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Headline: Newburyport-Based Tournament Solutions Set to Play at Big Role This Week at the 41st Ryder Cup at Hazeltine National Golf Club
For Immediate Release: September 24, 2016
From left: John Lawrence, Pam Berube , Pat Barrett and AJ Mastrullo from Tournament Solutions are on site for two weeks at Hazeltine National GC for the 41st Ryder Cup Matches.
Click on any image for a larger, downloadable version.
Norton, MA — If you happen to purchase an item in the merchandise tent at this week’s Ryder Cup, being held at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, Minnesota, there is a good chance you’ll be purchasing an item from someone with Massachusetts ties. q q
That’s because Tournament Solutions, a Newburyport-based company and the "Official Gifts & Awards Sponsor of the MGA", is also an official merchandise licensee of the PGA of America and will be on site for the duration of the biennial United States vs. European Golf Matches.
Founded in 2002 by co-owners Pam Berube and John Lawrence, Tournament Solutions has grown into one of the largest golf accessory gift and award companies in the United States. Prior to his departure for the North Star State, we sat down with Managing Partner John Lawrence for a Q&A to discuss the growth of his company since its inception in 2002.
Q: How did Tournament Solutions come to fruition?
Prior to starting Tournament Solutions, I was an executive at Nynex Information Services (now known as Verizon). At that time (1998) I thought of myself as being somewhat entrepunurial, with a strong background in both Finance and Sales Channel Strategy, and therefore I felt confident in leaving corporate America and “giving it a go” on my own. At the time I was 38 years old, with two young children at home. It was very risky leaving a great paying position, with a Fortune 500 company like Nynex. As they say, there is a fine line between confidence and stupidity.
Q: Why did you choose golf as the industry to get into?
In 1998, golf was extremely popular because of Tiger Woods. It was an industry that had large numbers, relative to "gift giving” at tournaments. I was always interested in doing something with consumer, tangible products. Most importantly, it was a space that was growing. Some associates of mine at IMG (at the time the largest sports agency in the world) had told me that the golf merchandise industry, outside of equipment and apparel, did not have any major players at the time, relative to non-traditional upscale golf products. That comment resided in the back of my head for a couple years and I thought that if I could partner with the right upscale brand(s), there could be a market at the private country club level as well as at professional events (pro-am’s).
Q: What was it like those first couple of years to be out on your own?
The first business I started right out of Nynex, for all intents and purposes, was a failure. I had had to wind it down after two longs years of hard work. I gave it everything I had. I was devastated to say the least. After shutting it down, I was at a cross roads of what to do with the rest of my life. After many months of examining what had happened, “lessons learned” if you will, I came to the conclusion that with the proper adjustments I could be successful, and be successful in the golf industry. The silver lining in the first business was that I hired a young woman by the name of Pam Berube. I realized quickly that Pam was not only extremely intelligent, she also possessed the skill set that I lacked. I felt that with Pam by my side as a 50/50 partner, going after the golf industry a second time, my odds at success would improve exponentially. Fifteen year later, it has proven to be a great partnership.
Q: What would you consider your biggest break since starting Tournament Solutions?
Since 2002, we have always provided gifts and awards for member tournaments at country clubs, all over the world. It had always been our core business. Then in 2005, we caught a great break when we became a National Licensee of the PGA of America, which conducts the PGA Championship, as well as the Ryder Cup, obviously two major events. This relationship with the PGA of America really put Tournament Solutions on the map, a national map. Because of this initial relationship with the PGA of America, we developed a great reputation in the industry and became licensees of the United States Golf Association, LPGA and PGA TOUR. As a result of these licenses, we are physically on site, providing products that are sold at retail for approximately 25 events per year including the U.S. Open, Solheim Cup, International Crown, PGA Championship, Ryder Cup, Players Championship, WGC events and the TOUR Championship. All four of these golf associations/organizations don’t consider us vendors or suppliers but partners. They are wonderful people to work with.
Q: How do you decide which products to offer in a very diverse industry?
