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If you visited a Golf Town store just 12 months agoyou would have seen a very different company than the innovative brand which exists today. Becoming the Canadian owned and operated golf retailer was just the first step on its transformative journey to re-establish itself as Canada’s Home of Golf.

And this year has been one for the books. While many retailers are facing declining foot-traffic, decreasing sales and store closures, Golf Town marches forward. Between elevating their brand, to rebuilding their company culture (in partnership with their store associates, no less), to introducing experiential store concepts across the countryGolf Town is working hard to offer a differentiated experience for their customers. Their new foundation has been built on a forward-thinking strategy and encompasses the core values of the team, winning, adaptation and authenticity.

How does an organization, which is undergoing a brand transformation, move forward and thrive in the new retail landscape? We had the opportunity to speak with Susan Gilpin, Director of HR, and Madelaine Tricanico, Communications Manager at Golf Town, to discuss the organization’s remarkable transformation. As Gilpin put it, “to be a great retailer today, you have to be curious, you have to be bold, you have to be fast, and you have to shift. If we don’t do that, we’re not going to be here tomorrow.

To view the full interview, listen to the podcast or read on below!


Transforming their brand for the new realities of retail

In a recent blog post, we discussed how retail is, in fact, not dyingbut rather going through a massive transformation. Today’s shoppers place experience over everything, meaning retailers can no longer turn a blind eye to initiatives like customer experience, loyalty programs, and employee engagement. With the additional challenges of declining foot traffic and online retailers undercutting brick-and-mortar stores on price, progressive brands are realizing the importance of the in-store experience and are putting proactive plans in place.

As for Golf Town, they’re focusing on reinventing the employee and customer experience across their stores. “There’s never been such an emphasis on experiential as there is now. At Golf Town, we believe our differentiator to be that feeling when you walk into any one of our stores. You get to test out our clubs and engage with associates who are passionate and knowledgeable. They have the expertise and know-how to help customers play their game well. There’s a need to connect with our customers on our shared passion for golf and growing the game, and that’s a plus”, added Tricanico.

We’re seeing this transformation happen across retailstores are becoming more than a place to make purchases and evolving into experiential destinations. New store concepts allow customers to interact with products, learn from knowledgeable associates and connect with a brand. With examples like Apple’s Genius Bar and Top Shop’s experiential events (like a VR waterslide in London), retailers are finding innovative ways to attract customers and engage with them while in-store.


Culture is built (and brought to life) by your associates

Frontline teams play one of, if not the most important role, in delivering an exceptional in-store experience. The consistency of that experience is, in large part, influenced by a retailer’s culture. A focus for Golf Town has been to re-build their culture in partnership with their store associatesensuring they feel connected to Golf Town’s larger goals and core values of the team, winning, adaptation and authenticity. So far, co-creating values with their store employees have been a great success. As Gilpin put it, “I’m excited. This is the first time I’ve been involved in values where we’ve really taken it from an employee perspective up, as opposed to being pushed down”.

By involving their frontline teams in defining their culture, Golf Town can deliver a truly authentic brand experience. When all store associates have a common understanding of the Golf Town experience and values, they are able to connect to the brand in a much more meaningful way. “Our associates could name the four values today because we’ve worked with them, they have brainstormed, they have started to build what these values mean to them,” Gilpin explained, “to me that is super special, and something that I’ve never seen before”.

While involving associates to build a brand’s culture from the store up is very important, Giplin underscores that alignment at the leadership level is still a must. She notes, “I’ve talked about it going from the ground up, but you have to have the consensus with your leadership team. They need to believe in the importance of involvement at all levels and that it’s not just a corporate initiative that’s going to be pushed down. It has to come from the employees, they have to believe it and with that, they’ll start to live it within their environments”.


Driving a foundation for success

While embarking on this transformative journey, Golf Town has realized the importance of taking an employee-first approach to the in-store experience. Tricanico emphasized that they “want to make sure it’s not just a great place to shop, but also a great place to work”.

As part of that effort, Golf Town is empowering its employees to share stories about customer interactions and best practices. As Tricanico explained, “That is a strategic objective. How do we tell more stories? That way when a customer comes into our store, it isn’t just about… Hey, how are you? But it is more like – Hey, when was the last time you were out on the course? Or I’ve heard this putter can help your game with X.” By helping associates share their stories, Golf Town can rely on their frontline teams to authentically connect with their customers. Gilpin adds, “When we have those stories come in, the great thing is everyone can read it and they’re learning. We’ve seen stores modeling behaviors after the stories they’ve heard and start to implement some of these new ideas”.

To continue this momentum, Golf Town has placed a priority on leveraging technology to improve the in-store experience and the alignment between associates and customers. Tricanico added that they’re “leveraging tools like Nudge Rewards to provide associates with relevant knowledge and the opportunity to share their expertise. In turn, our customers will feel like the person they’re talking to is knowledgeable, and will be more inclined to visit the store again”. She went on to describe how customers are using their phones more than ever before and, by aligning their associates’ behaviors with their customer behaviors, it demonstrates Golf Town’s ability to innovate.

When thinking about the future, Golf Town plans to continue their focus on engaging frontline teams to drive exceptional customer experience. Gilpin describes their connection with customers as relational and says, “we want to learn their story, we want them to learn ours, and with that, we really believe that’s going to then drive the business and our success.” Going forward, Gilpin hopes this will start to shape the kind of employee they hire and adds, “if we can get everyone working towards our new values in everything they do we’re going to be successful.”

As we all know—brand and culture are not built overnight. Gilpin stresses that “it’s not a quick fix, it’s not fast from start to end. This kind of initiative is something we’re really trying to build with our associates, and from there, there will be some changes and some adaptations to it over time”. But for now, Tricanico says, Golf Town is thriving, we’re doing a lot of neat things and we have many talented people working for our company to help us get there.”