Getting into the swing of a growing golfing operation
Londonderry retailer Total Golf provides an object lesson in how to develop and grow at a fast rate, even in a recession.
Exports and online retailing offer enormous opportunities.
Dermot Hegarty opened a shop in Derry's Springtown estate in 2006 with two staff: he now has 13 employees and expects that to go up to 18 or 19 next year.
As well as his retail unit in Springtown, he has a nearby unit where he warehouses stock for his online operation and, over the border, runs the golf shop at Buncrana's North West Golf Course.
A new three thousand square feet shop is opening soon at Derry's Foyle Golf Course. And there are plans for yet another new shop, details of which are not being released as yet.
Dermot started out working in a golf shop in Derry. "I used to work there as shop manager," he says.
"That shop closed down. There was too much going on [in terms of product range] and I knew there was a market for the golf."
It is the online operation - www.golfstoreeurope.com - that has delivered the majority of sales and a high rate of growth.
"Online has been a problem for [golf] shops," says Dermot. "But I put my resources online and took on a lot of staff. Online is the future."
However, the returns from the online business are not merely being invested into the web-based operation, but also into bricks and mortar retailing.
"So we are using the online [business] to extend our shop presence and make it an Irish company," explains Dermot - giving a hint as to where the next new store outlet might be based.
The business has been growing at an annual 100% rate, which, Dermot concedes, is not sustainable.
He wants the rate of growth to slow down now.
"When something grows that fast, it's unmanageable," he says frankly. "We had to move warehouse and didn't have the premises or staff."
Now the priority is to ensure that growth is well managed and supported by high quality customer services.
Part of the engine of growth for the online operation was a close working partnership with Belfast's Export Technologies, which has provided the online trading platform. Export Technologies also runs the online marketing campaign for Dermot.
The website is highly sophisticated, recognising the country in which a customer is accessing the site from and converting prices into local currency automatically.
At times of currency volatility, that can produce situations where GolfstoreEurope is offering goods at prices below those offered by other online retailers. This, admits Dermot, can irritate the manufacturers, but presents good sales opportunities for his business.
"We have had a lot of problems recently with manufacturers," he says.
"A lot of our sales go direct to Europe. We are selling stuff into Europe and a lot of our stuff is being sold at prices lower than our competitors can buy it."
Total Golf has become one of the largest retailers of golf products in the whole of Ireland, to a large extent because of the volume of exports.
Dermot admits that can be a challenge.
"There's a lot of customs [documentation] you have to go through," he says. "It's something you don't get trained for."
There is a particular difficulty with the paperwork for electronic golf trolleys, because of the regulations related to the exporting of products that contain batteries. "There's lots of forms," he sighs.
Exports are harder work, clearly, but Dermot emphasises, "It's a big part of our business."