Dennis Firth’s keys to success to achieving Royal Montreal’s greatest year of merchandising yet in 2021
By: Adam Stanley
Doing the little things will, very often, turn into big rewards.
Dennis Firth, the Head Golf Professional at the storied Royal Montreal Golf Club, found that out in 2021, as he (and his well-deserving team, he points out) won the Pat Fletcher Retailer of the Year Award. The win came after Firth and team won The Professional Shop of the Year Award from the PGA of Quebec, too.
The team, he explains, are measured on its attention to detail daily. It’s about how they address members, or whether they remember to spell a name like Clark with or without an ‘e’ at the end of it. The team makes sure each shirt has a size-identifier and a piece of issue in the fold. The spacing of hangers – yes, really – is also important.
“We’re making shopping very convenient,” says Firth.
The married-father-of-one joined Royal Montreal in March 2020 and commuted a few times back-and-forth between Montreal and Toronto – prior to settling in full-time in La Belle Province – before the world shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There was a measured shift in how everyone, not just those in golf, did business. And when Firth was brought on board, the pro shop business at Royal Montreal shifted too. For the first time in the club’s 147-year history, the shop became a club-owned merchandising effort. In 2021, Royal Montreal had its most successful retail season ever. Gross revenue was up 48 percent compared to 2020 and 94 percent in 2019.
“Every business, every opportunity looks for a little freshening and a face lift,” says Firth of the change. “Those who had run the boutique… they were successful business operators. You’re learning to build on the foundation they had created.”
Firth says with a smile that even the littlest of changes helped to liven up the shop. In February 2021, his team painted the walls of the shop a neutral white. You can get technical about the kind of retail changes that might spur sales, but a simple coat of paint helped do the trick. The pro shop got a fresh look.
Even with the new vibe, there was a balancing act with Royal Montreal and its long-standing tradition and culture – something Firth says they’re very fortunate to be a part of. The members, he explains, support the shop like nowhere he’s ever seen.
He points to an example that unfolded during the difficult COVID-19 shopping period that restricted options for people who needed to get new gear – they started a private shopping experience program at the club.
One couple made an appointment with the sales team and was in the shop for 2.5 hours. Two staff members escorted the members to their car when they were done, with a couple bags of new stuff for the year ahead.
“That speaks to the level of service they received and their appreciation of that. But it goes both ways, which is a great story to tell,’” says Firth.
Firth says, despite the difficulty the last two years has presented, his retail team has had an “incredibly fun” time. Business has essentially doubled the last two years.
“The members embracing the staff, the service, the selection… it drove all of us through this pandemic,” he says. “It hasn’t been easy but (the members) give us the energy to come to work every day and enjoy it.
“To me, it always starts with service and communication. Talking to guests and members, building those relationships. Then they can come to you for a golf shirt, golf clubs, or golf lessons. Make sure you are there for them and they’ll support you.”
It’s a good point to remember as clubs across Canada begin their buildouts and marketing strategies for retail sales in 2022. Not every club can be like Royal Montreal – and almost no other club in the country has the history and established platform that the 2024 Presidents Cup host has. But any PGA of Canada professional at the helm of any course across the country can utilize some of the key support points that Firth and his team installed in their award-winning campaign last year. A laser-like focus on service and attention to detail can go a long way.
“It’s the simple things. It’s the presentation of the product you’re offering,” says Firth. “We all have those five-star versus three-star hotels… but just because it’s three stars, it can still be neat and tidy. You can still be greeted warmly. And you can still have a great experience.”