Sports retail giant Golf Town officially opens in St. John's today, expanding its operations even as the industry consolidates and recovers.
Randy King, the general manager of Golf Town's new 15,695 square-foot White Rose Drive location - the first for the retailer in the province, and 56th in Canada - meets a growing need in the province, providing a large selection of equipment, lessons and computerized training aids.
"It's a great golfing community, and not just the city of St. John's," he said. "How many people travel out to Terra Nova and play at The Wilds as well? It's going to be a great opportunity and it's been needed for a while, I believe."
Golf Town is expanding, though, even as the industry faces uncertainty. In the United States, the number of rounds played is down over the past decade, although the National Golf Foundation reports an upswing in 2012. Market researcher Golf Datatech found an increase in the amount of money spent on equipment in the recent years, following declines during and after the recession. King said demand is strong in the St. John's area.
"I don't have specific numbers, but I know that, just from being around the business, in the last little bit, being in Dartmouth, N.S., for example, working in the store there, there's people calling in with special orders for the store there," he said. "Every time I'm out on the course, it's always busy. The phone calls and the emails that we received before we even opened give the impression that the demand is pretty big."
The Toronto-based Golf Town snapped up its U.S. rival Golfsmith almost exactly a year ago, for $96 million, with the American retailer struggling to make gains. Larger retailers have been buying up smaller chains, and Sport Chek Canada has been converting Nevada Bob's outlets into sections within their larger stores.
Ted Stonehouse, Clovelly's head pro, said Golf Town's opening is less about meeting demand and more about demonstrating growth to shareholders, but added that it should do well in St. John's, even as the industry struggles to achieve consistent growth.
"It will do very well to start," he said. "It's just a very expensive business to be in when you have that much inventory."
Stonehouse said the golf industry in Canada has struggled since the recession.
"All the major corporations and so on pull back their expense dollars," he said, adding, though, that St. John's is not a bad place for Golf Town to try to make some market gains. As far as the competition they provide to local courses, both Golf Town and local clubs will have to play to their strengths, said Stonehouse. "The challenge with us, with them being so close to the golf course, is that they have a ton of inventory. Where we're able to be stronger than they are is in our knowledge of fitting and custom fitting, and we can still get the same product, same pricing, as what they offer."
A lot of Newfoundlanders like to purchase on impulse, though, said Stonehouse. "When they walk in and see a couple hundred sets of irons on the wall and a thousand drivers on the floor, they'll get pretty excited with the simulators and everything that's around."
Clovelly opened its own winter golf training facility, closed now that the outdoor season has arrived, and Stonehouse says it did well. "We put through over 3,000 people, who used the actual facility, so it was a great success. I think it did a lot of what we were hoping to do, which was keep our members and guests engaged in Clovelly."
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