Q&A: Adam Levy | CEO / President, Club Champion

The club fitting company has been on the rise since Levy's arrival in 2021. He discusses a number of aspects contributing to Club Champion's ascension with The First Call

Adam Levy | Club Champion
Adam Levy.

Adam Levy arrived at Club Champion in 2021 amid the COVID-19 pandemic — a period that made companies take a hard look at how they were doing business and interacting with customers. Under Levy's watch as CEO and president, the club fitting company took stock, adapted and continued to grow internally and in the marketplace.

Levy's broad retail experience at Tumi, Tommy Hilfiger and Refac Optical Group positioned him well for his move to Club Champion, which is located in Willowbrook, Illinois. Under Levy, Club Champion has expanded its number of retail locations and launched a number of initiatives ranging from content creation to technology.

In this Q&A with The First Call's Stuart Hall, Levy discusses Club Champion's current state of affairs, along with what could be on the horizon.

The First Call: Since you became CEO and president in January 2021, Club Champion has been on a positive trajectory in terms of expansion domestically and internationally, and you have launched a number initiatives including the AI Fitter Co-Pilot. How would you sum up the past 2 1/2-plus years?
Adam Levy: An incredible job by the entire team. This company has made significant changes to keep that forward progress while still delivering consistent and strong results. We have opened up two new distribution centers in Willowbrook, Illinois, and and Tempe, Arizona, to cover our domestic production for the next decade and beyond; expanded our international footprint to four total countries with the additions of Canada, the UK (including Scotland), and Australia; opened 50-plus new studios to accelerate from 75 studios to over 125 in just a couple years; refreshed our store prototype; opened a flagship store in New York City; and upgraded our technology dramatically with a new ERP system and the AI Fitter Co-Pilot. Our team has grown and gotten stronger, and we’ve gotten better at communicating internally.

Lastly, our customer communications have continued to improve, with new network TV strategies and a deeper dive into customer research. What is crazy is — that’s my edited list. Our people have been incredibly productive in a short period of time, with a can-do attitude that makes our company a great place to work.

TFC: Prior to coming over to Club Champion, you worked in the optical care and apparel and accessories industries. What was the allure of taking over at Club Champion? What was your opinion of the company prior and what surprised or impressed you once you got settled into the role?
AL: I described the concept of Club Champion as "unstoppable" and am still feeling that way. The luxury experiential retail aspect is amazing and "unAmazonable." Having worked at Tumi, I enjoyed being in the luxury business and in optical, I liked the mass customization part. Club Champion has both, in addition to being the leader in the fitting category. The people ultimately made it an obvious place to want to be; our chairman, Joe Lee, and founder, Nick Sherburne, are not only great guys but incredibly knowledgeable about the space and supportive of the path we’re on as a brand. I am impressed to this day by how nimble and quickly the company can react. Our teams do a great job of assimilating information and then taking action.

TFC: The entire golf industry was affected by the pandemic, so as we continue from that period what did you learn — either personally or as a company?
AL: I think everyone learned from the pandemic that flexibility and being able to make changes quickly is key to customer satisfaction and driving a business. The idea that "we have always done it this way" is simply not customer-centric. We listen to our customers and react. That is not really a learn for myself or the company, but the degree and speed at which everyone has to make changes is that much faster than prior to the pandemic.

Additionally, like most retailers, I think the pandemic forced us to get smarter. Not only with our core services but also in how we operate our business. We’re smarter about who and how we hire, we’re smarter about inventory levels, we’re smarter about the customer service we provide. Surviving and thriving after such an unprecedented event isn’t something to take for granted (personally or as a company) and I think we’ve been able to take some of those lessons and turn Club Champion into a better place to be.

TFC: In July, for the first time, Club Champion was named to the 2023 Inc. 5000 list, which recognizes fast-growing U.S.-based companies. What did that mean for the company and what does it say about the company's trajectory?  AL: We’re thrilled to be recognized alongside so many other great companies. It is terrific to know that others see the impact of our tremendous growth, and I think it is safe to say we will continue to be on the list for the foreseeable future. The white space both domestically and internationally is incredible, and there is so much more growth coming. Regardless of how large we become — we’re projected to be over well over $1 billion in revenue at maturity — our hands-on and entrepreneurial/customer-focused approach will not change. That is what got us here, and that is what will continue to take us to new heights.

TFC: Talk about some of Club Champion's recent promotions and sponsorships. The company is had Putter Fitting Month throughout September, there is the sponsorship of the World Long Drive Championships in October. What is the strategic thinking behind these type of campaigns and alliances?    
AL: We try to focus our promotions and sponsorships on things that are relevant to our customers. Putter Fitting Month was created to focus on a part of the bag that’s underserved, in my opinion. Putters are the only club you use on every hole so we felt like we needed to really call out the benefits of a fitted putter for any golfer trying to improve. It’s crazy to think that golfers will spend all this time and energy on woods or irons but just grab any putter that looks nice.

