2005: Site plan: demo first, then buy

By Mike Mazur

Two online retailers have partnered on a program they say will offer golfers a better way to “demo” and buy new equipment.

GolfClubExchange.com and Dallas Golf this week were set to unveil GolfClubDemo.com, a Web site that offers consumers the ability to field-test equipment from top brands for five-day blocks.

The price? $25 per demo, which includes delivery and pick-up charges.

The benefit? Golfers can experiment with equipment on their terms.

“It’s kind of nerve-racking for the average guy standing there (at a demo day) with a Callaway rep looking over his shoulder,” says Kurt Ratliff, vice president of Dallas Golf. “With this system, they can play a round or two at their own course on their own time.”

The program, which officials say is the first of its kind, allows consumers either to apply the $25 fee toward the purchase of new equipment or forward the demo set to the next customer with no strings attached.

While on-site demo days have become more widespread and accessible, GolfClubDemo.com lets consumers “take ownership” of the experience, says Andy Schechter, director of sales and marketing at GolfClubExchange.com, which is providing the program’s accounting software, including systems integration with its delivery vendor, FedEx. Dallas Golf, meanwhile, will handle logistical operations, such as inventory cataloging, order processing and fulfillment.

Customers can log on to the site, select the equipment they wish to test, and schedule a demo through an online calendar that displays the product’s availability.

When the trial period is complete, an e-mail will be sent to the customer with a FedEx label containing a forwarding address of the next scheduled customer.

Ratliff says the program initially will involve some of the game’s top brands, including Nike, TaylorMade, Wilson, Mizuno and Adams.

“If a golfer wants something that’s not available for demo at their pro shop, it’s probably going to be available here,” says Reid Gorman, senior director of sales at Top-Flite, which is offering Ben Hogan equipment through the program.

Most participating manufacturers initially are providing four to six metalwoods in each of the various shaft flexes and lofts. Demo iron sets include four clubs – for example, wedge, 8-, 6- and 4-iron.

Ratliff expects the product lines – and number of participating manufacturers – will expand as the program gains traction. He hopes to develop “private-label” sites that link to the demo-day sections on manufacturers’ Web sites, so that a consumer who, for example, wants to test Mizuno clubs, would have the option of ordering a demo set.

“How much deeper we go in the future will depend on how much penetration they get in the marketplace,” Gorman says.

That penetration initially will center around the combined databases of Dallas Golf and GolfClubExchange.com, which Schechter estimates at 500,000 consumers. Television advertising and other marketing initiatives are scheduled to launch in mid-July.

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