Soup to Nuts, featuring John Marino, PGA head professional at Old Chatham Golf Club

This is the second interview in the series “Service – The Differentiator”

John Marino was hired as the PGA head professional at Old Chatham Golf Club and has been the only golf professional in the club’s 10-year history (2001-2011). Before moving to the Raleigh-Durham area John was an assistant professional at Round Hill Club in Greenwich, Conn., for seven summer seasons and during the winter John would go to South Florida as an assistant professional at Seminole Golf Club in Juno Beach, Fla.

Defining great service almost begs an example of the opposite, and I don’t believe one has to look far. I still walk through prominent shops with sufficient staff and am not acknowledged, let alone welcomed. I have been working for about four years with John and his staff at Old Chatham and have spent about 60 days in the shop. I never recall anyone entering this space that was not addressed by name or welcomed as the guest of a member by name.


John, it is obvious that you have built a great importance of “the greeting” into the culture of service you have created at Old Chatham.

I am a big believer in first impressions and setting the right tone. There are a lot of things that are not within your control at the golf course but a kind and friendly greeting is, and it is a must. Our entire staff is trained to greet every member and guest by name when and if possible. We try to keep it professional and courteous. As a staff we want to make our members feel welcome and want their guests to feel like they are members.

What are some of the indoctrination training aspects of building the service culture that you have found most effective?

One of the things that I look for when I hire an assistant are their instincts to serve. Can they anticipate a member’s expressed or unexpressed needs? How is their follow through? Are they sincere in their greeting? I want to assemble a staff of professionals who believes it is their job to problem-solve, to catch the small details and get a true sense of satisfaction out of making a member happy. To that end, we do a lot of hands-on training and staff meetings. I invite speakers to come and address the staff, some from entirely different fields who share our same focus on service. This keeps the staff engaged in the mission and shows that we want to investment in them. All of our staff is encouraged to bring ideas on service and ways we can improve. I want them to feel empowered and encouraged to share ideas. An employee who is happy and empowered is capable of anything. Coaching my staff is an everyday and ongoing process. I observe them in action and will correct a behavior when I feel it is appropriate. I will also use a possible scenario in a staff meeting and discuss how we can learn from it. As hard as we try and as much as we practice, there is always going to be something that we have never encountered before; when that happens, we talk about it as a team.

In previous conversations we have broken down service into pre-service, salesmanship and follow-up. Taking these one at a time, are there pre-service efforts or programs that you have instituted?

The common thread through each of those areas, pre-service, salesmanship and follow up, is being a good listener. Paying attention to your member’s preferences, mood, and interests will let you tailor your style to best fit theirs. I ask my staff to listen to members when they speak about what they like and what they are doing and trips they have been on recently. We learn more about them this way and can then better serve them.

Pre-service comes in many forms: a well-educated staff is one of them. We work towards this by having product knowledge seminars. We will have sales reps from various companies that we do business with come in to speak to us as a staff and educate us about their product. This takes place after hours when we have time to ask more questions, learn better ways to display the product, and learn what makes this product better than others. I feel that a highly educated assistant will do a better job servicing our membership.

Salesmanship, as we have discussed, starts with a greeting. Where and how does it proceed from there with your team and how do you coach the team accordingly?

Salesmanship is something I am sensitive to. The entire “Old Chatham Experience” is about graciousness, professionalism and sincerity. We are very mindful of avoiding the hard sell. My entire staff has great instincts and are great listeners. By this point they have taken the time to learn about the member in the shop and can pick up cues from that person as to what they want or need at that moment. Would they want to try out the latest technology from that equipment company as they head to the range? Are they in a hurry? Are they a clothes horse? Would it mean something to them if you held aside a shirt from a new line that just arrived, thinking they might like it? Do they prefer a formal greeting, or do they love to be one of the guys? Every member that walks through our door is an individual, and the “wow factor” differs from person to person. Salesmanship for us is identifying what makes that member tick and tailoring their experience so it’s the best one for them. Setting the right tone and impression is the key at Old Chatham to a positive golfing experience.

Angeline Horrell at the Four Seasons in Texas has a great saying that the “fortune is in the follow-up.” I know you have instituted some very cool follow-up programs.

I agree with Angeline 100 percent. The follow-up is the most important part of the equation of a successful business. Letting a customer know that you appreciate their business and letting them know you will guarantee their happiness will make that customer yours for life. We follow up with a member after they have had a large group out to the club to make sure their experience was satisfactory. We follow up with members after they have purchased a big ticket item such as new clubs, a golf bag or have invested in a series of lessons with one of our staff members. Ensuring their happiness is the only way for them to trust me. Again, this requires us to be good listeners. If there is ever a problem I will correct that problem as soon as possible and my entire staff has the power to correct any situation as they see fit. Quick attention and swift action can mean the difference of continued support from that member.

As a practical tool to help the staff in both follow-through and follow-up, we have instituted the use of a software system called GEMS. It tracks things like when I will be receiving special orders, a member’s and family member’s birthday and anniversary, and where our demo clubs are. The Demo Tracker feature is terrific; If a member signs out a club to demo and I sign it out for him. Upon returning the club to another staff member I will receive an email notification to follow up with the member. I follow up with a phone call and ask if they liked the club and if I can watch them hit it next time they are out. We have sold more clubs this year because of that follow through. The beautiful aspect of GEMS is that it is web based and I can send and receive tasks, check the status of an order, check the play sheet to see who played on a day I was not at the club from anywhere I can access the internet. It has allowed us to be more efficient and professional.

Are there any new projects in mind to enhance the golf experience at Old Chatham? I know you to never shut down that thought process.

We take a great interest in all of our members and their families. We love acknowledging them on their birthdays and anniversaries. One thing we have just started to do is assign a month to a staff member. So any birthdays, anniversaries, graduations in that month are acknowledged and we try to reach out far enough in advance and offer our assistance for any gift ideas. It helps our business grow and at the same time we are strengthening our relationships. We have purchased a launch monitor for fitting in the effort to try to take fitting and lessons to the next level. I have guest speakers to talk to members about various topics both golf and non-golf related. I have authors to do book signings; I have expanded our teaching offering to incorporate sports psychology and physical therapy. If it relates to golf and service, we are thinking about it. I also think of how to invest in my staff. I feel that a more educated and empowered employee is a stronger employee. In this economic environment and with golf on the decline, I want to exceed the expectations of my membership every day and give them a higher perceived value to their membership; for us, great service is the way there.

John Marino’s commitment to Old Chatham, his members and staff should be obvious to anyone reading this. John inherently seems to always have the appropriate priority list with the never-varying, underlying theme of soup to nuts service and dynamic staff moving in the same direction. The motivational aspect of my contribution to the clubs I work with has become totally reciprocal at Old Chatham. I always leave inspired.

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