DTC

How a golf polo brand teed off on its matching youth shirts strategy

Sunday Swagger promotes matching kids’ shirts for Father’s Day, but they pay dividends year-round.
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Sunday Swagger

4 min read

Mark Carmona launched his DTC brand of unapologetically loud golf polo shirts, Sunday Swagger, in November 2019, and the timing turned out to be fortuitous. During Covid-19, golf, in the words of the Sports Business Journal, “provided a socially distanced recreational opportunity that other sports couldn’t, allowing many people to experience the game for the first time.”

The number of golfers who teed off on a course in 2023 reached 26.6 million, a 9.9% increase over the pre-Covid total of 24.2 million in 2018, according to National Golf Foundation data cited by the publication.

For Sunday Swagger, it meant players were buying their first golf shirts and didn’t need to be lured away from an established brand.

“We weren’t necessarily having to compete with them [being] loyal to a TravisMathew polo or a Nike polo,” Carmona told Retail Brew. “So it really opened the doors for us early on.”

The brand saw triple-digit year over year revenue growth for its first three years, with profitability progressively increasing over those years, all bootstrapped with neither investors nor debt, according to Carmona.

When it comes to growth, one unexpected driver Carmona has pulled out of his bag is the introduction of youth polos, all in the same patterns as adult sizes, in 2022. The youth shirts, which are unisex, have been central to the brand’s marketing for Father’s Day, with dad getting not just a polo, but a Mini Me.

But far from just giving a bump for June, the youth shirts have turned out to be a catalyst, transforming its purchasers into the brand’s most valued customers.

Fairway to heaven: Sunday Swagger previously had introduced women’s polos, also with many in the same patterns as men’s, in 2021, and Carmona said families that don boldly patterned matching shirts can’t seem to wait to post photos on social media, often tagging the brand when they do so.

“When these people post their matching content on their own social media channels and they tag us, the traction that they’re getting from these posts is unbelievable, and the questions inevitably come in: ‘Where did you get that?’” Carmona said. “That’s just free advertising for us, so it’s wildfire.”

But what Carmona said was nothing less than “quite staggering” is how customers who purchase a youth polo—which, at $39, is significantly cheaper than the $59 adult polo—end up spending so much more money overall with the brand.

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To illustrate, Carmona focused on his customers’ Lifetime Value (LTV) in 2023, which essentially is the sum total of their orders for the year. For customers who purchased at least one youth polo in the course of the year, their LTV on average was 217% higher than customers who hadn’t purchased a youth polo. In other words, customers who bought even just one of those $39 shirts spent an average of more than twice as much over the year as those who didn’t buy a youth polo.

As for the average order value, orders that included a youth polo were 54% higher for the year than orders that did not include one.

Another round: The experience of hanging out with progeny while they were wearing matching polos also increased the likelihood that parents would be return customers in 2023. Among first-time customers in 2023 whose order included a youth polo, 53% completed at least one more order—what’s known in retail parlance as the retention rate. That’s significantly higher than the brand’s average retention rate, which is 44%.

“When they’re coming in and buying the youth polo, they’ll buy a father’s polo, a youth polo, maybe two youth polos if they have two kids,” Carmona said. “And then they’re gonna come back and they’re gonna do that again. And then again.”

Now that he’s crunched the numbers, Carmona sees that adding youth polos was the retail equivalent of a hole in one, but he’s the first to admit it wasn’t part of some grand plan.

“Youth was an afterthought for us to begin with,” Carmona said.

Collared greens: In May, Sunday Swagger, which calculates that it has more than 1 million impressions daily through paid social media advertising, featured parents and kids in matching polos in those ads.

As a result, sales of the youth polos were up 884% in May over last year—and could have been better.

“We would throw up these ads and stock out in four or five days and then we’d have another shipment come in and we restock it and then that would sell out,” Carmona said. “It was absolutely mind blowing.”

Some families are doing their annual holiday photos in matching polos, which begs the question: Could family polos become the new family pajamas?

Retail news that keeps industry pros in the know

Retail Brew delivers the latest retail industry news and insights surrounding marketing, DTC, and e-commerce to keep leaders and decision-makers up to date.