Golf Works Seeks Best Timing on Mailings

Like a golfer tinkering with his swing, The Golf Works is trying a new mailing strategy to improve when its catalogs reach customers.

The Newark, OH, cataloger of golf-related equipment dropped 239,000 copies of its 2003 Clubmaker's Catalog in early January, followed by 230,000 this month. Last year the company mailed 279,000 in January and 109,000 in March.

“This year our strategy was to have more of our mailing timed to the golf season,” said Al Bessin, co-CEO of The Golf Works. “Our first mailing is designed to get new products in the hands of golf professionals before they go to the PGA show in January. But with January coming well before the season starts, we felt the more seasonal mailing would strengthen our performance, especially with the harsh winter this year.”

The only changes in the January and March books are the front and back covers and the text of a letter from Bessin and co-CEO Mark McCormick on page 2.

This year's plan maintains the catalog's 80-20 split favoring consumers vs. business-to-business customers. The BTB segment consists mainly of off-course specialty repair or custom-club shops of several employees, while the consumer side is 85 percent male and characterized as an avid golfer in his mid-50s.

Though circulation increased more than 20 percent year-over-year, 2003 saw no rise in prospecting. The book is 212 pages, up from 182 last year. This year's version cut 10 percent to 15 percent of the merchandise in last year's book. Last year the catalog contained a mix of film and digital photography, while it's 100 percent digital this year, shortening production time.

“The big books are expensive,” Bessin said. “While they are primarily house-list driven, we're doing work with Abacus, and about 15 percent of our current circulation is prospects with Abacus providing all of our prospects.

“We learned that in our niche it's very difficult to prospect,” he said, “so we focus more on gaining new customers through advertising rather than more extensive prospecting efforts.”

How much of a niche is the marketer catering to?

“Unless you're into gluing your sticks together, you won't be interested,” he said. “Virtually all of our business is basically components and tools with people putting their clubs together. We sell very little in the way of finished, ready-to-play goods.”

The average order for the January drop was in the “low-$100” range.

“We're up between 5 and 10 percent on average order since our sales of heads are up as a percentage of total sales,” he said. “They are up about 25 percent year-over-year, and that's where the real gross margin is in our business.”

The increase in average order is in line with expectations, though the harsh winter in parts of the country hurt sales.

“Rounds played in the Northeast are down about 80 percent so far this year compared to a year ago at this time,” he said. “We might be up 35 to 40 percent if the weather and economy would have been better.

“But our end of the business does pretty well during recessions since we get an increase in repairs as our customers refurbish instead of buying new golf equipment. We're somewhat insulated from the recession due to the refurb side of the business.”

Bessin would give only a range when asked about the response rate.

“Our response rate is in the high single and low double digits,” he said. “We're running above our pessimistic plan and below our optimistic plan regarding response rate, but we're generally in the range where we want to be.”

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