Custom E-Mail Par for the Course at Golfballs.com

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While the majority of the nation's golfers might lose their tee shots in the rough or the trees, Golfballs.com's swing at e-mail appears headed for the green.

The 10-year-old retailer has been tweaking its messaging to improve relationships with players who hail from the double-bogey demographic.

And because the sport is humbling for nearly everyone who participates, Golfballs.com isn't afraid to poke fun at the fact that it targets players who often can be heard yelling, "Fore!" After all, they are the ones who need new golf balls most often.

"We do well with avid but very bad golfers," said Tom Cox, president/CEO of Golfballs.com, Lafayette, LA. "But seriously, we are not targeting the country club set. We are tending to more of the semiprivate to public course crowd."

Mr. Cox said that his firm plans to use personalization more effectively than ever during the upcoming warm months to score birdies on orders with its e-mail database of 200,000 recent customers.

Customized Makes Maximized

On the merchandising side, e-mail recipients will be able to order golf balls, stick bags, caps and towels with customized messaging. Three lines of content inscriptions can be added during the purchasing process at www.golfballs.com. For instance, the products can be inscribed with playful messages like "Third-Generation Bad Golfer" or "Danger! [Insert Name] Is On The Course."

Golfballs.com often personalizes its e-mail by putting the recipient's name on the product images, which has helped boost average order size beyond $70 recently.

"It's a customized item that they get to preview in the inbox," Mr. Cox said. "So when they view the e-mail, the product appears to be made just for them. Anytime you send out a product with someone's name on it, but of course, the recipients are going to pay more attention to the offer."

The ability to customize products for frequent golfers or gift buyers, combined with the firm's competitive prices, has helped the former e-commerce startup expand to become a multichannel retailer, he said. The company now employs direct mail and opened a store in front of its warehouse in Lafayette.

Orders to the Fore

"If golfers wait until getting to the pro shop at a course to buy what they need to shoot nine or 18 holes, they are going to pay full fare on things like balls and gloves," Mr. Cox said. "There are a lot of people out there that want to take advantage of the Web to save on the cost of playing the game by taking care of those needs ahead of time."

Golfballs.com hopes to increase revenue this year by up to 25 percent partly from constant honing of its e-mail. Recipients also will receive image-laden product offers based on past purchases.

"What we have been seeing recently is that after we e-mail, 50 percent of the orders from the campaign consist of a duplication of those personalized product suggestions we send out," Mr. Cox said. "Whether it's personalization in the message or in the product selection, the response rate is greater than otherwise."

Meanwhile, Golfballs.com is gearing up not only for the summer golf season in general, but also Father's Day specifically. The holiday makes June the company's second busiest gift month after December. The retailer expects 500 to 1,000 customized gift orders daily in the 2 1/2 weeks leading up to the June 18 holiday.

"Seventy-five to 80 percent of the gifts for Father's Day will likely be personalized orders," Mr. Cox said. "Usually, 90 percent of our orders for the Christmas period are personalized. I think for many it comes down to the question, 'Why wouldn't you want to personalize the gift?'"

The company also uses personalization to appeal to its BTB audience, which makes up 40 percent of sales. Golfballs.com, averaging more than $400 per corporate order, lets firms push brand identity through logoed balls and related promotional items.

"We serve 37 out of the Fortune 100 companies with their golf ball and other product needs," Mr. Cox said. "But we also have customers that are small businesses and charity events because we only require a minimum order of six dozen golf balls."

To encourage conversions on both the BTB and BTC fronts, the firm plans to alter its front-page design to feature three-column product offerings, instead of just two columns, in order to get more products above the fold for golf's busiest months.

"The change is based on reports we had seen," said Brandon Hartness, director of e-commerce at Golfballs.com. "Most of the content on the right side of the page and content below the fold might as well not even exist."

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