Andy Martin has been working in the golf industry for over 30 years, starting out his career as a graduate trainee with Whitbread in 1991, becoming Marriott International’s youngest ever golf manager when he worked at Hanbury Manor from 1994-98. He left to join Foremost Golf, the UK’s largest golf retail and marketing services group, as its first Business Development Manager, overseeing the inception and growth of the Alliance Golf Group in 2002, which took group membership from 220 to nearly 1,000 member professionals. In 2004 he was promoted to managing Foremost’s group supplier relationships, before becoming a company director in 2008 and managing director in 2016. In a wide-ranging interview with GBN, Andy talks about the changes that he has seen and overseen at Foremost over the last 25 years, and about the challenges facing golf retailers and the wider golf industry as we move further into the digital age. You’ve been at Foremost for almost 25 years now. What is it about the company that generates so much loyalty? Firstly, a great and dynamic team of colleagues who throughout this time have moved the company forward. The company never stays still in looking for new and innovative ways to support and help our members drive their businesses forward. Secondly, I love the game of golf. In fact, anyone that knows me would say I’m a sports nut. Like so many in the golf industry I recognise how lucky I am to have spent my entire working life in the game. What have been the most significant changes you have seen within the company during that time? There have been so many changes, but the most meaningful one has to be our move from what old school would refer to as a ‘Buying Group’. This was instigated by our development of the first phases of our Elite Marketing Programme (EMP) back in 2006 – although it feels like it was yesterday. The movement started at that point and has continued to develop to genuinely becoming a fully ‘Integrated Retail Marketing Group’ helping our member professionals and golf clubs to drive consumer demand and ‘sell-through’. Our integrated retail programme increasingly delivers just that and is universally recognised by many as industry leading. We now support our member retailers throughout the customer retail journey from the virtual digital world right through into support that we now provide in-store. This starts with the first digital touchpoint in e-newsletters, to personal member websites, club websites and social media support, through to co-ordinated in-store marketing with comprehensive signage support, personalised in-store video monitors and targeted retail solutions to help drive sales. How many staff currently work at Foremost HQ and were you able to retain the headcount during the pandemic? We have a staff team of 50-plus that work at head office and at our warehouse, but also out on the road visiting our members with business and retail advice. We’re proud to say our staff supported our members throughout the pandemic, especially in those early lockdowns when there was so much fear and uncertainty as to what was coming next. From PPE, counter screens, sanitising solutions to digital communication in newsletters, personal websites and social media, I hope we helped our members and clubs stay in close contact with their customers, which was crucial at that time. All facets of the golf industry have been impacted by Covid, but what specific challenges has Foremost been faced with and how successfully do you feel the company has been able to deal with them? The main early challenges, especially in spring 2020, revolved around payment of goods. The timing, you’ll recall, wasn’t favourable, with stock arriving at shops across the country just as we entered the first lockdown in March. The group’s unique ‘Central Payment & Invoicing System’ for our Central Payment Members – which represents 50% of our membership – meant that with the support of our partner suppliers, we were able to delay payment terms until as we know the industry bounced back so well in the latter part of the year. Then came the other side of the pandemic challenges – stock shortages. Early in 2021 we were once again able to put in place a solution for our members that gave them the financial confidence to take in stock. We knew from supplier feedback of what was to come and, married with increasing demand, it allowed our members to be really well positioned with good stock levels for the first part of the season. For how much longer do you envisage stock shortages and supply chain issues being a factor within golf retail? This greatly depends on the stock category, but as we stand today it would appear that there will be impact well into Q3 (autumn ’22). Shafts, grips and balls appear to be particularly impacted categories. What new brands have joined Foremost in recent years? The Foremost group has partnerships with all major suppliers. We only consider bringing in new supplier partners if we believe they will benefit our members businesses. Abacus, a premium Swedish apparel brand, has recently joined the group which reflects our ability through our marketing models to communicate directly with 20,000 ‘profiled’ lady golfers on behalf of our members digital communications. Italian brand Duca Del Cosma is an exciting new arrival in the shoe category. What things, if any, have changed within Foremost’s operations