2002: Business - Retailers: Orlando remains important

By SCOTT GODLEY

The exit of key anchor tenants from next year’s PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., is disappointing news to many retailers. But they say the absence of these – and possibly other – big exhibitors will not hinder their desire to attend the January exhibition.

The more piercing concern for retailers, especially small on- and off-course operators, revolves around their ability to get an eclectic and diverse offering of goods if the show downsizes greatly or disappears altogether. Their sole opportunity to meet with second-tier and “mom and pop” vendors typically comes at the PGA Show.

Without it, retailers’ inventories likely will become homogenous, stocked mostly with offerings from big manufacturers with the resources to dispatch sales representatives all over the country.

“All of a sudden you’re taking away the ability for small companies to (showcase) themselves. As you get consolidation, things start to look the same. You don’t have any variety,” said Robert Whetsell, a teaching professional at Salem Golf Club in North Salem, N.Y. He has attended the show since 1991, and typically spends between $20,000 and $50,000 on softgoods.

Finding a “hidden gem” within the 700,000 square feet of exhibition space is a primary reason Steve Friedlander attends the annual trade event. “I would probably go to the show even if all the majors – the Callaways, the Spaldings, the Titleists – all dropped out,” said Friedlan-der, general manager and director of golf for Kohler Co., which owns and operates Blackwolf Run and Whistling Straits in Wis-consin. “They call on us so regularly that when I’m at the show, I rarely walk into their booths.

“I go to the show to see the apparel companies and the specialty gifts. . . . We’re always looking for something unique, that special piece of jewelry or a painting,” added Friedlander, whose shop spends at least $1 million annually at the event.

Without a forum to see such vendors, Friedlander said “the strong would get stronger” and lamented that the industry would lose an invaluable incubator for promising golf enterprises. “The first time I saw Tommy Bahama apparel was at the show,” he said. “They were in a little booth, but look at them now. If the show didn’t exist, and they had just called on me out of the blue, I probably would have ignored them.”

If the show changes drastically, retailers said the way they do business would change. Some suggested they would focus more on regional trade shows to do business with small companies. Others even envision shopping over the Internet to “fill in” their inventory gaps.

“In the long run, it might save everybody money,” said Jim White, head professional at Wilderness Ridge Golf Club in Lincoln, Neb. “In the short term, it’s going to be a really interesting couple of years.”

Many PGA-member retailers were reluctant to blame their organization for the show’s current woes. Instead, some said Reed Exhibition Cos., the show’s owner and operator, should find a way to keep the big companies at the event.

Others, however, said the large exhibitors are at fault, and added that they should be held responsible for developing a solution to keep the show intact.

“(The major exhibitors) did this to themselves,” said Jesse Weeks, PGA professional at Orgill Park Golf Course in Millington, Tenn. “They were just trying to top each other on how extravagant they can make their booths.

“Now, instead of trying to downgrade their booths, they end up having to pull out.”

– Gene Yasuda contributed

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