Q&A: Caroline Basarab | director of retail, Reynolds Lake Oconee

Named the PGA of America's 2021 Merchandiser of the Year in the resort category, Basarab discusses her career, the ability to adapt and the importance of knowing a shop's clientele

Caroline Basarab, director of retail for Reynolds Lake Oconee, was named the PGA of America’s 2021 national Merchandiser of the Year in the resort category for a second time in January. She is the first woman to have won this award on two occasions. Basarab discusses her role, what has changed since winning the award in 2009, and how she pays it forward.

The First Call: You have a philosophy to make each day better than yesterday, which is ambitious, so how do you deal with the days that maybe are not going well?
Caroline Basarab: There are always going to be challenges in work. I work on how we solve the problem vs. putting blame on anyone or anything. I include our staff so we find the best solution. We should treat challenges as opportunities to learn and make our operations run better. In essence, we are making this day a better day despite challenges we face within our operation.

Caroline Basarab-Reynolds Lake Oconee
Caroline Basarab won the her first national Merchandiser of the Year award in 2009. Her win in 2021 made her the first woman to win the honor twice.

TFC: Give us a brief timeline of how you arrived at Reynolds Lake Oconee.
CB: I started working at Reynolds Lake Oconee on August 15, 2015, following 17 years at The Sea Pines Resort, where I was responsible for all retail and RBC Heritage retail operations. Previously, I was employed at the Woodlands in Houston, Texas, [1996] as a retail manager and involved in the Shell Houston Open. Other positions included stints as assistant golf professional at Kingwood Country Club [1993] and Pine Needles Resort, where I had the good fortune to work with Peggy Kirk Bell. After my internship at the Four Seasons Resort in Irving, Texas, I worked as assistant golf professional following my graduation from Texas A&M, where I attended on a full golf scholarship.

TFC: Being named the PGA of America's 2021 National Merchandiser of the Year marked the first time a woman has ever won the honor twice. Your first was in 2009 at, I believe, the Sea Pines Resort, also in the resort category. How have you evolved as a merchandiser in those 12 years and how has the resort category changed, if any?
CB: I think the hardest part being awarded in 2009 was deciding a new direction. Public speaking in any capacity was not one of my strong points, but I wanted to work on my apprehension of speaking in front of small and large audiences. In addition, I focused on writing articles and attending retail conferences to continue to expand my knowledge and grow in my field. This allowed me to be a better golf professional/merchandiser and provided me with better abilities to mentor our up-and-coming golf professionals and buyers. I was fortunate to attend PGA Magazine’s Merchandiser of the Year Conference to facilitate these goals, as well.

With this second award, mentoring the new generation will be the most rewarding aspect and having the opportunity to see them grow successfully in their own careers.  

TFC: What, if any, trends do you envision developing in the next year?
CB: Patterns in any theme for men and ladies apparel. Hoodies and joggers for men.

Leggings for ladies. Home décor such as candles, logo blankets and personalized wooden serving trays.

TFC: Unlike a private or, to a lesser extent, public course, where a merchandiser may be more in tune to the membership/regulars and preferences, a resort attracts a more diverse and wide-ranging clientele, I would assume. How do you try and stock for the somewhat unknown?  
CB: Researching the trends in the industry via networking with my peers, social media and trade magazines are great avenues to start. I notice what our customers are wearing out on the golf course to gain additional insights for my brand selection. In addition, my staff provides feedback on what customers are asking us to carry in our shops. I also enjoy working on our larger holiday sales to receive customer opinions on the merchandise selection, as well as hold meetings with members to help me select the right product assortment for our shops.

Oconee Pro Shop
Caroline Basarab says the key to an inviting pro shop includes having "creative displays and easy traffic flow."

TFC: What's the one thing that keeps you motivated?
CB: I love the golf business, so, I challenge myself every day to try something different via promotions, purchasing innovation, creative merchandise, improving a retail procedure, training staff and/or increasing our sales. It’s a great feeling to watch the business grow as a result of my hard work, along with that of our staff.

TFC: Has there been one piece of advice through the years that most changed your life?
CB: Be adaptable to change.

TFC: As a two-time national Merchandiser of the Year award winner, along with being a multiple regional winner, what's the best piece of advice that you could give to someone striving to get where you are?
CB: My advice is to adapt to change and be open-minded to solutions and new ideas. I make it a point to keep learning from my peers and to staying up with trends. I learn so much from other golf professionals’ successes and challenges that I can bring back to our operation. Being a team player to my staff is equally important to the success of our   business. I provide support and praise when circumstances warrant.

TFC: Put into words what it means to receive such an honor?
CB: I feel humble and grateful to all my fellow golf professionals to award me this high honor. There are so many people that unconditionally gave their time mentoring me throughout my career to be a better golf professional. One of my goals is to pass this knowledge onto the new generation of golf professionals and buyers so, they can be better for the future, especially with all the tools of social media and the internet. Being awarded for the second time, I am humbled to inspire other women PGA and LPGA professionals to pursue and achieve their lifelong dreams in the golf industry.  

TFC: What are some keys to an appealing shop?
CB: Clean, neat and organized, creative displays and easy traffic flow.

TFC: How often do you freshen up or re-arrange your displays?
CB: Weekly. If we have increased sell thru on a fixture this allows us to put new merchandise in the shop. 

TFC: What does superior customer service look like for you?
CB: Superior customer service is the commitment to giving the highest level of product or service to every person. Exceptional customer service is unconditionally given through genuineness, exceeding expectations, problem solving and timeliness — regardless of the circumstances.

TFC: When you're not in the shop working, you can be found
CB: On my pontoon boat with friends on Lake Oconee or spending time with my two dogs, Becky (corgi mix) and Abbey (miniature Rat Terrier).

TFC: Do you play golf and how has been a merchandiser influenced your game?
CB: I am a golf professional so fashion and fit are important to me when I play. When I purchase clothing I like to know the sizing so, my customers will know to purchase the right size. Proper skort and short lengths are important because there are so many body types that prefer a specific length. I am picky when purchasing layering and outerwear pieces because few pieces allow me the freedom of movement while playing.       

TFC: How do you keep and motivate your staff?
CB: The job market is very challenging, and it is difficult to find and keep employees. Providing a positive, fun comfortable environment to staff allows them to perform their responsibilities better. Getting to know them on a personal level and learn about their hobbies and sports interests shows that I appreciate them as individuals instead of a just a staff member doing their job.

Empowering them to share ideas and opinions with other staff fosters a sense of ownership to the betterment of the operation. Challenging staff by giving them new projects to “own” helps them grow and gain more confidence in their position. Lastly, it’s important to praise employees for a doing a good job and show appreciation for the effort they put into accomplishing their responsibilities. I am a firm believer that the little things we offer — like paid time off or treating to lunch — goes a long way to maintaining longevity and loyalty.