Golfsmith: Because it's more than just a golf store
AUSTIN, Texas -- While many travelers to the Lone Star State make it a point to visit places such as the Bob Bullock State of Texas History Museum, Barton Springs Pool, or various other attractions in and around Austin, those who have an affinity for golf know there is one place to go: Golfsmith International headquarters.
Through the years, thousands of people have toured the 330,000-square foot complex that is a straight shot up IH-35 from downtown and includes the corporate offices, shipping facilities, customer service center, award-winning driving range and a 30,000-square foot superstore.
While some out-of-town visitors make Golfsmith just one of many stops on their tour through Texas, others make it their lone travel destination. Depending on the individual's interest, clubmaking or playing golf, Golfsmith offers numerous classes for both.
Every other week, clubmakers from around the world attend golf clubmaking, clubfitting or club repair training schools that run for as long as five days in an effort to become certified clubmakers. Once a year almost 500 clubmakers and their guests make the annual pilgrimage to Austin for the Annual Golf Clubmakers Association International Conference/Open House. The three-day event features seminars from Golfsmith's technical staff, as well as other experts in the industry.
For those who are less concerned with building the equipment and more interested in using it, the Harvey Penick Golf Academy has the answer. This Academy consists of two and three day clinics each week that are held 11 months out of the year. The classes are based on the legendary teacher's philosophy of keeping it simple, most of which is found in his popular Little Red Book. The Academy, which opened in 1993, has helped more than 15,000 students from all 50 states and 16 other countries.
All of this - the facilities, the classes, are a long way from that small two-room apartment in New Jersey where it all got started. That's where, in 1967, Carl Paul realized, after repairing numerous clubs for friends, for people who responded to small ads in the local shopping newspaper, as well as clubs he purchased at garage sales - all of which he described as his training ground, there might be a business not only in repairing clubs but also creating them from scratch.
Paul surveyed the marketplace and realized that there were three golf club manufacturers at the time or the Big Three as he referred to them - Wilson, Spalding and MacGregor. There was also Kenneth Smith Golf Company, which sold individual parts to repair clubs but did not sell clubheads. Out of the four, none of them provided the individual with the opportunity, or more importantly, the resources, to put together a complete set of his or her own clubs. Paul dreamed big from the onset. "I thought we could put the Big Three out of business."
One of the first business decisions was moving their small children into the one bedroom with he and his wife, and using the other bedroom formerly occupied by the children, for the business. That didn't last long and the first expansion of many for what would later be called Golfsmith occurred when the family moved to a house.
It was there on weekends and evenings where Paul began to become more proficient in clubmaking, thanks in large part to his engineering degree and the machinery he designed and built. "We would do everything including routing the faceplate, wrapping the string around (old wood heads), and boring the holes in the wood heads," he humbly said. He noted that they bought the iron heads from a company in New Jersey. All the clubs were assembled, at Golfsmith, AKA the Paul's house.
Paul said he realized very early, even with all the hard work, those early dreams of overtaking the Big Three by storm as he had hoped, were just that, dreams. "It was difficult early on. We were operating on a shoestring. If another competitor had come along, we would have gone out of business. There's a lot to successfully operating a business including production, advertising and things like creating catalogs."
The first catalogs offering golf club components were produced in 1969, the same year they received a federal trademark on the name Golfsmith. Although the company had been operating for a couple of years, the name seemed to make it official. Paul, and his wife Barbara, who managed the business and took care of the couple's young daughters while he continued to commute to his regular job in New York City, did not realize until later, that not only had they not only created a company; they had created an industry - the golf club component industry. The Pauls are to golf club components what Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are to computers.
For the next several years, the business continued to grow; much to Paul's delight. However, it didn't come without a price. The basement, which had been used for the entire company's operation, no longer provided enough space. A decision was made to expand the business within the house and the basement was designated as the production area. "The kitchen-breakfast nook was where we took orders on the phone, the dining room was where Barbara and the secretary did billing and invoicing, the porch was the spray booth and the attic was the warehouse," Paul said, reflecting back on the early days.
The business continued to grow and after a few years, the entire house wasn't enough. "It was bursting at the seams," he said. "We had to move." Paul said his brother Frank was brought on board in 1973 and his first order of business was finding a new location for the company to operate. Frank decided on the state capital of Austin, Texas. Soon thereafter, Golfsmith relocated to a small storefront in Austin. "Many thought we moved to Austin because it was close to home (Bishop, Texas), but Austin was a good distribution point for the Sunbelt," Paul said.
Today, Golfsmith is still very much a family business. Carl, Barbara and Frank are actively involved in the day-to-day operations and all three of Carl and Barbara's daughters, as well as their sons-in-law, are involved with the multi-million dollar company that ships up to 8,000 orders a day.
What's been the key to Golfsmith's success through the years? Paul said there are several factors and one of them occurred in 1977. He said it was at that time when another golf club component company, Golfworks, opened in Ohio and got off to a fast start. The new competition, Paul said, was one of the best things that ever happened to Golfsmith. "We would not be where we are today without that competition. Because of that, we improved our quality, increased our quantity, got an 800 phone number and became a overall better business."
Another important reason for their success is customer service and the general understanding that "the world doesn't really need another place that merely sells golf equipment, but one that offers fantastic service to the customer and also happens to sell golf equipment."
Whether it's assisting a new golfer in selecting a set of clubs in one of the superstores, or offering advice to clubmakers around the world, the service and support Golfsmith provides its customers is what sets the company apart from competitors according to Paul.
If you can't make it to Austin for a tour of the Golfsmith International facilities and find out firsthand about the customer service, don't worry, there's likely a Golfsmith store in a city near you or one coming soon. The company decided to expand its operations in 1995 when it opened its first retail superstore in Houston. Since then Golfsmith has opened superstores in Colorado, Michigan, Arizona, New Jersey, Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio and Georgia. There are now a total of 24 stores in 12 states, as well as three countries including the United Kingdom and Canada.
Although each store may be located in another zip code, all of them have a similar look and feel as the flagship store in Austin. Starting with the overall concept of a retail store, each features a large inventory of golf club components, golf equipment, training aids, accessories and apparel. Visitors have access to the latest in technology such as computerized swing analyzers and golf simulators, devices which measure clubhead speed, and banks of synchronized televisions tuned continuously to golf programming.
The cornerstone of each store is the signature indoor waterfall and rockscape surrounded by an oversized indoor putting green. Paul said the waterfall and putting green are part of a philosophy his wife thought of years ago. "She believed that it's not all about selling merchandise. It's about making the customer feel comfortable. It's like they're outdoors. We really want you to enjoy yourself. If you want to just putt around on the green, that's fine."
Just one more reason to make a stop at the Golfsmith store in Austin, or anywhere else.