NGF TOP 100 BUSINESSES IN GOLF
Joseph L. Lee: Co-Founder and CEO
Nick Sherburne: Co-Founder, Master Fitter
Keith D. Bank: Co-Founder
Brian Burke, EVP of Finance
Jay Hubbard, VP of Marketing
Club Champion has established itself as the industry leader in club-fitting and club-building, with more than 70 nationwide locations and more to come.
Each store conducts an average of 500 to 1,500 tour-quality fitting experiences annually and converts more than 75% of those into club sales for customers. A typical studio footprint is approximately 3,000 square feet, with two to four fitters, and features a minimum of two fitting bays equipped with Trackman launch monitors as well as a SAM PuttLab, a build shop and an extensive equipment wall.
Club Champion studios carry all the leading golf club, shaft and grip manufacturers in the industry, and are able to build and test clubs in real-time. Its locations are equipped with advanced analysis technology, along with highly trained certified fitters and builders who must complete an extensive training program. Services include club fitting and building, repair services, and personalization, as well as the hosting of corporate and personal entertainment events.
The Chicago-based company was launched in 2011 from a venture called EJL Custom Golf, which was created by Nick Sherburne. A two-decade veteran of the golf club-fitting business, Sherburne teamed with Joe Lee (now Club Champion’s CEO) and Keith Bank (co-founder), who have helped fund and run one of the game’s most upwardly-mobile businesses.
Club Champion’s growth has been significant, as there were just five locations in 2014.
“When we started, like 1% of golfers realized the importance of fitting. Even in the 2000s, it was still small, I’d bet under 10%. Now, it’s still only somewhere around 50% believe in custom fitting,” Sherburne said. “It was always affordable, people just thought it wasn’t affordable. They didn’t understand all the options. I see it growing to one day where 80% of the population that plays golf has a custom-fitted golf club. The manufacturers are really pushing it that way.”
A full-bag fitting typically takes about 3 ½ hours and runs $350, but golfers can also get fittings for irons, the driver, wedges or the putter. When it comes to the various club heads, shafts and grips, customers have over 35,000 combinations to trial.
“We want to educate the consumer about what they have in their bag, how optimized it is, and what optimal is. And then we’ll let them decide what to do from there,” Sherburne said. “Instead of having it be more of a transactional sale as it always has been in the past, let’s have it be an informative, experiential kind of thing where people can truly see the benefit making the investment in playing better golf instead just making an investment in a new driver that gives them five or 10 yards.”
As a club-builder utilizing various components, Club Champion doesn’t carry a significant inventory and is able to limit overhead more than traditional retailers. Additionally, because their equipment is fitted to each consumer, they don’t compete with web-based retailers on price. In 2018, the company’s overall revenue growth was up almost 60 percent.
“What we do is help put people in the best equipment set-up to play better golf,” says Lee.
“The proof is in the data and most avid golfers get it,” he adds. “And if you’re an avid golfer, you’ll invest to get better.”
Club Champion’s growth and offerings have put the company at the forefront of the fitting and premium club sales business. It’s success demonstrates how the industry’s education on the benefits of club fitting continues to have a notable impact.
As an increasing number of retailers focus on e-commerce rather than brick and mortar stores to focus on e-commerce, Club Champion has flipped the script and has specific plans for future growth.
Looking ahead, competitors in the golf retail space will try to emulate Club Champion’s success and continue to put forth more experiential opportunities. But Club Champion is particularly well-positioned to differentiate what “custom fitting” is. Thanks to its different layers and diagnostic tools, the company is capability of being able to offer anything from general fittings to tour-level experiences.