Paradigm Golf Group breaks with convention to deliver uncommon results

Golf loves its traditions. Honoring them, staying true to them is, in large measure, why the game has endured for hundreds of years. That’s not to say the game dogmatically resists change. Just look at equipment. NASA-like feats of engineering with club heads, shafts and, especially, the golf ball have the game’s better practitioners achieving eye-popping distances, while some traditionalists decry the results.

On the business side of golf, there are management companies that are similarly challenging the status quo. Paradigm Golf Group is one of them.

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Headquartered in San Clemente, Calif., and managing the sales, services and marketing for golf properties in some of the most competitive markets in the country — Florida, Las Vegas, California and Hawaii among them — the company is making its bones by doing things their way, which quite often looks very different from traditional approaches.

“The first question we ask a potential client,” said Paradigm’s COO Joe Dahlstrom, “is ‘How open are you to change?’ Many of them say they are, but when you begin outlining some of the changes you want to implement, you find out they are not that open.”

“Our motto is ‘Shift the vibe and increase the bottom line,’” said Mike Dahlstrom, the COO’s brother and Paradigm’s vice-president of sales and hospitality. “Our philosophy of successfully selling a tee time is driven by the five Gs: Greeting, because first contact with the customer is critical; Gratitude, let them know you value them; Group, which is have your entire organization bought in to your process; Gather, as in collect all the important data; and Grind, which means work hard at everything.”

Don’t mistake their philosophy as just a conglomeration of business management buzzwords. Executing on their model requires serious attention and commitment to best practices, however painful that may be to a golf operation. For instance, shifting the vibe includes ranking team members and, in that exercise, seniority holds little sway. Joe Dahlstrom explained it this way: “Maybe Bob has been on time every day for 10 years. That’s great. I don’t want to discount what Bob does, but what does that have to do with creating a great experience for customers?

“In most golf operations the metrics for what makes a great employee are so skewed it’s ridiculous,” Joe said. “The typical approach is hire someone they call a clerk or attendant, pay them the least you can get away with, and then have them go out and be the face of your brand to the most important person in the world — your customer.”

So critical is that interaction, Paradigm calls it “the mighty counter conversation.” “It’s so important,” Joe explained. “We train our staffs. We incentivize them to make that interaction as good as it can be. We pay a good hourly wage and, on top of that, we reward performance. There are commissions on every round they upsell.”

That training and trust in the employee is empowering, which is exactly what the Dahlstroms want in their teams — a feeling of confidence that they won’t be reprimanded or fired for doing what they believe is right. “We are not perfect, we make mistakes and it’s impossible to never have a bad day, but you can make it right for the customer. A challenge or a complaint is an opportunity. Embrace that angry customer, make it right and he will become your most loyal customer,” Joe explains.

Attracting customers, keeping customers and getting the most for every round

The most important metric for Paradigm, as it is for every business, is the bottom line. Growing it for their clients comes down to the basics: Cast a wide net to attract new customers, develop loyalty programs to retain them and maximize what you collect for every round.

“One of the reasons it’s important to empower our sales and service specialists (we don’t call them clerks),” Joe said, “is because in this day and time we have to maximize our tee sheet and that often means we can overbook. Sometimes this slows the pace of play, and a customer has a less-than-ideal experience. So, of course, we want our specialists to make the call right then and there. A round of beers for the foursome? A free hat? A ticket for free play? If it’s the right thing to do, do it. Just don’t let the customer leave angry. That’s not a win … ever.”

Winning also means growing your market share, which requires keen understanding of your market’s composition and an aggressive — but targeted — pursuit of each segment. The COO said that they consider themselves a little like junkyard dogs when they go into customer acquisition mode. “Promotion-based marketing to create volume is something we have had great success with,” Joe said. “Look, pricing is the most strategic thing that we do, and it begins by understanding how many business segments each market has. Each market is different. There are the year-round golfers that we call the grinders. There are the seasonal, who are in market for anywhere from 30 days to four or five months, which is popular in south Florida. And there is the resort segment, like in Vegas and especially Hawaii, who are available for about a week. Each requires its own approach.”

Using Palm Beach National Golf Club in Lake Worth, Fla., as an example, Joe said they target the seasonal golfer for half the year and the year-round grinder the other half of the year. The seasonal golfer is going to pay a higher rate, and the grinder will not, he explained. “But we don’t abandon our grinder. In April, we will send out a fun video that basically says, ‘Hey, we know we ran you off to get the seasonal guy’s business, but here’s a fun promotion and a good deal just for you.’ Our grinder appreciates the honesty. They appreciate that we are straight up with them.”

Fun videos, satirical rap songs and goofy contests have become part of the brand experience at Palm Beach National. It’s a decidedly nontraditional approach in golf marketing. “Personally, social irritates me,” Joe laughed. “But it is the future. The most competitive thing in marketing is getting people’s attention. The old way of posting a picture of a golf hole and saying, ‘Come play blah, blah, blah’ might get a dozen or so likes. Believe me, we tried that. But we have switched from trying to sell to making people smile. Palm Beach was the test. Between all those fun videos and songs and contests, we built a brand where people wanted to see what is happening.”

With the results his company is seeing, Joe believes that there has never been a better time in history than right now to be a marketer. “Through our partnership with GolfNow, I have access to an amazing amount of data. That data lets me go onto Facebook and with $27 in targeted ads, I can generate 2,000 contest entries. That’s pretty cool. Compare that to the old way of dropping a ton on a newspaper ad and hoping for the best.”

Is GolfNow an indispensable component in this new Golden Era of marketing? “If you are consistently 95 percent booked, and you have proven ways to market yourself and attract new customers, you don’t need GolfNow,” Joe answered. “But I think less than one percent of golf operations can say that. What makes my decision to use GolfNow is simple: the consumer loves them. When your customer is so engaged in GolfNow, if you think you are going to shift consumer behavior on your own, you are just so lost.

“Rather than rail against the small things you don’t like, it is a much better strategy to learn how to master GolfNow. We have increased revenue by millions using them properly. Do we use all their products and services? No, not even close. We look at what works best for each market. For instance, I’d never use Golf Advisor in a market that’s majority grinders (local golfers). But in Vegas and Hawaii that are resort driven, yes, we use Golf Advisor. If you don’t work GolfNow, it’s not going to work for you.”

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