By Steve Eubanks:
It’s a mixed bag, pun intended. When you look at hardgoods sales, it’s easy to jump to the conclusion that inflationary pressures, supply-chain issues and gas prices have had a deleterious effect on retail operations. But things are never that simple. Sure, a golf pro at one club might have told the local high school coach not to bother ordering logoed team bags in February because there was no chance of them arriving before the end of the season, but for every one of those stories, there is a shop full of the latest and greatest 2022 products.
The experts at Golf Datatech have done yeoman’s work disseminating the numbers and coming up with what appears to be a logical explanation for the variances in hardgoods sales, which were down 1.7% in the first quarter of 2022 compared to last year.
“In general, sales are down from where they were (in 2021), but where they were was so high that we’re not likely to go back there without some other kind of anomaly happening in the world,” said Tom Stine, one of the founders and principals of Golf Datatech. “But (sales) are still ahead of where they were (pre-pandemic).”
In fact, in March of 2022, hardgoods sales were down 8.4% from 2021, but March of 2021 sales exceeded the largest previous March on record by more than 40%. It is easy to throw 2020 and 2021 into the outlier bucket. When you do that, you see that spring 2022 sales nominally exceeded spring of 2019, the last “normal” year.
“Hardgood sales are up from 2019 but not at the pace that they were,” Stine said. “Is some of that due to supply-chain issues? Perhaps. But some of it is also just natural to the market. If you bought a new driver last year, you’re probably not going to buy another one this year. But if you buy golf balls, you’re still going to buy golf balls because you lose them. And we’re seeing that reflected in the numbers. Golf ball sales are up and will likely continue to stay up.”
The same trends can be seen in softgoods. Apparel sales are up in 2022, even over the outlier year of 2021. “You buy shirts year-round,” Stine said. “But you’re not going to buy a new putter every year. That’s what we’re seeing in the numbers.”
Unlike big-ticket maintenance items like sand and gravel, shop operators haven’t seen delivery surcharges to offset rising gas prices, which makes sense. A box of golf clubs on a UPS truck is not the same as a dump truck full of crushed limestone.
“Prices are up,” Stine said. “But that’s across the board with everything. How much of that increase is the price of gas, or inflation, or Russia (and the invasion of Ukraine)? That’s anybody’s guess. But people are buying. More people playing golf means more demand…for the moment.”