If you’ve followed my blogs for a while, then you probably know that in my pre-custom install life, I was a golf professional. This meant that I worked at a golf course, managed the golf shop, ran tournaments, gave lessons, etc. This differs from being a professional golfer, which is the people you see playing on TV. (My game was good—my handicap got down to a 0.5—but those guys are spectacularly, unbelievably great and TV golf was never in the cards for me.)
I started my golf career at a course in the pinprick-on-the-map-small city of Rutherfordton, North Carolina. There would be many days when less than 10 people would play. (The course was built on an old plantation, and the golf shop was literally inside the old slave’s quarters.) From there I moved to a really busy public course in Berkeley, California where it wasn’t unusual to have over 300 rounds daily and the three phone lines would ring for two hours straight on Saturday mornings. From there I finished at a very private club in Orinda, California where the initiation fee was over six figures and had a 10-year waiting list and the number of rounds played was irrelevant compared to providing each member with the best experience.
Throughout my eight years in the golf business, I learned a few things that have helped me to be successful as a custom installer. Here’s 10 of them!1: The details matter
Whether it is putting pencils on the carts, the way the balls were stacked on the range, all the shirts being folded properly in the shop or hand cleaning member’s and guest’s clubs and putting them away, every little detail added up to the overall experience. Before big events, I would use my best calligraphy stroke to hand write player names on signs for each cart, or draw maps leading to starting holes. People would grab handfuls of our club’s heavily varnished, logo’d tees because they were known to be almost impossible to break. Details absolutely matter in our industry as well. Things like properly finished wall plates, dressed and labeled wiring, thoroughly tested programming… It’s often attention to these small details that makes the best firms stand out in the long run. 2: Everyone is your boss
At the private club, every member was technically my boss. While they couldn’t specifically fire me, they could certainly have me fired. They could also ask me to do something and in most cases I would be expected to do it. As such, everyone needed to be given the same top-level service. Sometimes it can be easy to focus on the big jobs and the clients that are spending the most, and while they certainly deserve extra-special attention, if you think about each and every client as your boss, your level of customer service will likely step up a notch. And in our business, these bosses can literally “fire” us in their ability to never do business with us again and to tell others to stay away as well.3: Persevere until you finish
Part of becoming a golf professional is passing a playing ability test (PAT) to prove that you have the golfing skills needed to be a pro. The PAT involves playing 36-holes in a day and shooting a target score, usually around 150-155 depending on the course’s rating. The PAT was an equal opportunity challenge; everyone could pass and everyone could fail. All that mattered was each person’s individual score at the end of the 36-holes. I was not a naturally great player and the PAT was tough for me. I missed it by one stroke twice, including a 4-foot putt on the 36th hole that burned the right edge of the cup. Missed it by two twice. Missed it by three strokes several times. I finally passed on my ninth time, shooting a 75 and 73. This taught me that if I really put my mind to it, I could work hard enough to accomplish a goal. On a long project, this perseverance is needed to make sure you follow through.4: Short and straight beats long and lost
I can’t tell you how many times I’d see an older player step up to the tee and poke out a nice, straight ball about 150 yards down the center of the fairway to be followed by some young, strong player that blasts a ball 300 yards long that hooks or slices out into the woods. Sure there’s glory in hitting the long ball, but at the end of the day, the scorecard is about how few, not how far. Same with our jobs. The small, steady jobs might not be as glamorous as the huge, mega-projects, but they are the ones that bring in the income and keep the doors open. Also, it’s the mega jobs that have the potential to swamp or even sink you. 5: Don’t be intimidated by high net worth individuals
We had our share of very high net worth members and celebrities. In fact, President Clinton played at our club while he was in office. I brought him lunch and the Secret Service agent pointed his pistol at me. It was awesome. But working with these people taught me not to be “star struck” or intimidated by the wealthy clients and high-end homes we’re in all the time. Knowing how to act and behave around these types of clients served me very well, and being able to act like you belong and are at home in that kind of an environment, puts the client at ease and gives them confidence in working with you. 6: People are willing to pay for better performance
Whether it was a $60 sleeve of balls or $500 driver or anything in between, people – regardless of skill level - would pay for better performance if they thought that it would make them better or improve their enjoyment. Golf is a hobby and for most of our clients, AV is a hobby too. And if this hobby is important to them, they will likely be willing to spend more for something if you can show them the value and the benefit and how it will improve their enjoyment. Whether that means better picture or sound, or just easier to operate, if you can find the way to demonstrate that you can make what they enjoy better and more enjoyable, people are often willing to pay for it. 7: Every member of the staff is important
Whether it was the guy cleaning the carts, the guy answering the phones, the guy unloading bags at the curb, or the person in the shop checking people in, the job needs to be done. And for the workflow to move smoothly, everyone needed to know and do their job. And when things were busy, everyone needed to jump in and handle whatever was needed. I see this as so important for most custom installation firm where there are often just a handful of employees. Everyone needs to be well cross-trained to be able to handle any job, or a bottleneck can develop. Most install companies aren’t large enough to have “just” a programming guy or “just” a project manager. While employees will have specialties, the best companies are filled with team players that can jump in and do any and every job. 8: Stand out by delivering outstanding service
There are a lot of great golf courses in the Bay Area: The SF Club, Olympic Club, the Cal Club, and more. And while our course didn’t have the same cache as these other clubs, we always strove to deliver a memorable experience for members and their guests. This meant going the extra mile to do whatever it took to make sure players had a great day. Sometimes we’d drive things like gloves, balls or lunch out to a player, or loan things that people forgot. We once spent weeks making individual club labels for every member’s clubs. That’s 14 clubs per person. I even house/pet-sat for numerous members when they traveled. People remember and are willing to pay for outstanding service. Delivering memorable service is especially true when you are talking about products that can be mostly obtained anywhere, like a TV or sound system. It is the service that separates us from the competition. And it is our service that will cause them to call us back and refer us to others.
9: The workday doesn’t end at 5 p.m.
We had to stay until the last person finished playing, and that often meant dark +30. Even then, if a member saw you and needed something—I once opened the golf shop up after hours to help the CEO of Chevron Oil’s wife find her wedding ring in the bag storage area—then you were expected to do it. In the days of email and cell phone communication, our clients expect us to be available for crisis issues outside normal business hours. 10: Do your best to accommodate
There were times when something wouldn’t go perfectly. Someone would miss a tee time and show up late, or they’d show-up on a crowded day without a tee-time, or they would come with too many guests, or a guest would have a dress-code violation. Sure, by the club’s “rule book” we could have easily just said, “Sorry, nothing we can do,” but instead we did everything to accommodate the member and deliver outstanding service. Working them into the schedule, driving them out to another hole on the course to start on, pairing their guests with other members, or loaning them clothes to wear. When your schedule is crammed and someone calls with an issue, how do you respond? Have you ever driven to a Best Buy or similar to pick up a part the customer needs for an install? If you do your best to accommodate people, even if it is done after hours or on a weekend, they will likely remember this.
Many of us came to this industry from different backgrounds; drawn to it by our love and passion for music, movies, or technology and less so because of any business acumen. Fortunately, there are many parallels we can draw from our “previous lives” to help us in this one. If you’ve got a great business tip you learned from your past life, I’d love to hear it below.
John Sciacca is principal of Custom Theater and Audio in Myrtle Beach, SC.