The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

July 7, 2012

Retail Maelstrom

The Greenbrier weathers storm to remain PGA merchandise powerhouse

By Lisa Shrewsberry
Lifestyles Editor

WHITE SULPHUR SPRINGS — Storm? What storm? Aside from the lusty boost from PGA traffic merging with White Sulphur Springs locals seeking gasoline after a weekend of wicked weather, all was as it should be for the new No. 1 stop on the PGA tour this week — better than it should be, by popular opinion.

On a short jaunt (via golf cart) between official merchandise tents, The Greenbrier Resort Director of Retail, Al Lierman, points to bare spots on the grounds being nursed by unobtrusive work crews.

“You’d never know it,” he points out near the 17th hole, “but a huge tree was uprooted and laying there Saturday.”

Destroyed spectator tents were resurrected into the wee hours just before the Old White TPC opened for practice rounds. Limbs and all manner of debris escaped all but the cameras of local news stations, gone as part of a massive disappearing act under the toil of dispatched laborers and eager-to-serve volunteers.

“It was horrible,” says Lierman. “It looked like a war zone.”

One of the large retail tents had some fencing torn down around it, but was spared the blow of another large tree that fell blessedly in the opposite direction of what would’ve decimated months of planning.

“We never had a doubt that it was going to be fine.”

He says owner Jim Justice kept thinking about Apollo 13, what could’ve proved the worst possible moment in NASA history and leadership’s response that it would instead be their finest moment. The only tournament-related event canceled as a result of the determination of many was a Sunday merchandise preview.

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There are satisfying swooshes to be had The Greenbrier grounds over. The swoosh of a perfect long drive. The characteristic swooshes of Greenbrier Classic-logoed Nike memorabilia. The swoosh of credit cards and trademark green-striped bags exiting The Greenbrier’s own retail stores and, where all the action is this week, inside the amply-filled and diversified merchandise tents.

Golf shirts bearing The Greenbrier and FedEx Cup logos abound, along with hats, golf bags and clubs, spectator stools and umbrellas. Footwear is new this year, Lierman adds, pointing out displays of Adidas and Ashworth golf shoes. A women’s hat and shirt combo retails for a modest $36.50, while moisture-wicking and Classic insignia-bearing Underarmour golf shirts go for $80 each.

“We take normal markups on merchandise,” Lierman explains, thwarting the belief that all resorts inflate wholesale exponentially. “The difference between Nike apparel prices here and at other retailers is The Greenbrier, FedEx Cup and Old White TPC logos.”

Items for every price-point populate the custom-designed shelves projecting images from long-ago and more recent tournaments. Ahead, one of The Classic’s main vendors specializing in headgear such as caps and visors, designed special shelving for The Greenbrier PGA stop, but will use it to personalize display tents for other courses along the tour, explains Lierman.

In addition to sportswear, practical items like The Greenbrier Classic bags, sized below the 6-inch-by-6-inch course restriction for spectators are available, along with canvas totes, autograph pennants and weather-wise umbrellas and ponchos.

With the success of last year’s tournament building expectations for this year’s in overall visitor and player satisfaction, did The Greenbrier reach the rumored 1 million in retail sales to 2011’s crowd? While Lierman can’t talk specific numbers, what he will say is 2010 was expected to bring in $300,000 to $400,000.

“We blew that away,” he states, adding that 2011 was up 25 percent over the opening year’s retail profits, and this year is expected to add 20 percent more.

On the first day of practice rounds and with a healthy early morning gathering milling about in each of the tents, Lierman predicts this is a fraction of the bustle that will augment each day of tournament-goer spending, peaking today and Sunday.

Having dodged the bullet of a storm boasting near-hurricane level winds and with presently intensifying temperatures, the legendary course isn’t the only location at The Greenbrier experiencing a heat-wave.

“The merchandise tents will definitely be hot spots for activity,” summarizes Lierman.

— E-mail: lshrewsberry@register-herald.com