The changing face of golf retail has forced Aussie chain The House of Golf to think big, really big

 [Photos by Henry Peters]

Stepping into The House of Golf’s brand new multi-storey 1,300-square foot store in Melbourne’s Hawthorn East, everything feels bigger.

“This size store, I don’t believe has ever existed in Australia,” says The House of Golf’s owner Michael Button. 

“I think it’s groundbreaking for us, certainly as a brand. Hopefully it’s groundbreaking to the consumer, which matters the most to us.”

Located at 403 Tooronga Rd, the Hawthorn East store gives big equipment brands their own dedicated bays, while the rear of the store is exclusively for apparel – except for a genius children’s section – and it all frames a putting green in the middle of the floor. Upstairs is reserved for private club fittings.

Hawthorn East is what the The House of Golf calls a ‘destination store’ or ‘big box’ golf retail. It’s bigger than what consumers are used to and will draw golfers from further afield. 

Seeking to re-establish itself as the key player in golf retail, The House of Golf says it can get there by creating bespoke destination stores in selective areas rather than opening as many golf shops as possible.

Hawthorn East is The House of Golf’s sixth store in Australia and its fourth in Melbourne, adding to its Ringwood and CBD locations and original destination store in Mentone.

While online sales are critical to the company’s success, the more personal in-store experience is its No.1 priority.

“Anytime we look at opening stores moving forward, they’ll be of the quality and size of a Mentone or a Hawthorn East store,” Button says.

The House of Golf brand has undergone immense change in recent years, moving away from its investment in driving-range locations and on-course golf stores, which tended to vary greatly in floor size.

“The variance and size of store that we had in the past and driving ranges versus off-course stores, you’re not always looking for the same result every day,” Button says. 

“You’re also not really trying to sell the same things or even tell the same marketing message, so we really needed to redefine what we wanted to be as a brand.

“We’ve had to take a few steps backwards so that we could move forward with what our model really is, which is an extension of our Mentone store that we opened five or so years ago. Hawthorn East just continues to show that we’re committed to big box, off-course retail.”

The expression ‘putting the customer first’ might be corporate speak, but it’s also true in the case of The House of Golf, which has taken what it’s learned from Mentone and incorporated it into Hawthorn East.

“We think the consumer wants to see a store where they can just shop everything in one location, whereas even our own stores in the past tended to pick and choose 40 to 60 percent of the industry,” says Button, who has been with the company for 29 years.

“We’ve tried to change the layout a little bit here to continually put the customer first and see what experience they’re having at our other stores and how we can just do every category in every part of our business that little bit better, so the shopping experience is more seamless.”

As you enter Hawthorn East, golf balls are on the right while gloves, buggies and GPS products are on the left. Flanking the central putting green are a series of equipment bays, each dedicated to a single club manufacturer.

“Most golf shops, even ours, over a long period of that time have been category-based,” Button says. “So, you’ve gone to the drivers or the [fairway woods] or different parts of the store like that. Whereas now, we’re shifting towards a consumer being presented with Titleist or TaylorMade or Ping or Callaway. And so, if they are brand-specific, they can come in and just get lost in that one little world. And we’re finding consumers are loving that layout.”

If you’re looking for a golf shirt, dress, hat, a pair of pants or shoes, you don’t need to stray from the apparel area, which even has its own service counter to complement the main counter at the store’s entrance.

“The major change that the new Hawthorn East store [has] to Mentone is when you go to the Titleist bay, you’re not presented with the FootJoy apparel, which comes from the same company,” Button says. 

“When you have apparel in eight different booths, it creates quite a disconnect between the apparel brands and quite a lot of travelling for the consumer internally to compare brands.

“We’ve taken apparel completely out of the brand bays and created essentially an apparel store at the back of the shop, which allows people to compare apparel brands far easier and next to one another.”

Aside from retail, two key pillars of The House of Golf’s revamped brand are clubfitting and entertainment. Hawthorn East has multiple clubfitting bays upstairs, which not only offer a personalised experience but a very private one.

“Rather than having the net in the corner of the shop where everyone can watch you, we’re trying to privatise that a little bit and personalise that a little bit more,” says Button [pictured below].

The House of Golf has partnered with X-Golf, paving the way for a brand-new golf entertainment space scheduled to open in February right next door to the Hawthorn East store.

“You can go to our golf shops and become a part of the place, have a beer, have a game of golf while you’re shopping or have a fitting,” Button says.

“We think there’s a huge pathway through simulated golf to get kids to play golf, which then for us in the long-term means more golfers buying more golf equipment.”

Kids are key on the store’s floor too with The House of Golf creating its first ‘Kids Zone’ where parents can bring their young children who are getting into
the game.

“Whether it’s buying a single club, a set, a glove, some apparel, [a] hat, rubber balls, a putting mat, a mat for the backyard for hitting balls, we just present everything that a youngster might want all in one little area,” Button says. 

“The kids are flocking to it.”