Feeling a Little Disrupted?

  |   cl blog

Over the last year, I know I’ve taken a few shots at “traditional” media because, quite frankly, most print media forms are on their way to their final resting places (an “elephant’s graveyard” is a fine analogy!) and they just don’t know it yet. But, some newspapers and magazines have realized the game is up in terms of words & pictures on a printed page, and they’ve begun the arduous internal task of herding the team in a new direction: digital.
I was fortunate to have been a student of Clay Christensen in an executive education program a few years ago, and was enlightened beyond belief by his straight-forward thinking about disruptive change in industries like the publishing business. I had more than one “a-ha” moment in his classes. He’s absolutely correct to suggest that companies both big and small, whether in the US or Internationally-based, and regardless of the industry, just can’t seem to help themselves even when they know they are about to go over the cliff…or, off the rails. Sometimes it is momentum that carries them along like boulders in a monsoon-fed Arizona desert wash. At other times, it is the size of the business, the layers of bureaucracy, the lack of vision, the fear of change…all these things are endemic in business today and can lead to catastrophic velocity and vector shifts that may doom the business unless its leaders are embracing new ways of doing business.

Clay Christensen says that newspapers were almost incapable of taking the steps they needed to take — even long after the danger of not taking those steps had become abundantly obvious.

In a recent article in Harvard University’s Neiman Reports, Dr. Christensen goes into a lot more detail about his theory as it relates to Journalism and the newspaper business, and he does so in a very convincing way. His lesson is not just about massive disruptive changes that are impacting news-gathering and publishing, but really it is about any business that is confronting competitive disruptive changes.
Is the golf industry immune? It would be nice if it was able to avoid disruption. But, it can’t. Our critical industry issues are not just about the economics of running golf courses (direct and indirect costs such as water, chemicals, over-seeding, maintenance, taxes, staff salaries, employee turnover, marketing, etc.), but it is also about outside influences that impact almost all golfers:

  • TIME – in a fast-moving world, golf takes a LOT of time to play. Some are opting out of golf because of it.
  • IT’S HARD – for those with the time and patience to improve, golf can be a rewarding and extremely relaxing way to enjoy time with friends or family. But, if you don’t have the time, money or patience to work on the practice range or with an instructor, golf can soon lead to frustration and we lose our next-gen players.
  • IT’S EXPENSIVE – when a new set of clubs can hit $1,000, a new driver can cost $500 and a replacement golf ball you might lose on the next hole costs almost $4, we begin to see these economics suppressing the growth of our golfer universe.

Our industry’s challenge is not simply about filling tee sheets at the highest possible yield while keeping costs in line, or siphoning a couple of tee times a day from a competitor’s nearby golf course through “today’s tee time special.” It is also about making sure we are fixated on how to build a strong and growing universe of golfers (male, female and teens) for the future. Industry innovations such as “Play It Forward” and “First Tee” are extremely valuable in speeding up play (the TIME issue mentioned above) and introducing new golfers to the game.
Investing in food & beverage operations, enhancing the types of apparel carried in the pro shop, creating an Events & Catering operation, bringing in instructors to offer lessons to those who want to improve their games…I could go on. If a golfer shows up, plays 18 holes and leaves…he or she is taking away extra dollars…dollars you’d no doubt value…as they drive out of the parking lot. If that golfer brings the family back for Sunday brunch, or stops by for “live” music events on the back patio overlooking the 18th green (buying a few cocktails & snacks or dinner, too), well these facilities are creating incremental revenue opportunities while providing an enhanced user experience. It doesn’t have to be about a “golf club” experience; but, it does need to feel comfortable and little like home.
I’m really impressed with the investment dollars I’ve seen among some of the golf course facilities here in the Greater Phoenix area. New restaurant operations, new instruction facilities, frequent player cards, digital tee booking engines on mobile phones, and occasionally some dollars added to the marketing budgets for website enhancements and the addition of social media to their communication toolboxes.
Otherwise, as Dr. Christensen has said, some companies go along just fine, until they don’t. Once they hit the wall, all bets are off. Are you open-minded about change? Can your teams focus on customer service…not ordinary customer service, but EXTRAORDINARY customer service? Have you embraced digital technology to increase customer engagement while also helping reduce some operational costs? Is your measurement of success how many tee times booked today, or should it be how many hours did one of your customers spend on-site this week or this month?
The golf industry has some challenges, but it’s also as much fun as I’ve ever had in the world of business. We’ll continue to do our very best to help our clients with advice and counsel. Many of the golf facilities here in the Phoenix/Scottsdale area (not all of them are our clients!) are ready, willing and able to reap the rewards as our economy and golf travel begin to rebound.
Others? Not so much. Where do you stand?