By Steve Eubanks, Global Golf Post/Biz
If you’re a deep-dive fan of the LPGA Tour, you might have seen the logo and had no idea what it meant.
Marina Alex, who won for the second time in her career earlier this year at the new Palos Verdes Championship, wears it. There are a few others – players whose careers have yet to take off. The original cadre of tour players representing Golf4Her included Tiffany Joh, who is now the assistant women’s golf coach at the University of Southern California, and Jane Park, whose journey with her brain-damaged daughter, Grace Godfrey, remains a focus of the company and the LPGA.
But even with the exposure that comes from a tour win, a lot of people are still asking: What is Golf4Her?
The short answer is, Golf4Her is an interactive retail website like Amazon that specializes in women’s golf clothing and accessories. If that sounds like a niche business, it is. It was always meant to be. But for a dozen years, founder and CEO Christina Thompson has seen steady growth as she caters to a sliver of the golf market that is, in other places, an afterthought if not downright ignored.
A former software executive with United Healthcare, Thompson, an avid amateur player, saw the enormity of the women’s retail apparel market, but she realized that the golf-specific aspect of that market could be found only in the dark corners of golf shops or in the deep subcategories of sites such as eBay.
“I was in that first wave of people able to figure out how the internet works in terms of customized branding and interactive websites,” Thompson said. “That’s where my comfort level was. But even with that knowledge, Golf4Her was really about trial and error. After 12 years of doing this, I’ve made a lot of mistakes but learned from them.”
She also had a model to follow.
“I launched the business right after Amazon exploded and people got into the habit of shopping for all kinds of things online,” Thompson said. “The key to anything, obviously, is timing. If I had gotten into this business 20 years ago, I don’t think it would have been as successful as it is now, and if I had waited much longer, someone else would have jumped in and captured a good bit of the market.”
She also learned what she could not do. Amazon operates on a warehouse model. If you have driven by one, you know what that looks like: a million or more square feet of industrial space with loading bays, trucks, conveyor belts, robots, scanners and an army of employees processing orders and shipments by the millions every hour. Women’s golf apparel is a tiny sliver of a specialized retail market. Warehousing doesn’t work. So Thompson went another route.
“Ours is a drop-ship model,” she said. “We don’t keep a lot of inventory, but we partner with our suppliers to ship directly to customers. We were one of the first companies in the golf space to do that. It’s more commonplace now, but we were one of the first to put a twist on that Amazon model and apply it to women’s golf clothing and accessories.
“It worked out great, and we are continuing to grow. We continue to be able to use the new (software and tracking) tools that are coming out every day. And we have many areas within our website that we continue to improve and will continue to improve going forward to make it more engaging and user friendly.
“Again, it’s not about me having to develop these things on my own. So many companies have developed (retail software) tools that are easy for a layman such as me to integrate to create a seamless shopping environment. Fortunately, I’ve been doing this for so long that my relationships with the vendors allow me to stay in tune with what’s available and what’s not.”
Thompson’s business model and connections also gave Golf4Her the flexibility to survive the recent supply chain headaches that struck so many golf merchandisers.
“Look, I don’t have a billion square feet (of warehouse space),” Thompson said. “I have 1,600 square feet. But we have computers and the warehouses of our partners. That’s the beauty of what we do. If you shop at one manufacturer’s site or at one outlet, you are at the mercy of what that company has in inventory. But we work with 40 different brands. So if one (company’s) warehouse is a little strained this season because of manufacturing or supply chain issues, we have others, so you can get the types of goods you want.”
Thompson’s savvy is only bettered by her timing. As she put it, with a nod to her good fortune, “Pro shops in general have been buying less (women’s apparel), so there has been more inventory in company warehouses that they need to move out. That’s especially true last year when companies oversupplied, not knowing what was going to happen coming out of the pandemic. So, fortunately for us, we were able to move those items online. In 2022, customers continued to shop more online, so that was a big benefit for us.”
Just as the Amazon algorithms know what kind of coffee you drink, what books you read and what size shoes you wear – and make recommendations accordingly – Golf4Her refines the customer profile with each order. But Thompson’s business is much more personal. When Park and her husband, Pete Godfrey (a longtime LPGA Tour caddie), experienced the unspeakable tragedy of their daughter contracting a virus that led to seizures and permanent brain damage, Thompson and Alex went to work, pulling together fundraisers to keep the family’s story out front while providing much-needed financial help.
Golf4Her will never be the biggest online retailer in the golf space. It was never designed to be. But Thompson is thrilled by the high-touch interaction she is able to maintain with her customers and the steady growth her company continues to experience.
“Look at the big-box retailers in our space, places like a PGA Tour Superstore,” she said. “These are great companies. But as a female, you’re reminded every time you shop there that you are a very small part of the golf demographic. By contrast, when you come shop at Golf4Her, you are reminded that the attention is 100 percent on you. You are all of the demographic. You are all we do.”