The Right Fit: Club Champion Is One Of The Fastest-Growing Companies In Golf

The below article was originally published on forbes.com on September 30, 2019Erik Matuszewski Contributor (Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.)

 

Club Champion is one of the fastest-growing businesses in the golf industry, with plans to have 80 stores by the end of the year.Club Champion is one of the fastest-growing businesses in the golf industry, with plans to have 80 stores by the end of the year.

 

As more retailers eschew brick and mortar stores to focus on e-commerce, Club Champion has flipped the script to become one of the fastest-growing companies in the the golf industry. The custom club-fitting business has opened more than 30 stores within the past year, expanding from just eight locations in 2014, and expects to have in the neighborhood of 80 locations by the end of the year.

Just over two years from now, Club Champion plans to have around 150 total locations.

So, what’s the secret to Club Champion’s success?

As a builder of clubs utilizing various components, Club Champion doesn’t carry a significant inventory and is able to limit overhead more than traditional retailers. Additionally, because their equipment is fitted to each consumer, they don’t compete with web-based retailers on price. Last year, the company’s overall revenue growth was up almost 60 percent, with each store conducting between 500 and 1,500 tour-quality fittings and converting 78 percent of those into club sales.

“What we do is help put people in the best equipment set-up to play better golf,” says Club Champion CEO Joe Lee. “If we spend all the time in the (fitting) bays, with the best equipment and widest variety of components on the planet, with top-notch technology, and an ability to custom assemble the clubs to the precise tolerances that were prescribed by our fitter, and we still can’t convince an avid golfer why it’s the right thing to do, we haven’t done our job very well.”

“The proof is in the data and most avid golfers get it,” Lee adds. “And if you’re an avid, you’ll invest to get better.”

Nick Sherburne, who co-founded Club Champion with Lee, estimates that about 1 percent of golfers realized the importance of fitting when he first got into the business in 1998. Even throughout much of the 2000’s, he estimates that percentage was still under 10 percent.

 

More than 75 percent of fittings result in an equipment purchase at Club Champion.More than 75 percent of fittings result in an equipment purchase at Club Champion.

 

“Now, it’s still only somewhere around 50 percent believe in custom fitting,” said Sherburne. “I see that growing as it becomes easier. It was always affordable — people just thought it wasn’t affordable. They didn’t understand all the options. I see it growing to one day where 80 percent of the population that plays golf has a custom-fitted golf club. The manufacturers are really pushing it that way.

“There are certain stigmas with club-fitting: I’m not good enough or it’s too expensive,” he adds. “Both of them are completely false.”

A full-bag fitting typically takes about 3 ½ hours and runs $350, but golfers can also get fittings for irons, the driver, wedges or the putter. A typical Club Champion studio is approximately 3,000 square feet, a minimum of two fitting bays equipped with Trackman launch monitors, a SAM PuttLab, a shop to build clubs and an extensive equipment wall. When it comes to the various club heads, shafts and grips, customers have over 35,000 combinations to trial.

Instead of a traditional transaction, Club Champion is seeking to provide an informative and experiential offering where golfers can truly see the benefit of their investment. The company is brand agnostic too, so it’s experienced club-fitters aren’t incentivized to push one brand over another. In other words, rather than just focusing on selling golf clubs, Club Champion is intent on selling improvement.

 

Going over club components at Club Champion's equipment wall.Going over club components at Club Champion's equipment wall.

 

“Club Champion is a fantastic consumer experience,” Callaway CEO Chip Brewer said. “One of the great, new age golf retailers who understand that fitting is the future.”

As Club Champion looks to future growth, co-founder Sherburne is ready for competition, knowing that others will try to emulate their success. A part of that is other golf retailers continuing to put forth more experiential opportunities. But the biggest change in the future could be what “custom fitting” means when it comes to golf clubs.

“It used to be I could say ‘custom fit’ and it was a differentiator,” said Sherburne. “Now it’s, ‘What kind? What diagnostic tools to you use? What demos do you have? Do you offer building in house?”

“There are going to be different layers, from what we call a tour-experience fitting to a general fitting,” he adds. “I don’t know if the world is ready to understand that. We’re preaching it, but most people haven’t figured out that fitting means different things. That’s where I believe the next growth is – differentiating between fittings.”

As the recent trajectory shows, golfers are certainly buying in to what Club Champion is selling.


 

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