By Tracey Blake
In 2006, I founded Tracey Lynn Golf, a boutique women’s golf apparel company based in Denver. Eight years and many gray hairs later, I closed up shop.
While I’m out playing a round on the golf course, new acquaintances often ask me what it was like having my own boutique line of women’s golf clothing. More than a few are intrigued about starting a line themselves or know someone who is interested. I can’t tell you everything I learned, but I can offer three key observations that deserve serious consideration.
Three things to factor when considering your own women’s golf apparel brand:
1. Timing is everything.
You’ve heard this repeatedly in almost every business. It’s true here, too: Timing is everything, and it isn’t fast in the manufacturing industry. It takes a solid 18-24 months to get things moving and to actually receive inventory.
I started my boutique in 2006. By the time my website was live and I was ready to take orders, it was late 2007 (and websites are a whole different animal). In late 2008, as we all remember, the market crashed and the worst recession in a century followed. The golf industry took a hit that it has only recently been able to recover from because of the pandemic. Who knew?
Prior to that, I had done all my research. In 2006, women were the fastest growing segment of the golf industry, and women’s golf apparel sales were booming. There were numerous emerging lines like mine. I knew I had created something that wasn’t already available in the marketplace. I’d had a great response to my products and things were clicking.
Then, the bottom fell out. Clubs, resorts and retailers canceled most of their orders. Remember the GolfSmith stores? They were a big account of mine — poof.
At least a dozen boutique manufacturers, some that had been in business for decades, closed or filed for bankruptcy. I was a little better off only because we were ahead of the game and had one of the first Internet retail sites for women’s golf clothing. That helped sustain us.
It’s strange how quickly you forget. I wonder if I didn’t learn my lesson because I started thewomangolfer.com (a website to help recreational golfers become better players) at the beginning of a pandemic. Duh.
What’s my advice on timing? It’s a crapshoot. Ask Peloton and Zoom today.
2. Work, work, and work some more.
There is so much involved in establishing an apparel line, let alone creating something for the golf industry, where almost every item is a discretionary purchase.
Manufacturing is one of the most difficult and time-consuming businesses out there. To start with, you need to have a workable design — a prototype that can be manufactured at a reasonable price across numerous colorways. Then you need to source everything from fabric to zippers, buttons and elastic. You have to consider every single item that is involved in producing a piece of clothing. There are fabric shows that have all this and more. You have to go to them.
From there, you may go through another round of prototypes to make sure your design is perfect… and then you wait. Only then will you get your finished product.
But it doesn’t stop there. Next you attend trade shows to sell your product, shows that are all over the U.S., a time-consuming and expensive process. The PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando in January, larger than any other by a factor, is the golf world’s showcase. It’s really a must if you’re in the industry. It’s not cheap to exhibit there, and it’s not easy to work it. You’re on 24/7 for almost a week straight. Then you get to go home and figure out how you’re going to deliver on all the orders you received.
And don’t think that during any of this you will have time to play golf. You simply won’t. You’ll have to work on the business as well as in the business. There will always be work needed on your website, your social media, your accounting, support materials, and with employees and sales reps.
3. It’s still a male-dominated industry.
Last but not least, golf remains a male-dominated industry. While I can say that things have changed, the buying of women’s golf apparel is still often affected by men. This is less true at retailers and is less of an issue now that online sales have skyrocketed. Prior to the recession in 2006, purchasers at clubs and resorts were increasingly female. When the market collapsed, unfortunately, many female merchandisers were the first to go. Men ended up bearing the brunt, responsible for purchasing both men’s and women’s lines.
No offense is intended, especially because I know several male golf professionals that do the buying around here, at both clubs and resort courses, but how can a man really know what a woman wants and what is a good line that women want? They admit they do not. And, more than a few have asked for my opinion about what lines to consider.
All of this is sobering, I know. However, I believe there is always room for functional fashion. You’ve just got to approach it carefully: Do your research, study the market, understand the competition, find what you can offer that fills an unmet need, and be ready to sweat.
In light of my experience, I’d say a well-funded boutique willing to fight it out at the trade shows and online can make it.
Do you have the grit?