Let’s Go Shopping! – But Where Should We Go?

So you've now got a pretty good idea of your game and what you should be looking for. Now we need to get out there and shop.
There are so many different ways that golfers can buy clubs… the big box retailer, the smaller independent shop, the general sporting goods store, the pro shop and even the internet. Each has their positives and negatives and finding which one fits for you is vital.

The Big Box Retailer

So many clubs, so many bags, so many shoes, these guys have everything! The big box retailer has really changed the way we shop for everything. These stores offer a massive selection, lower prices and mediocre service. These stores are usually part of a chain and are able to offer low prices because they buy in such large quantities. A big box chain will also have relationships with manufacturers that allow them to get deals and closeouts that other retailers can't get. They pride themselves on having everything and having everything at a low price. Sounds like a golfers dream huh? Well for a lot of people it is, why shop around at numerous stores when you can go to one place and get everything? Find something at a lower price elsewhere? These guys will probably match it and beat it too.

So what are the downsides to these golf mega stores? I talk to a lot of people that refuse to shop in them because of poor service. When your store is 20 000 sq. feet you need to have a lot of staff, and most times you will be hiring people with little or no golf experience. The managers and department heads may have lots of knowledge and experience but they usually aren't the people that the customer deals with. Customers that are dropping thousands of dollars usually want to talk to someone that can make sure they get what they need. Will the staff member be able to find you the right clubs? Do they have the knowledge and experience to properly fit you? It can be a crapshoot but many golfers are so price driven that they just don't care.

Another negative I hear is the no wheeling and dealing policies of these stores. Golfers like to deal. It can be an expensive game so every $10 saved here and $20 saved there adds up. Why shouldn't a regular customer be able to save a bit of money now and again? Most big box retailers will give you the old we already have the lowest prices in town so there is no need for us to deal speech (trust me, I've had to use it before!) when asked about deals.

It's all about price and selection with these guys. A more educated golfer may not care about the lower level of service because they probably already know what they need anyways. There are deals to be had here but the service might not be great!

Independent Shops

Independent shops come in all shapes and sizes but they all seem to share certain characteristics. Most have a fairly visible owner/operator, they don't carry as much stock as a big box store, their prices are often slightly higher but the service is usually better. I have been in some pretty cool independent shops and have met some very knowledge golf people in them too.

One of the biggest upsides to an independent shop is the level of service and expertise. There may still be some less skilled people working there but the really knowledgeable people are more readily available. You will also find that customers that frequent these shops will latch onto one employee and then use that person every time they need something. I guess in a way I'm considered some people's guy. I have my regulars that come in and ask for me, usually because they have bought from me in the past. It's nice for them because I know more about their game, what they use and what they would benefit from. I usually give them a deal too! Dealing is something that may be allowed at these stores and customers may be able to save some money in exchange for their loyalty. These stores can also be a bit more flexible when it comes to letting clubs out on demo or setting up payment plans.

Manufacturers are starting to help the little guys a bit more. Some companies offer special prices and terms in an attempt to level the playing field between the independents and the big box stores. Other independents have formed buying groups to get better pricing. The pricing gap between these two types of stores is getting smaller. A spin off of better pricing is increased inventory, if a shop owner can afford more product, they can bring more in the store or they may add a company that they don't yet have.

There are some drawbacks to these stores. They can't carry everything, they might not have the brand you are after. Their prices are sometimes a bit higher and they may not have full access to special buys and closeouts. Most customers say that the good outweigh the bad and choose the independent retailer when they can.

Sporting Goods Stores

These stores are kind of the jack of all trade places, they will carry a little bit of everything. Most sporting goods stores specialize in sports that are popular in that area. If you live in the mountains, you will probably see a lot of skiing and hiking stuff, and so on.

