Changing course

JOHN HERBERT, FREE PRESS GOLF REPORTER

, Last Updated: 7:02 AM ET

Bob Martin's Golf and Fashions, one of London's retail success stories, is closing the doors on its William Street store after 44 years.

With a lease expiring on the location in September, store owners Andy Marshall and Darren Allison are consolidating at their other store next to Bob Martin's Golf Practice Centre on the west side of Wonderland Road south of Southdale Road, where business is booming and golfers have an opportunity to test expensive clubs. That store opened two years ago in one of the city's fastest growing areas.

The original store is scheduled to close at the end of this month, but most of the inventory has already been moved.

"It's a sad day, but an exciting day," said Allison, who along with Marshall, purchased the business from Bob Martin five years ago. Martin owns the driving range facility.

"We've grown out of our downtown location," Marshall said. "Eighty per cent of our sales are out at the range."

Bob Martin opened the first store in 1963 as a winter business while he was managing East Park Golf Gardens. The store became a year-round operation in 1977 and began to expand from 500 square feet to 2,700.

Martin had $12,000 in sales the first year and made a net profit of about 40 per cent. His first year's rent was $189 a month and when he sold five years ago it was $999.

Martin, who in the 1990s was doing $2 million a year in sales, said he understands why the old store is closing.

"There's no sadness on my part," said Martin, who believes his was the second golf discount store to open in Canada.

"It's time to move on. The boys need something larger. It only makes a whole lot of sense when you only have 2,700 square feet and all the super stores start at 10,000 and go to 23,000 or 50,000 in the U.S.

"It was a great time and I was proud of what we accomplished over the years. When the boys took over, we felt we had a customer based of 30,000 in Southwestern Ontario. The customers have been very loyal."

Marshall and Allison both started working in the store for Martin in the 1990s.

They agree over time golfers' needs have changed with technology and having a driving range associated with the store is important.

Today, with many types of shafts and heads to choose from, golfers want to test them before spending $500 on a new driver or $300 on a new putter. The range lets them to do that.

Customers pay for range balls but if they buy the clubs, the store gives them credit on the purchase.

"We definitely feel bad because a lot of customers live around the downtown store or work downtown," Marshall said.

"We'll lose a few who don't want to drive to south London but 80 per cent of our sales are there now."

The Wonderland location includes a 1,000-square-foot showroom and 8,000 square feet of space in the adjoining warehouse, an indoor driving range for winter months and a used-clubs section.

They also have a club repair shop.


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