A scaled-back PGA Show in January provided ideal setting for upstart apparel company to maximize its time in the spotlight — debuting new product, making connections
The Orange County Convention Center in Orlando wasn’t teeming with quite as many attendees or exhibitors during the last week of January as it had in past years when the PGA Merchandise Show rolled into town. But there was still a decent buzz, one fueled mostly by an optimistic resolve that the world is one step closer to shaking itself free from a nearly two-year-long pandemic.
While many of the major brands were absent — a by-product of travel restrictions, supply chain deficiencies and other logistical obstacles — the show was not a failure. Quite the opposite, especially for lesser-known or newer companies hoping to carve out slightly larger market shares in their respective categories. One such brand was Player 2, a start-up apparel label that held a prominent spot along one of two main walkways.
The genesis of Player2 began at the PGA Show, just not the most recent one. Slightly more than two years ago, a handful of the brand’s co-founders were in attendance at the show, though at the time they were working in marketing roles for other sports companies. As avid golfers and friends who would often play rounds together on the weekend, they surveyed the golf apparel marketplace at the show that year and discovered that all of the major apparel companies were lifestyle brands first. They weren’t dedicated solely to golf.
“We realized that no company was truly talking to a golfer from the apparel side,” says Player2 co-founder A.J. Romeo. “They’re more lifestyle brands first and then something a golfer would wear second. We want to be that apparel brand that they’re wearing first, a golf brand that everyone resonates with.”
In that revelatory moment in 2020, the brand’s co-founders decided they would launch an apparel company that was not only foundationally golf, it was only about golf. In that moment they also planned to exhibit at the show in 2022. As it turns out, that inaugural show for Player2 had a more resounding impact than the brand’s founders could have anticipated.
Originally, Romeo and his business partners planned to launch their company in spring 2021; however, a slew of logistical obstacles brought on by the pandemic forced them to delay that launch.
“We slowed ourselves down to get our product right and our production right and our fabrics right,” Romeo says. “We knew we needed to do all of those things at the forefront, instead of coming out with something [on our original timeline] and having it not be very good.”
So, instead of launching the company that spring, Romeo and his partners conducted a soft launch only a few days before the 2022 PGA Show. In that way, this year’s show served as the brand’s coming out party.
The steps to make that happen began with exploratory conversations with Reed Expeditions in March 2021. By June the company had signed an exhibitor contract, it submitted a deposit in September, and the company made good on its full financial commitment (a six-figure sum) at the show’s mid-November deadline. Yet, throughout the fall, the show’s exhibitor list began to change. Major brands that are staples of the show — both equipment manufacturers and apparel companies — began pulling out. As Romeo acknowledges, he and his partners were initially concerned, but after reviewing the list of show attendees and recognizing that the event could still offer significant rewards, they stayed the course.
“We decided that no matter what happens at this show, we were going to utilize it for a launch and we were also going to gain some insight and learn,” he says. “For us, it was a blessing in disguise because none of the big boys were there. We got the visibility that I don’t think we would’ve gotten at this PGA Show if all those other guys were there.”
Adds co-founder David Petrie: “We wanted people to see we were making an investment in our company and that we were making an investment in our brand.”
It helps that the Player2 team is approaching its first year with very modest goals. By the end of 2022, Romeo and his partners aim to have a pro shop presence in 10 to 15 private golf clubs across the country (along with a general e-commerce approach through direct-to-consumer website sales). Given that more than 4,000 members-only golf clubs operate across the United States, Player2’s year-one goal is conservative to say the least.
However, less than a month after the PGA Show, the brand had already secured shop contracts with 20 private golf clubs, and Romeo acknowledges that 75 percent of those business arrangements were initiated through introductory meetings at the show.
“We met with more than 200 pro shops,” he says. “And for us to have a 25- or 30-minute conversation with all of the guys at Firestone Country Club or Colonial Country Club or Troon Golf or any of the other golf courses that we met with, we never would have had that if we weren’t at the show.”
In fact, as Romeo and his team continues to make follow-up calls with many of the clubs that they had met at the show, there’s plenty of potential for the brand’s initial, year-one exposure to extend beyond 20 private club pro shops. According to Petrie, it could be double that amount, maybe even more.
As a coming out party, the PGA Show delivered everything the Player2 team had hoped it would. “We saw as many people as we wanted to see,” says Petrie. “Now they know who we are and we know who they are so we can start building those relationships. It worked to our advantage for those other companies not being there.”
While Player2’s year-one goal was conservative, the brand’s business plan is to have a presence in 600 to 800 private clubs across the country by the end of 2026. Beyond that, the founding team has aspirations to capture 3 percent of the market for golf apparel, which, like the brand’s year-one goals, is conservative. “It’s not about taking over an entire closet,” Romeo says.
“We all have the three or four shirts that we’re going to wear maybe 75 percent of the time,” adds Petrie. “We want one of those shirts in your closet to be a Player2 shirt.”
Looking ahead to the start of 2023, Romeo, Petrie, and their partners know they’ll return to the PGA Show, but they aren’t fixated on securing a similar prime location inside the convention center. In their opinion, that was a stroke of good fortune that ended up being more significant for the brand’s debut.
“The way the show normally is, we have no expectations that we need to be on a main aisle way to get traffic or to see the amount of people that we need to see,” says Petrie. “And by that time [next year] a lot of these relationships will have grown and we’ll know a lot more people and have a lot more contacts within the industry.”
Adds Romeo: “For next year, no matter where our location is, we’re going to be able to pre-book appointments and be a part of pre-booked plans that these pros have moving into the spring of 2023. That’s the true value in it.”