Similarly, the World Long Drive Championship sponsorship speaks to something that is core to our business: distance. It’s a natural collaboration and speaks to one of the many ways that equipment can impact your game for the better. Look at the competitors in that field — everyone is a different size and shape, has a different swing speed and attack angle, etc.  Most golfers aren’t long drivers, of course, but there’s a similar story in our bays. An off-the-rack club will not maximize how you hit the ball since there’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all in golf.

TFC: In 2022, Club Champion acquired the popular Canadian club fitter TXG (Tour Experience Golf). What made this acquisition so palatable?  
AL: When we do acquisitions internationally, we really want to make sure it is a great cultural fit and that the approach to helping customers is the same. TXG and Ian Fraser were very in-line with Club Champion, as was Jason MacNiven at Golf Principles in the UK, and Paul Jenner at PureForm Golf in Australia. Those guys, along with our founder Nick, are in the top 10 fitters on the planet. Their mindset is incredibly aligned in how they approach customers and fitting overall. That made the transition so much easier as conceptually everyone was on board. There will always be small differences country to country, but what we do and why we do it are the same.

TFC: Correct me if I'm wrong, but TXG built a large part of its following from social media and YouTube content — including over 70 million views on YouTube — created by TXG founder Ian Fraser, who still is creating content. But you're also creating content with golf influencer Paige Spiranac, Me and My Golf, and others. When did Club Champion begin to really embrace this kind of content, what role does it play and are you reaching different demographics that are helping grow business?
AL: Even prior to Paige and some of these other big names, we understood that awareness was key. Bringing in some of these influencers to help us get the word out and package our value propositions in different ways has been incredibly effective across all kinds of channels. Paige was sort of the litmus test and when she helped prove that influencer marketing works, we continued to test our way into relationships with everyone you listed and more. Our marketing dollars will grow along with our focus on content and new demographics in the coming months. Interest in golf and golf content is growing across the board, so that rising tide will also lift our boat.

TFC: Where do you envision Club Champion in three years?
AL: More expansion domestically and internationally, a more robust e-commerce site, and executing our growth plans. Our people and systems are in place so 100 percent of our focus will be on scaling in a consistent manner. Over time, we will employ new tactics and strategies to maintain our leadership position in the category and to branch out into new spaces. E-commerce is next, and we have other ideas after that. We realize that the number one thing that can hurt a company is growth without the thought process and resources to get it done. So while we have done an incredible amount of work, we will continue to make sure we don’t bite off more than we can chew.

TFC: Club Champion claims to be the nation's only fitter to offer 65,000 interchangeable head and shaft combinations at all of its locations. Clearly that helps set the brand apart from your competitors, but what else, in your opinion, helps create that separation? 
AL: I could list a dozen differentiators but the key is our fitters. The fitter is the most important position in our company. They generate all of our revenue and the vast majority of our profit. The fact that we train our fitters for four weeks in our Willowbrook home office is a huge expense but also an incredible competitive advantage. It is why our customer satisfaction scores are so high. We also have trainers in each of our regions who take it to the next level — if someone wants or needs more help, we have the ability to give it to them. I also think our AI Fitter Co-Pilot is fantastic. When you have the most highly trained fitters in the industry inputting information to a machine learning program that just keeps getting better over time, customers win. With over a million swings a month, our AI is incredibly good. And it helps our great fitters get even better.

TFC: If I'm in need of a club fitting, why should I choose Club Champion?
AL: One of my favorite analogies is that Olympic runners wouldn’t pick out their running shoes at Walmart while blind-folded — that’s essentially what golfers are doing when they buy clubs without a true custom fitting. It’s not just that Club Champion has the most hittable combinations or the best fitters or impeccable builds or top-tier technology — it’s that we have all of those things and more under one roof.

Sixty-five thousand hittable combinations means we have something for everyone. We have the best trained fitters in the industry as noted before. We have state-of-the-art technology. We are brand agnostic and data-driven — your score is our driving force. We build every club by hand in-house so we know it matches what was measured in the bay. We only do fittings; there are no distractions like lessons or apparel. Fittings are our focus, our passion, and our expertise in ways that the competition just cannot match.

If I had a heart condition, I would go to a heart surgeon — not my general practitioner. The heart surgeon knows more because that is all they do. Our expertise is fitting and the results our customers see are inarguable. I love our tagline as it sums it up nicely: Better fit, lower scores.