Now 66 years old, Dick Sullivan has been CEO and president of PGA Tour Superstore since early 2010. During that time, he has quintupled the number of outlets, to 54 stores in 21 states, while expanding online operations. Business has been steady and strong, even with all the disruptions from the COVID-19 pandemic. Sullivan says company sales have grown some 500 percent over the past 12 years – and are up 90 percent in the last 24 months alone.
The chairman of PGA Tour Superstore is Arthur M. Blank, the co-founder of The Home Depot and owner of the Atlanta Falcons, the MLS Atlanta United and Mercedes-Benz Stadium. He is also Sullivan’s longtime mentor. In 1992, Blank selected Sullivan to be senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Home Depot. Nine years later, Blank hired him to serve as executive vice president of the Falcons before asking Sullivan to run PGA Tour Superstore. The connection between the two men is strong. Blank gives Sullivan great credit for furthering the fortunes of the three enterprises, and Sullivan clearly appreciates all that Blank taught him.
Sullivan says he has unabashedly borrowed from the Home Depot model in his time at the massive golf retailer.
“I often go back to what made Home Depot successful,” Sullivan said. “And that had a lot to do with what we described as the three legs of the business: service, assortment and price. No one in golf has the assortment of product we do. Our pricing is very competitive, and our associates are very well versed in what we offer and very good at listening to what our customers need and want.
“As with Home Depot, we are very experiential,” he added. “We want people to spend time in our stores: to putt on our practice greens, which are some of the biggest anywhere; hit balls in our simulators; get fit in our hitting bays; take lessons from our professionals; and try on the latest in apparel. That keeps customers lingering and makes us in the process much more than a chain of sporting goods stores.”
Raised in Needham, Massachusetts, Sullivan brings more than retail expertise to his job at PGA Tour Superstore. He is also very passionate about the game of golf and tries to play at least once a week. Over the years, Sullivan has immersed himself in many different aspects of the sport, from the latest offerings in drivers and the newest advances in simulators to the most effective ways to fit irons and the latest trends in women’s apparel. Recently, the native Bay Stater (who relocated to Metropolitan Atlanta long ago) agreed to speak with GGP/Biz about his work, his golf, his time with Blank, the ways he managed his company during the pandemic and how much he wants to grow his in-store and online operations.
The following comments make up our latest installment of the 19th Hole:
I was 10 years old when I started caddying, and at first, I thought the game was played mostly in the woods, because that is where all the guys I carried for hit their shots. But as I became a better caddie, I started to get better players.
Of course, I started playing golf when I started caddying, on Mondays, and also learning about the game. I especially liked how you could meet so many people through golf. And later on, I learned about the many ways it helped to build relationships in business.
I have been down as low as a 6 handicap. But these days, I think I am more like an 8 or 9. I recently had one of my knees replaced. Actually, it was replaced twice in a two-week period of time, and it is taking a while to get back to where I was. But I am making progress.
I probably play once a week. That’s usually in a regular Saturday game I have in Metro Atlanta. Most times, there are 20 of us, and we come from all walks of life and hold different jobs. We each throw $20 in a pot and have at it. I really love those games and look forward to each one.
In terms of getting involved with golf as a business, that first happened to me in the mid- to late-’90s, when I was at Home Depot, and we became title sponsors for a spell of a Champions Tour event called the Home Depot Invitational. But it was not until I started running PGA Tour Superstore that I really became involved in the game as a job.
It’s strictly a licensing deal with the PGA Tour and a very good one for all involved. … Visitors to the PGA Tour’s official website can click on the shop link to get directed to our website. The arrangement really bolsters both brands.
This business came to be about 20 years ago. Arthur (Blank) acquired the company in 2010, and I came with him. There were 10 stores at the time, and now we have more than five times that many. It’s strictly a licensing deal with the PGA Tour and a very good one for all involved. We have more people coming to our stores across the country than they have going to all their tournaments. And visitors to the PGA Tour’s official website can click on the shop link to get directed to our website. The arrangement really bolsters both brands.
Our management structure at the PGA Tour Superstore is based on an inverted pyramid. Our 2,500 associates – the people on the floor of our stores – are on the top, and we make the vast majority of our business decisions based on what they tell us, on what we learn from them. They are the ones who every single day tell us what is up, and we have to respond to them. Do we have the right brands? The right products? Do we have enough?
In our business, we never want to be considered a chain. It’s about the relationships, not the transactions. We have individual stores, and what we carry in Minnesota, for example, is going to be different than what we have in Arizona. And our customers in those places will invariably have different needs.
I go into our stores unannounced sometimes and check out other sports retail stores, as well, to see how they do things. I once went into a REI to get a pair of hiking boots, and the guy there asked me all sorts of questions. Where was I hiking? What would the weather and conditions be? What was the terrain going to be like? Really detailed stuff. And we look for our sales associates to ask questions that are as relevant and probing when someone wants to buy, say, a wedge or a putter or a pair of shoes. That is how you build trust with your customers, and the more trust you build, the more you can continue to grow and prosper at a good clip.
Yes, the pandemic was tough, and for much of the spring of 2020, all of our PGA Tour Superstore locations were closed to in-store traffic. But we did not furlough one associate. We did not cut anyone’s pay. What we did instead, however, was have some 40,000 hours of online training for our associates, to enhance selling skills and also product knowledge, so we could be ready when things opened up again. In addition, we never delayed payments to any of our suppliers. We borrowed tens of millions of dollars to make sure they were all paid in full and on-time. We have always been about building relationships, with our customers and suppliers, and also building trust. And when things reopened, and golf really started to boom, we were stronger than ever and ready to respond.
Our online business did grow during COVID, and we did what we could to expand it. But relative to other retailers, it is still low, at less than 20 percent. And we remain very focused on the experiential component of our business model. That is largely because more than anything else, people want to come into our stores. They want to hit the new driver and touch the fabric of the shirts they are looking to buy. They want to talk to the club fitter or the person re-gripping their irons. And they want to come to the Kid Zone clinics we host each month as well as the viral nine-hole leagues we have on in-store simulators.
The game is in a good place. So is the industry. And we are there for the people who play it.
Photos courtesy PGA Superstore
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