that won’t return to the way things were done pre-pandemic? Like many businesses, we use online meetings now as a way of life and this has certainly improved efficiencies. Face-to-face meetings and relationships are very important to us, and we look forward to entertaining and getting back out to see partner suppliers again – our team Business Development Consultant Team have been back on the road for a while now – but arranging a quick online meeting helps fast-track ideas and initiatives for everyone and has been one of the silver linings of the pandemic. What professional achievements at Foremost are you most proud of? This has to – once again – come back to the great team that we have at Foremost. From those that have been with us for decades that offer consistency, to the dynamic new staff that bring fresh ideas with them. It’s too easily said, but the greatest asset of a company is its people and we have some truly great people. Age also isn’t a barrier at Foremost, both those that are young and older in years. Why should a golf equipment retailer join Foremost? It’s all about ‘expertise’ and throughout all the digital marketing that we produce to support the Foremost Professional in helping them to drive their USP. The USP is clear and centred on helping the golfer/customer ‘Enjoy Better Golf’ and that means having more fun. This comes back to the core values of the PGA Professional in helping customers identify the right product for their game and ensuring they are also able to maximise the benefits of the latest exciting and innovative supplier technology. Through our EMP digital marketing we have solutions to maximise and fill supplier ‘Fitting Days’. It’s all about ‘occupancy’ and we have solutions to communicate occupancy of events to our members but also automated reminder communications that are sent to databases to fill events. We produce bespoke content for our EMP member professionals, explaining the respective brand fitting solutions to the consumer. This helps golfers understand the benefits the various fitting brands bring with their fitting technology, extolling the virtues of the combined fitting solution and ultimately sales to the golf shop. We also produce video reviews on behalf of our member professionals that we host on their personal websites so that customers can click through and watch a review, but crucially also contact their local Foremost professional, either digitally through our comm systems, or they may just drop into a store for more information before booking an appointment of fitting. We also help and support our member professionals market themselves across all their services, not just equipment. The price of golf equipment seems to be on another upward curve. Do you think this will prove a barrier to entry for those thinking about taking up the game? No, I don’t think it will. We have some fantastic leading brands in the industry, and they command the upper price points, but we also have some fantastic entry-level equipment ensuring price shouldn’t be a barrier to the game. I would simply refer readers to a similar sporting demographic of cycling and the prices that this industry commands. Sure, they don’t have annual memberships, however the cost of new frames and wheels quickly mount up. Other factors including energy prices, national insurance, and the rise in the general cost of living, however, are more likely to have a greater impact as we move into the winter of 2022/23. How can the golf industry best capitalise on the surge in rounds played and golf club membership numbers that we’ve seen over the last two years? We have conducted an audit of our member golf club membership levels pre- and post-pandemic and the good news is that they are 12.5% up, and this includes those golf clubs that were already full pre-pandemic. Our collective responsibility as an industry is to now help wherever we can to retain these golfers in the game. It’s all down to us and other stakeholders in the industry. From a Foremost perspective, we will endeavour to keep finding ways to support our member golf professionals and find ways of engaging with golfers and help to build those all-important communities at golf clubs. This includes helping with solutions to help engage with new customers that have come into or started out with the sport at a golf club, and finding ways to help them become part of the golfing community and not isolated or disillusioned, which leads to them leaving the club and often the game itself. Where do you see the future of golf retail over the next 5-10 years? The future for golf retail and the golf professional is exceptionally strong. We haven’t been in a position like this since back in the 1980s when golf jumped onto all our TV screens and brought a wave of new golfers into the game. There will be continual evolutions, brands will look to go direct and this will impact and change the online channel, but golf is played at golf courses and the equipment that we use is highly technical and requires experts to provide advice for maximum enjoyment. Foremost will continue to provide technical solutions to both communicate with the end consumer and market the virtues of expert retail, but also provide business solutions and efficiencies to help our members and ensure that they can concentrate on spending as much time as possible in the front line of their businesses.