Golf Retail Hazards – Part 1

Big Box Golf Store

Beat the Big Box

“Big box store.”  Despite the venom with which many of us use this term, stores like Golfsmith, Dicks Sporting Goods, and PGA Tour Superstore represent the vast majority of the golf equipment market.  And why not?  They offer tons of locations, huge selection, and low prices.

What I aim to do in this piece is not bash the big box, but rather to educate you, the golf consumer, about the hazards of golf retail, particularly in the big boxes.  Armed with this knowledge and some simple tips, you can make the best choices about where to spend your money and what to spend it on.

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Spiffs and Commission

If you’ve never worked in sales, here’s a quick primer about commissions and spiffs.  Working on commission simply means that you get paid based on how much you sell.  A spiff is a bonus that you get paid for selling a particular item or brand.

Having a motivated sales staff is a fine thing – it gives them an incentive to help customers instead of whacking balls in the simulator – but it becomes problematic when it causes them to push certain products on unsuspecting golfers.

Stores that have house brands often pay a higher commission on those sales because there’s more margin.  Spiffs can also be a major incentive.  If you’re making $10/hour, and you can get $50 for selling a Brand X driver, guess which club every single customer is going to try in their fitting?

A simple solution to this problem is to be direct: ask your salesperson if they’re paid on commission or with spiffs.  You don’t have to storm out if they are, but take their advice with a grain of salt.

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Lack of, or Misused, Fitting Capabilities

A few years back, big boxes had suspect technology.  Now, they’ve all invested in first tier launch monitors, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is on the up and up.  One of the oldest tricks in the golf retail book is “juicing” the launch monitor to spit out distances far beyond what golfers will see in the real world (“Wow, Mrs. Haversham, you’re hitting it 320 with that new driver!”).  Thankfully, this is a simple trick to combat: bring your own clubs for comparison when you go in for a fitting.

The more difficult problem is the lack of fitting components.  I know from experience that the average fitting cart in a big box store is half out of date, has had some components stolen, others broken, and is generally a mess.  This kneecaps the fitter and gives you, as the consumer, fewer choices.

Unfortunately, I don’t have a simple solution to this problem.  The best thing to do is to call in advance with specific questions about the head and shaft options available from the OEMs that you’re interested in.  You can also visit multiple stores to try different components.

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Selling What’s in Stock

Though progress is slow, the golf industry is pivoting toward more custom fitting.  Golfers are slowly learning that a set of clubs built to their specific length and lie doesn’t cost anymore than a stock set, and often there are even more free options (shafts, grips, etc).

This doesn’t mean, however, that retailers like this model.  Sales of in-stock merchandise are often accounted for differently than custom order sales.  This can incentivize stores to “fit” golfers into stock specs.

Golfers bear some of the blame here, too.  Most people want to walk out with their shiny new clubs now.  Sales people know that, so they may steer you toward a driver that they have in stock rather than one that might need to be ordered.

The solution: if you’re going to buy clubs, arrive with the mindset that you’re going to order them through the store rather than walk out with them that day.  Accept that you will need to be patient to get the best clubs, and be skeptical of any fitting that results in perfectly stock specifications.


You’re now armed with the knowledge you need to combat the structural problems of big box golf retail.  Next week, I’ll discuss how to deal with the most problematic employees.

Matt Saternus
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