cohorts – to ‘overwhelmingly’ prefer white shoes is because that’s pretty much all they’ve been serving up since the Loch Ness monster was first sighted. It’s hard to argue with Goliath, but then I have to wonder why his emmissary came a’calling in the first place? Our booth wasn’t exactly in the center of the convention center or on his way to Starbucks. We hadn’t taken out a full page ad in The PGA magazine or anything.
The moral of this story, in case it needs telling, is that there’s only one reason a big corporate guy like that goes out of his way to see what a pesky little June Bug like Equipt is up to and that’s because he’s heard talk on the street and is wondering if we’ve got something tasty cooking. He’s wondering if he needs to be concerned about a small band of boat-rockers who are making waves with great looking golf shoes for women (comfortable beyond his wildest imagination) and serving up a lovely buffet of color, style – and comfort – to women golfers everywhere.
PASS THE TUMS
Is there an appetite out there, he’s asking himself? Could he have missed – egads – The BOAT? Well, Big G, while we’re dancing the jig over here and shipping just as fast as we can, you’re going to be enjoying some serious heartburn when you see Equipt for Play golf shoes in O Magazine in May. (Your heard me. They have 16 million women readers with credit cards and appetites as big as all outdoors. Pass the Tums.) So the answer is yes. There’s an appetite out there. You might want to get busy and haul out some of that ‘stuff’ in your back room, and while you’re busy dusting it off, we’ll be watching you in our rear view mirror as we motor on down the road with style. Later alligator.
I want to give a shout out to all the intrepid golf pro shop buyers who are willing to take a chance on a new brand like ours – and those of other women entrepreneurs – and are trying to make a difference in the world of women’s golf. Kudos to you.