Langley Perrins left for America in the early 1980s when he was 17, on the advice of PGA Tour pro Denis Watson, whom he had befriended while a member at Parkview GC. He won a handful of amateur events in Florida, but in order to stay in the country he was forced to turn professional. A year later, he was playing on various mini-tours, but also working in the pro shop at the Plantation Country Club in Venice, a job that piqued his interest in golf retail.
On returning to South Africa, Perrins played on the Sunshine Tour for 10 years without much success, and started his own business called Active Bullet, which imported gloves, tees and David Leadbetter training aids (having met the legendary teacher in Florida through Watson) and that is where the history of Global Golf started.
Further ventures followed in the equipment industry, first with Dale Hayes and Bullet Golf and then with Tony Rice and Mizuno. “While playing the local tour, I always dabbled in some form of business to stay alive,” says the 42-year-old. “Then my ankle was crushed in a car accident in 1993, and I endured seven operations on my right index finger after I got gangrene from an accident while changing the grip of a club. I was out of golf for 18 months and needed to find alternative sources of income.”
In 1996, while paging through an American golf magazine, Perrins came across adverts for Cutter & Buck and had the idea of bringing upmarket golf apparel to South Africa. He contacted the company and travelled to America to set up the deal. It was immediately successful and became the benchmark in this country for high-end apparel, which Global Golf then expanded into its own stores. “The decision to partner golf clubs and resorts in running their pro shop operation has been very beneficial for both parties,” says Perrins. “Clubs wouldn’t normally go the route of buying high-end merchandise, but we take the risk because we know what we are doing. We believe in our products and have the merchandising techniques to sell them off the shelves.”
Perrins is also a partner and shareholder in Prestige Brands in Australia and New Zealand, which follows the same business model of Global Golf. Former River Club CEO Rob Selley is a partner in the business, after emigrating to Brisbane at the end of last year.
Jo Bartram helps grow Global Golf
Jo Bartram joined Global Golf in 1998, taking a 20 percent share of the business. Married to Rob Bartram, the brand manager for Mizuno Golf in South Africa, Jo began her career in golf by working for her father – Peter Nicols, the former head professional at Country Club Johannesburg.
She ran a successful graphic design and corporate promotional business prior to joining Global Golf. As well as overseeing the business, Bartram pays particular attention to the growing market of women’s apparel and accessories. “Ten years ago, we stocked two versions of Cutter & Buck women’s golf shirts,” says the attractive 39-year-old, who already has 20 years’ experience in the golf industry. “If women played in corporate golf days, we had to give them a men’s small shirt, which they swam in!”
It’s a far cry from their range today, which encompasses three brands – C&B, Rhode Island and Kate Lord – with full ranges of golf shirts, knits, outerwear and more formal woven shirts. Cutter & Buck also produce the Annika Collection, a younger and funkier women’s range sold in SA, which the former world number one is involved in from design to finished product.
“The women’s golf apparel market has really taken off, with a lot of younger, very fashion-conscious girls starting the game,” added Bartram. “Women are now able to colour-coordinate their entire outfit because of the huge range of choices – just as long as no one else in the club has the same combination,” she quips. Global’s extensive range allows corporates to order matching (colour) men’s and women’s C&B shirts for their golf days.
Mike Askew brings wealth of knowledge to the Business
The third director is Mike Askew, who owns five percent of the business and has a background in the equipment industry. Askew first worked for MacGregor in 1994, followed by Wilson and then Mizuno.
Askew recalls the early days of Global Golf, when the company was run from Perrins’ home garage in Sunninghill, in a 150 square-metre townhouse that had golf apparel boxes stored in every room. “Langley’s family car, a green Ford Estate station wagon, doubled as the company’s delivery truck,” he laughs. “When we eventually got rid of it, there were 275 000 kilometres on the clock.” In those days, it was common practice to race across Johannesburg late at night to deliver shirts to a customer. Personal service has always been their number one priority.
“We are extremely proud of the fact that we have never missed delivery of an order for a golf day,” says Askew. “We’ve been dangerously close, and once had to hand out shirts on the tee box, but the client has always received their product. Getting the customer’s order correct is the key. Nothing is ever simple or the same.” But it hasn’t always been plain sailing for Global Golf. Perrins admits that the company suffered “two big hits” in the past that almost left them insolvent. In 1997, the company’s third big shipment had arrived in Durban and was being transported by rail to Johannesburg when thieves drove a bakkie down the tracks and boarded the train. Out of Global’s 70 cartons on board, 55 were never seen again and they were not adequately insured. The second shock was when the rand crashed at the end of 2001 against the dollar, to an all-time low of R13.84. Global Golf were awaiting delivery of goods to arrive from their factories but still had to pay the head office in America. To make matters worse, they had pre-sold merchandise to local customers and would eventually lose between R300 000 and R400 000.
“Both times, we had to trade our way out of the hole,” says Perrins. “Fortunately, we had understanding shippers, and had always maintained a great relationship with Cutter & Buck, who were sympathetic to our plight at the time.”