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January 2023

McConnell Not Immune From Supply Chain Woes

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By: Steve Eubanks

Nobody’s happy, but at least there’s an explanation everyone can understand. When the new TaylorMade driver you ordered in August for your most loyal customer didn’t make it by Christmas, and the new reels you were expecting for the triplex aren’t likely to be here until June, two words sum up the frustrations that you and everyone else in and out of golf currently feel: supply chain. 

Big or small, flush-with-cash or barely-squeaking-by, supply-chain nightmares haunt everyone in our industry. A mom-and-pop course in Oklahoma can’t get a ton of preemergent before the Bermudagrass breaks dormancy, just as one of the largest operators of high-end private clubs in the country can’t get napkins and toilet paper in anything resembling a timely manner.   

“Supply chain issues have been our biggest struggle with food and beverage,” said James Patterson, the corporate executive chef at Porter’s Neck Country Club, one of 16 high-end clubs in the Southeast owned by McConnell Golf. “Vendors wanted to cut deliveries to particular days in order to streamline and minimize the number of trucks on the road.

“Drivers continue to be where the most need has been. We are seeing supply levels back up, albeit not to pre-COVID standards. (Post COVID), the number of SKUs that vendors currently stock is much lower than before, although we can order direct shipping (through something the company calls its ‘Broadliners’). This takes more planning and watchful eyes. Paper products, custom-logo packaging and disposables are still (requiring) longer lead times with higher minimum quantities.

“We’ve asked our chefs to monitor and adjust pricing accordingly throughout the year. We’re hoping in 2023 we will continue to see market corrections.”

While the pandemic led a lot of people into golf for the first time and provided some much-needed revenue for courses teetering on the brink, everyone understood that there would be an eventual cost to the infrastructure shutdowns. You can’t close manufacturing outlets and shut down shipping lanes, even for a month, without creating a disruptive ripple effect. Golf is battling those roiling waves now. 

“Overall it has affected us like any other business around the globe, no different, and we had to make the best of it,” said Christian Anastasiadis, the chief operating officer of McConnell Golf. “Consumer pricing was adjusted in retail and food and beverage sales. Customers were understanding.”

They had to be. Golfers don’t live in a vacuum. When they couldn’t get avocados or baby formula, running out of Pro V1s and Chianti at the club tumbled down the things-to-worry-about list. 

“The biggest issue we have dealt with when it comes to the supply chain is getting our hands on equipment,” said Michael Shoun, McConnell’s vice president of agronomy. “We have seen nine months to a year wait time on most all mowers, utility vehicles, sprayers and tractors. Currently, any equipment ordered (early December 2022) has a 2024 delivery date.”

That wouldn’t be so bad, but repairing existing equipment also has become a challenge.

“Parts are an issue,” Shoun said. “In the past, two to three days (turnaround for parts) was standard. Now, it is not unusual to see three to four weeks to receive parts to repair equipment.”

Communicating, budgeting and planning are key to overcoming these challenges. If you know you have to use existing equipment for at least another 18 months, you might be pleasantly surprised when that tractor arrives in just over a year. But it’s harder to plan for breakage. That makes routine equipment maintenance crucial. Cleaning and monitoring every piece of equipment every day could buy an operator enough time to make it. 

The same is true on the operational front. Brian Kittler, McConnell’s vice president of golf operations, said, “For the most part, similar to what Christian and Michael noted, it would typically take us two to four months to receive a new fleet of golf carts (in the past). Currently, they are quoting twelve to fourteen months. In addition to the economy, interest rates have also increased on our lease agreements.
 
“Equipment companies are getting better at shipping golf clubs to us in a timely manner. Initially it was taking anywhere from two to six months to receive special orders. Vendors have improved their communication with us so when customers order equipment, they can tell us at the time of the order what we can expect. Some vendors are down to ten to fourteen days based on inventory levels, with most orders taking about two to four weeks.
 
“Apparel companies have also improved in their delivery times. The majority of their delays, according to them, are from not having the same labor market as compared to pre-COVID years, which delays orders with embroidery. A good number of them have cut back on their on-hand inventory levels, so if the apparel isn’t booked in advance, it is very difficult to place a special order for certain items.”

The industry is doing all it can. Manufacturers are leaning on their suppliers and working with their shipping partners to get product to front-line operators in a timely manner. But like the Southwest Airlines debacle that left hundreds of thousands of passengers stranded over Christmas and New Year, it only takes one hiccup for the house of cards to come tumbling down. 

The best any operator can do is plan for the worst and keep everyone informed. If you remain diligent, this, like every other storm that has hit the industry, can be weathered.

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