Pam’s business philosophy early on was to sell anything that the industry may need. Her approach was to sell everything from a $1,000 watch down to a $1 koozie, if there was demand for it. Tournament Directors on the various Tours, and PGA Professionals alike at the country club level, both have a wide range of product needs. Pam’s foresight really helped our business scale. Her feeling was that if we have the distribution channel in place, why not fill it. Her assessment back then has proven to be absolutely true. Additionally, we have become very good at sourcing in Asia. We have a person “on the ground” in China that has been great for our business. The one thing that we realized very early on was that The PGA Golf Professional is extremely busy, particularly during the golf season. If they can order their tournament gifts and awards all at one time, they will. We have developed a critical niche in the golf industry as the “one-stop-shopping source in golf”, and it has served us very well.
Q: Has the variety of your products been the only thing that has helped grow your business?
As we were working with the PGA TOUR and LPGA on their onsite retail needs at events we quickly became aware that there was an enormous need for high-end brands at their Pro Ams. This is, for example, when a Tour player such as Phil Mickelson plays 18 holes with an amateur leading up to the actual tour event. The cost per individual to play in a pro-am ranges between $5k and $25k. Each player is given a nice upscale gift package as well. As a result, we recognized a need to offer the tournament director high-end products. To that end we have developed long-term relationships with and represent Tumi, Kate Spade, Movado and Bose to golf. Many times throughout the year we will set up an onsite gifting suite for the pro-am contestants to select a product they like, as opposed to being given something they already have. This part of our business is our fastest growing segment today.
Q: Having started Tournament Solutions from scratch, what kind of advice would you give to someone else looking to start their own business?
First off, personally, be very cognizant what you are good at. Understanding your weaknesses and strengths is critical. Pam is very effective in those areas that I am deficient in and vice versa. Try to find that person that complements you well, skill wise, but that also possesses the same business philosophy and ethics that you have. That person also needs to have the same work ethic and hunger to succeed as well or it just won’t work. People joke that a business partnership is like a marriage. Personally I think more things have to go right between business partners to be successful, than a married couple.
Second, always be willing to try new things. Nobody has ever grown their business by significantly cutting costs, particularly those costs that drive revenues. We’re never back on our heels. We are always up on our toes looking for new opportunities. I would also add, don’t be afraid to lean on other people. Neither Pam nor I have “all the answers.” We have outside people who advise us, similar to a board of directors, just ours come in the form of an excellent CPA firm, a great attorney, and an excellent lender, all of whom know our business intimately.
Lastly and most important we have been fortunate enough to hire great people. Our employees are the heartbeat of our business. They are on the front lines of our business every day, battling. Each of them have their “game faces” on when they walk through the door every morning. Each and every one of them work hard every day and approach the business as if it’s their own. We are very fortunate to have great people. They are our biggest reason for success!”
Q: What skill sets do you look for in your employees?
All our employees truly care about the business. They take ownership of what they are doing. We look for people who are entrepreneurial themselves. Our employees could be working on a $100k sale in the morning and helping the UPS guy in the afternoon getting pallets from our warehouse on his truck. About half of our employees are former golf professionals and college golfers. They each have a passion for the game. The other half have a love for the game as well. Pam and I personally, in varying degrees, knew all of our employees before they became our employees. You could say we “handpicked them” based on our past experiences with each of them. When you’re a smaller sized company, you can sometimes recruit people you know, because you are not hiring for a large number of open positions. When you know people, there are usually no major surprises, which is critical when you only have 15 full and part time employees like we do.”
Q: What are your plans for growth going forward?
Another area we are targeting is Corporate events, whether it be a corporate golf outing or a sales trip for example. We think our suite of brands (Tumi, Bose, Movado & Kate Spade) is very conducive to this segment.
We have grown every year (in a relatively flat industry) since we have been in business. Some of those years we have achieved single digit growth others have been double digit. Regardless, I can tell you we are not going to stop growing now, it’s really not an option for us. We have too much momentum as an organization. My favorite business saying is “Hope is not a strategy.” Some people say, “I hope we have a good year next year.” You need to put the proper initiatives in place to ensure growth, hoping and praying alone won’t work! We keep investing in new initiatives, some are successful, some are not, but we keep “plugging”. As our CPA says “the only businesses we see fail are those where the owners sit on their hands.” Pam and I live by these words here.
John Lawrence and a team of employees from Tournament Solutions will be on site for two weeks at Hazeltine National Golf Club for the 41st Ryder Cup Matches. For more information on Tournament Solutions and their work, please visit their website at www.tournamentsolutions.com.