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Corporation
RETAIL (NON-INTERNET/MOBILE) | Sporting Goods
golftown.com

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Founded Year

1999

Stage

Merger | Merged

About Golf Town

Golf Town is a golf apparel and equipment chain store in Canada.

Golf Town Headquarter Location

02-610 Applewood Crescent

Concord, Ontario, L4K 0E3,

Canada

844-360-9969

Latest Golf Town News

Tee time? Sporting Life Group president drives plan to broaden appeal of golf beyond established player base

Jul 10, 2021

SF Sat., July 10, 2021timer5 min. read Frederick Lecoq says he got a lot of ribbing when he left a sports retail giant for a relative minnow — one that was not only suffering hard times, but was seen to be selling a dying experience for the pale and stale: golf. “We heard stuff (like), ‘You guys are crazy. It’s golf, it’s boomer (as in the aging baby boomers), it’s bankrupt,’” he says, laughing. And he can laugh, now: Research from National Golf Course Owners Association Canada shows total rounds played in 2020 rose by nearly 19 per cent over 2019, despite lockdowns that temporarily shut courses in parts of the country. “We’ve actually been flourishing since the pandemic hit,” says Chad McKinnon, president of Sporting Life Group, which owns Golf Town, Canada’s largest golf retail chain with 47 stores across the country. As COVID-19 shuttered businesses, cancelled entertainment and halted social gatherings, many Canadians escaped to the greener pastures of their local golf courses. “One of the bright spots has been the sport of golf, in the fact that it’s socially distanced by nature,” notes McKinnon. The boom in tee times provided a boost for the entire golfing industry and Golf Town in particular. The chain’s investment in e-commerce over the past few years paid off handsomely. It saw a massive jump in online purchases — five times what projections predicted for the year. McKinnon hopes to parlay that boost into sustained growth and a more inclusive future for the game at large. Golf Town’s outlook wasn’t always so bright. Formerly owned by U.S. parent company Golfsmith International in 2016, the company was bankrupt, closing stores and on poor terms with its vendors and the golf community. That was when its current owners, Fairfax Financial, bought it and approached McKinnon about taking over as CEO. In 2018, Fairfax also acquired Sporting Life and merged it with Golf Town, creating SLG. (Paul Rivett, chairman and co-proprietor of Torstar Corp., which owns the Star, is a former president of Fairfax; Golf Town and Torstar Corp. have since partnered to acquire SCOREGolf magazine, the largest circulated golf publication in Canada.) Despite the warnings from his peers, Lecoq, now Sporting Life Group’s chief marketing officer, followed McKinnon in leaving Sport Chek, a $2-billion sports retail giant, to the $200-million Golf Town. There was a refreshing challenge to be had in rebuilding the bankrupt brand. However, the most important reason for the move, Lecoq says, was personal: “I wanted to keep working with Chad. I had fun working for him.” McKinnon’s leadership style is about collaboration, empowerment and accountability, says Lecoq. “He’s a bridge builder. He’ll always find a way to get people to work together. He’s about enabling rather than owning, but, at the same time, he will hold you accountable.” For his part, McKinnon says, “I see myself more as a captain than a coach. “I love golf, but I’m not a great golfer. I grew up playing team sports,” he says. “I always built my schedule around my hockey. I was 28 when we won the (Senior A) Alberta championships, but it was time to get a career going.” Leaving the rink to get into business, it’s not surprising his leadership qualities were honed from what he learned from coaches and teammates on the ice. They got a little refinement from (now Empire CEO) Michael Medline, who was McKinnon’s mentor at Sport Chek and Canadian Tire. “I thrive on autonomy. He provided that to me,” McKinnon says. It is not lost that his description of Medline echoes Lecoq’s description of McKinnon’s own leadership. “If you do a good job, you get lots of rope. But you’re held accountable to get results and he measures those regularly,” says McKinnon. “(McKinnon) was such a great operator. But what he became was one of the most innovative retailers in the country,” says Medline, listing off the changes McKinnon brought to Sport Chek: splitting the store into sections by brand, each with its own unique feel; interactive displays that let customers try out sporting equipment; using screens to incorporate digital marketing and ambience in store. Medline sees the same approach when he visits Golf Town stores. But there’s more. Loading... “A lot of serving customers isn’t flashy. You can market all you want, but if the customer can’t get the product they need, it’s a big issue. You need those relationships with your vendors. There can be friction in those relationships,” he says. “But his understanding of supply chain, stores, relationships with the big brands, that ensured the infrastructure was in great shape.” Jeff Calderwood, CEO of National Golf Course Owners Association Canada, agrees that this knack for relationships is earning Golf Town a better reputation in the industry, too. “We have seen a shift in Golf Town’s behaviour from a pure competitor in the retail market to a more collaborative approach,” Calderwood said in an email. Currently, that means sharing ideas and data on how stores and courses can work together to broaden the appeal of golf. “We shifted our focus to trying to grow the game. Stopped fighting over the scraps, recognizing if the game grew, that was good for everybody,” says McKinnon. McKinnon’s goal is to expand beyond its established player base, which is mostly male, mostly white, and skews toward higher incomes. In that vein, he signed two women — repeated Canadian long-drive champion Lisa Vlooswyk and 10-time Ladies Professional Golf Association Tour winner Brooke Henderson — as the company’s first two athlete ambassadors. He added lower price-point options for beginner gear and, most recently, became an official sponsor of Women’s Golf Day , a worldwide, four-hour golfing event to introduce women to the sport. This year it took place June 1. “It’s not enough yet,” says McKinnon, “but we’re working on it.” Next, McKinnon wants to broaden this outreach to include both people of colour and those who find the sport financially out of reach, in part through a new charity initiative still in the planning stages. McKinnon was on the board of Jumpstart, Canadian Tire’s charity, which provides funding to help kids get started in sports. He says the one regret he had when he changed career paths was leaving Jumpstart behind. “I missed it. But I think we can build that at Golf Town. We’ve done a lot of fundraising already.” From 2017 to 2019, Golf Town raised $225,000 in donations from customers and employees, which it distributed to several organizations that offer young Canadians the chance to get started in golf. The company paused its fundraising when lockdowns began, but with the end of the pandemic in sight, McKinnon is seeking a partner organization to launch a charity of Golf Town’s own in 2022. McKinnon’s commitment to giving back is one secret to the success of his collaborative leadership style, says Medline. “The guy’s values are just so top-notch. I’ve never met anyone more respected. People would run through a wall for him.” Read more about:

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