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Big interview: American Golf head of marketing Daniel Gathercole

Germany's Martin Kaymer finished Thursday's US Open first round at Pinehurst, North Carolina on top of the leaderboard, but it won't just be the European Ryder Cup star who went to sleep in confident mood last night.

The major championships are lucrative times for golf equipment retailers worldwide, and there are a number of tactics they are using to capitalise on the increased sporting focus at this time of year.

UK-based American Golf's head of marketing Daniel Gathercole told Essential Retail this week that each of the four major golf championships throughout the course of the year – Masters, US Open, Open Championship and USPGA – typically generate a significant uplift in sales in the weeks leading up to, during and after the tournaments.

For American Golf, which Gathercole says strives to be "an authority" on the sport as well as providing products and services around the game, the major championship season provides plenty of opportunity for content marketing and customer engagement – and recent investments at the company are set to make these processes even more targeted in the coming months.

"The majors are vital to us," explained the marketing boss.

"We have emails going out around what the players are wearing and what equipment they are using – and if a big name wins, we get campaigns out with news stories. Having that insider knowledge is important."

As with many retailers, a central part of American Golf's customer interaction is conducted around its loyalty scheme – and the business's AG Club scheme was relaunched on 1 May offering a number of benefits to its members, including a free lesson from a PGA professional and custom fittings.

With the retailer reporting that the vast majority of its business is being done in its 104 UK stores, but with online sales growing week-by-week, the loyalty scheme has been developed to run on a multichannel level. Once consumers have registered, they will be able to log-on to their online account and see all of their store and web transactions, and redeem their various special offers which typically drive them back to American Golf stores.

A recently formed partnership with online scheduling company BookingBug has been the backbone to the new system, according to Gathercole, and the implementation of the booking and appointment software will potentially be used in the future to automate customer messaging and maintain communication with consumers throughout the year.

"In terms of loyalty, the difficulty is that people in golf don't shop very often," he explained.

"Our average customer shops 2.3 times a year – it's not like other retailers where people are shopping much more frequently. Loyalty is therefore pivotal – there is no reason why we can't contact people and remind them they haven't had their custom fit for 12 months, for example."

Having started off primarily operating in the small business space, helping personal trainers and holiday cottage letting companies, BookingBug has begun to make significant strides in the retail and enterprise space over the last 12 months.

It is currently working with Pets at Home in terms of booking nutritional consultations, as well as with Waitrose for its cookery schools. Additional clients include Jessops and Mothercare.

Other vendors working with American Golf include Reevoo and Tradedoubler, which provide online customer review and affiliate marketing services, respectively, while iPads have now been placed in every store giving customers access to the business's full range of products.

A key focus for the sporting equipment retailer, which is due to open its fifth store of 2014 and 105th in total near Monument in London later this summer, is personalising its customer messaging.

"We need to get much more automated and get much more targeted," Gathercole commented.

"The likes of Amazon do personalisation really well, and we are a long way from getting to that level. Before we look at integrating apps and getting a mobile-optimised site, we need to get the automated triggers set up, using the data we have available."

It's a challenge many retailers find themselves facing, but there are evidently a variety of tools now available in the retail technology space to help them meet their goals.

And whoever wins this year's US Open, whether it is Kaymer, Northern Ireland's Graeme McDowell or any of the other leading contenders as the event approaches its halfway stage, the major golf championship season will continue to be a prime time to attract customers into equipment retailers' stores.

Click below for more information:

BookingBug

Reevoo

Tradedoubler

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