Anne Broholm is the CEO of AHEAD, LLC, a Massachusetts-based headwear and apparel company that provides product to green grass golf shops, resorts, and professional golf tournaments nationwide. In this role, Ms. Broholm is one of few female senior executives in the golf industry. Ms. Broholm came to AHEAD with over 25 years of progressive management experience in the apparel industry with companies including Ocean Pacific, Liz Claiborne, and Imperial Headwear and is active on numerous boards in both the golf industry and the New Bedford area. Prior to being named CEO of AHEAD in 2012, Ms. Broholm was Vice President of the Golf Division of Cutter & Buck, a Seattle-based apparel company.
THE BROHOLM STORY —
As a merchandising graduate of Colorado State, my early career was spent in the apparel industry – not even golf apparel but rather with brands such as Ocean Pacific and Liz Claiborne. While I was in New York I also worked for a high-end knitwear company – we did private label products for the likes of Bergdorf, Henri Bendel, and others. That company—KSK International— owned and operated the Leon Levin women’s golf brand. That was my first real exposure to golf specific apparel and, while I didn’t work on that side of the company, it opened my eyes to the golf industry and gave me an early taste of it.
When I moved back to Colorado I was fortunate to have an opportunity with Imperial Headwear. But perhaps the most defining moment that significantly influenced my career in golf came in the form of the opportunity to join Cutter & Buck. Had this development not occurred I’m not sure I’d still be in the golf industry. I was ready for a new challenge and had completed my MBA in preparation for a career shift. The timing and position at Cutter & Buck was perfect and allowed me to utilize my knowledge and experience in apparel while staying in the industry I had come to know and love during my tenure at Imperial. To be aligned with brands such as Cutter & Buck and Annika was a wonderful experience. I believe once you are in the golf industry it is hard to imagine a different path – it really gets under your skin. For that matter, so does the game itself, although I’m living proof a low handicap is not a prerequisite to work in this industry. What is perhaps most enticing is that while golf is really big business, it still feels like a small industry and one you can make a contribution to.
What’s your assessment, thus far, on how the 2019 year will be for AHEAD?
Based on our Q1. as well as our positive results in 2018. I am bullish on 2019 and expect another positive year for AHEAD. This past month, in particular, it really seems as though the golf industry is awakening for the season and activity has been strong.
Successful people often benefited from a key lesson learned early on — what’s yours?
An early mentor taught me the value of keeping the focus on what matters. What matters to AHEAD is our customers and I continually work to ensure I’m never too far removed from that interaction.
What distinguishes AHEAD from your competition?
Our approach is very entrepreneurial and we work to keep the creative and product focus at the forefront of what we do. The breadth and scope of what we offer is impressive and we have become experts at collaborative custom solutions for our customers. We don’t just try to sell them what we have, but instead really work toward developing what they need.
What’s the approximate split between male and female customers?
Our golf customers – pro shops, resorts, and events – tend to have a higher percentage of male versus female consumers buying headwear.That said, we are seeing very positive momentum for both headwear and apparel specifically designed for and purchased by women.
How are men and women different in what they seek from headwear?
Men are very logo driven — women tend to give more consideration to the style of cap. But both value function, comfort, and fit when selecting headwear.
How much of a headwear choice is based on sun protection versus simply a fashion conscious decision?
Sun protection is certainly key in headwear and those that are very serious about it gravitate toward a larger brimmed option versus a ball cap style. But once that choice is made, it’s all about the aesthetics—fabrication, ornamentation, comfort, and fit.
Is there a price point for headwear that inhibits purchasing?
Headwear is still a very affordable option for the consumer playing a course or attending an event. It’s also a collectible item that people own multiples of. Prices for licensed headwear can be in the mid to upper $30’s or even a bit higher. For a great hat with a good looking logo the customer is definitely willing to pay a bit more.
All companies, those in golf and elsewhere, regularly tout customer service. Define the term and the approach followed at AHEAD?
Great service is not just what we do – we have worked to make it who we are. We expect to deliver quality product, on time. We enjoy getting to know our customers and help them with what they need to be successful in their businesses. Customer service starts at the top and goes through our entire organization.
AHEAD has a presence in some of golf’s biggest events. How has that added to the company’s profile and overall sales?
Yes we are fortunate to have a number of high-level, high-profile partnerships. But it is really the many clubs and facilities across the country that are the backbone of our business. What matters to them is not who else we sell to, but how we treat and service their order. We give our smallest order the same care as the larger ones.
Biggest challenge — short and long term — facing AHEAD and what are you doing to achieve success in both situations?
Our challenge short term is just keeping focused on what is in front of us. We are managing in a growth mode, which is fast paced, exciting, and rewarding. Long term, like any business, we are working to plan for and navigate market changes. How do we keep ahead of new automation, react to different buying methods, and ensure we are strong enough to succeed during not only the ups but also the downs of economic cycles.
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