People in Golf - Daniel Gathercole

Daniel will be leading a major American Golf presentation at GolfBIC this January and, as a forerunner, Golf Features caught up with him recently and asked him some questions:
Golf Features: What is the scale of the business at American Golf? 
David Gathercole: We have 110 stores in total covering all of the UK & Ireland.  Most are in traditional retail locations, but an increasing number are at places where people play golf.  We will be expanding this side of the business with a significant number of new stores openings planned for quarter one of 2017.
GF: How important is online to the retail offering?
DG: Online sales have grown at a huge rate since I joined the business, but it’s the role that online plays in directing traffic to store that makes it a vital part of our structure.  Over 90% of people coming into stores have used the website to do their product research, so our online presence is a key part of the customer journey. 
GF: Can you explain why you have started your own tournaments?
DG: Everything we do as a business now is about getting more people to enjoy playing more golf more often. This is where the tournament idea came from.  We held 5 free tournaments this year and around 3,000 people, aged from 7 to over 70, took part.  We have formats that appeal to a broad spectrum of golfers, which is what makes them so popular.  The Grand Finals weekend is so much fun and it’s so inspiring to meet the competitors. It makes everything we do worthwhile.
GF: How does the American Golf Club work?
DG: The AG Club is our golf club and we want to create the biggest and best golf club in the world, accessible to all.  Customers can sign up for in store or online.  It just takes a couple of minutes and is free to join.  Once they are a member they have access to a range of benefits including entry to all of our tournaments, competitions and fitting events.  They can also access our new online community where members chat to each other about anything to do with golf. They can post photos and videos, ask each other questions – it’s our virtual clubhouse.
GF:  How do Golf Shows fit into your plans?
DG: We are passionate about challenging the preconceptions people have about golf. It isn’t expensive, elitist, or sexist, but unfortunately these are the stories that grab the headlines.  We want to give as many people as possible access to golf, which is why we ran our free Golf Show in Manchester this year. 
The Manchester show attracted a lot of families, which is really important to us, so we know that our format works.  We’re going to be holding 3 free arena shows in 2017 and we’ll also be taking golf to city centres by launching our Roadshows.  There are thousands of people out there who have never picked up a golf club.  If we are serious about attracting new people into the game we need to take golf to them rather than expecting them to come to us.  
GF: What are your plans for the future at American Golf?
DG: Every idea we have and every decision the business makes is driven by our desire to grow the game.  As well as rolling out the Golf Shows and launching our Roadshows, in 2017 we will be opening more stores in more convenient locations, we’re introducing more free tournaments and we’ll be working on making our Golf Club ‘the’ place people go to for anything to do with golf.  We are wearing our heart on our sleeves - golf is our passion and golfers are our lifeblood.
GF: What type of people do you want working for you in the stores?
DG: The range of roles available at American Golf is vast and varied.  The common denominator is every member of staff has a passion for golf.  The most successful stores are managed by retail specialists, so we want to draw more people from a retail background into the business.  We are also always on the lookout for great PGA pros. We employ more PGA pros than any other company in the UK and will continue to increase these numbers as we expand. 
GF: Where do you see the golf industry being in 10 years time and how will American Golf sit in the mix?
DG: If you’re asking me what I’d like to see, then my utopian vision is a family friendly sport, with participation at an all time high.  Golf clubs will be fun places where families go at the weekend to socialise, women and children will be welcome everywhere, and a quick round of golf will really be a quick round of golf.  The media will report the good golf stories we (the industry) all hear about but get overlooked and terrestrial TV will want to air Tour events.  American Golf will be a place where people go to enjoy golf.  
GF: Is custom fit continuing to grow in the hardware sales?
DG: Massively.  The number of custom fittings has practically doubled year on year since I joined the company.  What’s really interesting is that it’s not just the number of driver and iron fittings that are growing.  We’re fitting more putters, wedges and balls than ever before, so we’re investing heavily in the technology we need to deliver the best service.  Our intention is for all of our stores to have a GC2 fitted and we’re also installing more SAM Putt Labs 
GF: In some of your stores, you now have in store re-gripping stations, how are they doing and will you roll this out across all of your operations?
DG: Changing your grips is a fundamental part of improving your game.  We’ve had re-gripping facilities on our Tour Trucks for a long time and have introduced this into some stores to meet increasing demand.  We’re also expanding our fleet of Tour Trucks next year which means more people can access the service.
GF: How important are PGA professionals to the success of your retail operation?
DG: They are the lynchpin of the company.  The role that they play is incredibly diverse.  As well as offering advice to our customers, they are becoming more involved in community outreach projects.  Their contribution to the business and influence on the direction we take is essential.  We are incredibly proud to work so closely with the PGA and its members. 
GF: You’ve been a staunch supporter of On Course Foundation for several years now.  Can you tell us how you became involved and why?
DG: I was lucky enough to be invited to play with some of their members a few years ago.  I was really taken back by the positive influence that golf has had on their lives, as well as their ability to play golf, so we appointed them as our official charity.  
Since then, we’ve held fund raising events for them and we help raise awareness of the charity and its work with injured wounded and sick service personnel by including them in our events, in PR and by giving them a presence at our Golf Shows.  We also offer work placements for their members. We held the biggest one-off recruitment campaign at this year’s Grand Final, where every company involved had an On Course Foundation member on their team for the weekend.