There is a wide range of sporting goods retailers but most are part of a chain or somehow affiliated to other stores. These affiliations are a positive for the customer, they allow the store to buy in bulk and pass the savings on to the consumer. The service at these stores can be quite varied. Usually the staff has training in certain departments so if you deal with a golf person you should be alright. The selection in a sporting goods store is ok, not great, but ok. These stores often specialize more in the golf equipment designed for the higher handicapper because that is who their customer usually is. From my experience, sporting goods retailers let the golf specialty stores deal with the really knowledgeable players and shift their focus to the beginner and intermediate player.

I hear the same things over and over again from customers, that sporting goods stores don't carry the big names, the service is not very good, I had to search around for someone that knew what they were talking about, but their prices are pretty good. Well I guess you get what you pay for.

There are exceptions to every rule. I have been to some sports stores in golf “hot spots” that are just as good as golf specialty stores. I have seen big box sporting goods stores create small golf boutiques with good products and knowledgeable staff. Customers need to scout out their local sporting goods stores and see what is out there.

Pro Shops

Remember when it used to be that if you wanted golf stuff, you went to your local pro shop because they were the only show in town? I don't, I'm too young! That was before the game of golf really took off. That was before the advent of the big box mega-store. Pro Shops have really had to change their ways lately to stay competitive in a changing marketplace. It's very rare that a Pro Shop is an area's only source of golf equipment. Most Pro Shops can't afford to carry a huge amount of inventory and need to rely on exceptional service to make sales.

There are a lot of positives when it comes to a Pro Shop. The biggest is the ability to try equipment out. What better place to try a driver than out on a golf course? Who better to watch you hit a few balls on the range than a certified Golf Professional? I'd say that's pretty convenient! If you frequent a golf course you are probably familiar with the staff and you will probably get great service too. The staff are usually familiar with club fitting and will make your equipment choice work for you.

I think there are two glaring negatives to buying from a Pro Shop, selection and price. Pro Shops usually don't have the money or the space to carry all of the newest equipment and often times need to order things in as they are needed. A lot of shops now wil
l focus on one of two brands and use these companies to stock their whole shop. Prices will usually be a bit higher in a Pro Shop for a few reasons. Sometimes these shops pay more for equipment than a larger off course store and therefore can't offer the lowest price around. Pro Shops also don't really need to offer the lowest prices either. Where else are you going to go if you need golf balls 5 minutes before you tee off? I have worked in some shops that use that mentality and it seems to work on some items, balls, tees, gloves. Equipment is a bit different. The best way to get a deal here is to be a member at a course and support your Club Professional, if you scratch his/her back, they will do the same for you!

The Internet

This is the newest entry into the golf equipment retail scene. Sure it is nice to sit at home and look at equipment while avoiding line ups and parking lots, but don't you want to actually hit a club before buying it? The prices will usually be a bit lower than you can find at a local shop and the inventory is vast.

The positive here is price. An internet retailer has fairly low overhead costs and therefore they can drop the prices a bit. Often they will cover the shipping costs on larger orders too. These retailers have buying power too. They have the ability to buy extremely large quantities and therefore can afford to offer low prices.

Sound too good to be true? Maybe it is. You don't get a chance to hit stuff before you buy, there is no knowledgeable staff member helping you, you don't get to see the actual item you are buying and getting warranty work can sometimes be a real hassle. I have talked to some customers that refuse to use this type of retailer because they are leery about giving out their credit card information, I don't think it is a real problem with some of the security technology out there today but that's just me. This is a relatively new way of buying golf equipment but it still has a long way to go before it becomes main stream.

I guess now would be a good time to mention Ebay. I have bought equipment off Ebay in the past and I didn't really have any problems. Do your homework! Research the seller, closely examine the products, don't buy something without pictures, ask questions, even send us an email and we can help, but most importantly, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is!

There you go, a little insight into golf retailers. I like to tell people to find a shop that you like and then do the majority of your shopping there. Get to know the staff, ask a lot of questions, don't be afraid to test the staff member's knowledge, make them work for your business!

Until next time!


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