Louis Wolcott grew up in the Cotswolds. His first job in golf was in 1998, when he worked as a PGA Assistant in the pro shop at Marriott St Pierre, in Chepstow. It was during his four years there that he realised he was not going to make the grade as a player and did not relish the prospect of coaching.
He began to look at alternative opportunities in the industry – a journey that has taken him all the way to California.
How did you get into the industry?
When I was growing up, my dad was involved with golf retail and owned a couple of shops, so I started out working with him, primarily on the apparel side of things and also with equipment. Stephen Follett, the then Director of Golf at St Pierre, went out to the PGA Show in Orlando back in 1999 and met Johan Lindeberg, the Swedish fashion designer, who was exhibiting his first range of golf apparel at the show. Stephen and Johan became friends and St Pierre became the first club in the UK to stock J Lindeberg apparel. I really liked the brand from the start. The bold, bright colours and the tightfitting designs were very different to anything else, and I was wearing it all the time. I got to know Johan through Stephen and after I finished my PGA training, I got some backing from a club member to set up a business running corporate golf days. I did that for a while, and then, out of the blue, I got a call from Johan saying that he was looking for someone to run his new sales operation in the UK. To be honest, all I was initially interested in was getting free clothing, so it was quite appealing. So, I went to meet Johan in London, we shook hands, and it went from there.
How difficult was it to sell a pretty much unknown brand in?
It wasn’t completely unknown. At the time, J Lindeberg was being worn on tour by the likes of Jesper Parnevik and Freddie Jacobson, so it had a cool Swedish vibe that seemed to resonate. Within six months, we had opened 50-plus accounts, including Royal Birkdale and Sunningdale. We targeted high-end clubs, as it was quite expensive stuff. The idea of paying £75 for a belt must have seemed quite ridiculous back then, but it wasn’t long before all the young pros were wearing those belts with the big ‘JL’ logo on, while the polos and white trousers were also extremely popular.
Some customers were driving two or three hours to get to their nearest store. It was before the internet, so if you wanted to buy something you had to physically go and find it. That gave the brand a mystique, and it all helped drive sales and increase brand recognition.
How did your association with TrendyGolf come about?
Ian McLeod and Ben Woods founded TrendyGolf.com in 2004 as an online golf Apparel business. They approached me a year before they launched and asked whether I would be interested in letting them sell J Lindeberg on the website, as they thought it would do well online as it was so hard to come by in pro shops.
We agreed to that but only on the proviso that we weren’t the only brand on the site, so I introduced them to other premium golf brands, like Ralph Lauren and Hugo Boss, so there were a few other high-end labels to populate the site. As I said, they launched TrendyGolf in 2004, and it was pretty much an instant hit. Four years later, Ian and Ben wanted to launch it in the US, and I agreed to help by investing and using my contacts to help set up the business, but I was a silent partner while I continued my wholesale career.
Then you left JL and joined Lyle & Scott as head of global golf sales?
That’s another long story but the short one is that Johan left the business. I was very close to Johan and when it came under new ownership the business was restructured, and my contract was terminated. I joined Lyle & Scott in 2010 and spent several years there helping to reposition the golf collection and open new distribution channels around the world. It was great to understand and appreciate the heritage the brand had.
Your next move was Wolsey in 2012?
Yes, it all gets a bit intermingled at this point, as I got another call from Johan. He had set up another fashion brand called BLK DNM, and he had just got some new investors, the Hargreaves family, who own Matalan and many other fashions brands, including Wolsey. Wolsey is the oldest clothing brand in the world and was a very successful brand back in the day, sitting alongside the likes of Slazenger and Pringle. They asked Johan to help relaunch Wolsey Golf and I joined as group brand director.
Our first decision was to modernise the brand, but to keep true to its heritage in knitwear and underwear. We sponsored a few British tour players, including Eddie Pepperell and Robert Rock, to help give it a bit more credibility and exposure. It went full circle when we started selling Wolsey apparel into TrendyGolf. The Hargreaves family got to know Ian and Ben, they liked the business and saw the potential, so they bought equity.
We also saw an opportunity to utilise the connection between Wolsey and TrendyGolf, so in 2016 we decided to set up Trendy Sports Agency that myself and Rob Bundy managed. We would wholesale Wolsey and other premium brands that had reached out to us for help, including G4, Alfred Dunhill, Lacoste, Dunning, Flexfit, Seamus, Jones Golf Bags, Orlebar Brown and Maui Jim – it was a busy time.
What made you move to the US?
The US office was being run by Adrienne Cass, who was originally one of J Lindeberg’s key account managers in the US. She set up TrendyGolf’s US office in 2009. She decided to leave in 2018 and we were left in kind of an emergency situation where someone who understood the American market was needed to go out there and take the reins. I had always wanted to live in California and, for some personal reasons, didn’t have a lot that was holding me back in the UK, so it didn’t take very long to come to the decision that that person was going to be me. I booked a one-way ticket to Los Angeles and haven’t looked back.
How many staff do you have?
We currently have 15 people working in the US office in LA, and around 30 people globally. We outsource certain bits and pieces, but we do all of our own buying, marketing, warehousing, and photography under one roof, so the majority of what we do is in-house.
How did the pandemic impact you?
Things bounced back very quickly, and our turnover has nearly tripled in the last three years. That’s through a combination of shops being shut, but people still playing golf, but also because people have got a lot more comfortable buying clothes online. Obviously, the retail landscape has changed hugely over the last decade, but I still see the apparel business being a hybrid, with space for bricks-and-mortar retailers and online operations. Sales of apparel will always remain strong in pro shops, as members like to buy club logo clothes, which you can’t buy anywhere else. But perhaps from general apparel and a hardware point of view, the modern pro shop could become more of a showcase for their online sales.
Who is the TrendyGolf customer?
Our audience is slightly younger than your average golf club member – 25 to 45. The gender split is different in the US than it is the UK. In the US, around 30 per cent of our customers are women, while in the UK, it’s closer to 10 per cent.
Living in California, I find that men are a lot less conservative in what they wear on the golf course than in the UK. Guys go to the club in their gym kit or normal leisure clothes, and they sit in the bar with jeans and trainers and a hoodie, so lifestyle brands are more popular here than traditional golf apparel brands.
How will TrendyGolf USA develop?
We’re still only scratching the surface because America is so big. We have huge growth plans over the next five years and also want to open our own concept golf stores across the country.
What advice would you offer to a future PGA Member looking to focus on a retail career?
I guess you need to understand what gets you excited about golf and where your passions lie. Don’t be too quick to categorise yourself as being one thing or another. Be a chameleon. I knew early on that I wasn’t going to be a player or a coach, but I was always fascinated with the buying and merchandising side of things, and that was the route I took.
My PGA training really helped with this and gave me the platform to develop my career in the direction that I chose. PGA training gives you a rounded perspective on all aspects of the industry and gives you an understanding of working practices that can be applied across a whole range of careers. We’re all essentially working in the people business and the hospitality business. My advice would be to be a sponge. Soak up all the experiences you can, and never stop learning from other people. The PGA is a network of incredible
people with so much experience to share. I’ve certainly met some amazing people through my PGA connections, and it has opened doors for me that might otherwise have remained closed.
And finally, do you have any tips?
In my experience, people want quality and are willing to pay for it. It should never be assumed that cheaper products will sell well simply because of a lower price. It’s all about understanding the needs of the consumer, not just what you, as a retailer, like. Rather than following what everyone else does, it’s vital to stand out from your competitors. It’s about offering a different selection, while always keeping your customers’ needs at the forefront of your mind.