‘Local knowledge’ and ‘links’ may carry different meanings in the golfing world, yet Foremost Golf, has leveraged those aspects to create the largest buyer and seller of golf products in the UK – a consortium of 1,000-plus golf professionals responsible for about 25% of UK golf sales.
Foremost’s CEO Paul Hedges was the golf professional at Winter Hill Golf Club, which is owned by the John Lewis Partnership.
Arguably, that simple statement underpins the two key reasons that Foremost Golf is today successfully operating as the UK’s largest golf retail group.
At 27, Hedges used his personal knowledge and experience of running the pro-shop at the Cookham-based club to determine the business needs of fellow golf pros. He also spotted their commercial advantage. Golf pro-shops throughout the country, largely independent traders, represented a ready-made retail structure full of experienced knowledgeable sales advisers.
In John Lewis he saw a business model that worked well – high quality customer service to support well-priced products – and adopted aspects of its commercial thinking to set up Foremost Golf.
Gaining buying power was the first step. Hedges used his local links and persuaded fellow professionals to establish a buying group to gain golf products on preferential terms. Today that buying group numbers more than 1,000 members and deals with the major golfing brands, annually buying products worth over £100m.
“As we grew, we looked at every opportunity for economies of scale, not just buying terms, so now we have influence over marketing, promotions, advertising and so on.….”
Plainly, there is also a two-way dialogue with Foremost providing valuable product and customer feedback. “Like John Lewis, we aim to stay popular with our suppliers.”
Now 30 years on, Foremost has developed a unique supportive structure for its golf-pro members.
While it supplies the latest golf products and takes the hassle out of business transactions for members through a centralised consolidated invoicing system – Foremost’s proudest achievement, says Hedges – it also offers a wide range of business advice, practical assistance such as EPOS, and links to professional services for insurance, audit and banking.
Foremost has also widened its offering to golf clubs, enabling savings from approved suppliers for products ranging from stationery to security, fuel to food, office systems and on-course equipment. Relatively cash-rich, Foremost is now even able to finance capital purchases for its members.
“What has changed over the years is that while buying is pre-requisite, selling has become ten times more important. Margin is made by the quality of the retail selling not by purchasing power.”
That John Lewis principle is supplemented at Foremost by staff involvement, career training, integrity, respect and the potential to own shares in the business.
“We are not a pile-it-high, sell-it-cheap business. We have qualified PGA professionals at each of our retail locations, so clearly our strength is in the skillset and qualities they can add.”
Foremost has harnessed Internet power to enhance its sales proposition, through an interactive website, online sales, social media and digital marketing.
“The Internet started as a very big challenge to us, because of its retail market impact, but actually it’s become our biggest asset as a means of communicating with customers. Today’s technology is spreading ‘word of mouth’ approval to the masses.”
Cleverly, Foremost has developed an e-commerce platform that drives business to the pro-shops. “Every UK online sale is shared through commission with our members.” ‘Click and Collect’ at golf pro-shops helps maintain customer retention.
Every week, Foremost’s inhouse editorial team keeps its golf-pro members and their club customerbase updated with product data and golfing insights through an informative online newsletter – a well-read email circulation topping 300,000.
“Golf clubs are like extended families, so our marketing and newsletter content reflects that relationship. Effectively, we are helping to inform and involve each independent trader, and adding value for their golfing community.”
With 30 years of business experience behind him, Hedges admits he was naïve when forming Foremost. “We all put £500 in the kitty and gave personal loan guarantees to the bank, not realising that our financial responsibility was limitless.”
Like many golf-pros, Hedges got into the job through his love of the sport. His business knowledge was poor, but he realised it was. That awareness remains the key driver in the Foremost business model – to take away the hassles of business for golf-pros, allowing them to enjoy selling golfing products, tuition and on-course activities.
“As a group, we are currently 3% up on retail sales year-on year. Other comparable golf retailers are down 5-6% and the High Street nearly 11%.”
Foremost has played solidly, using good course management – avoiding the hazards, improving its results 8-10% per year.
There can’t be many businesses happy for their performance to be viewed as ‘under par’ – but then Foremost Golf understands how its customers think.
TV 250 No 152: Foremost Golf
Scale: Steady organic growth, currently c£25 million sales
Staff: 42. Six board directors (3 golf-pro non-execs)
Scope: B2B product supply to UK golf club pro-shops; B2C online sales
Founded: 1984 by 11 golf club professionals
Head office: Whittenham Close, Slough, Berks