Pebble Beach, anyone? Apparel: Columbia-based Pebble Beach Apparel is the North American wholesaler of golf and tennis clothing with the Pebble Beach logo.

July 06, 1998|By J. Leffall | J. Leffall,SUN STAFF

Hilton Gluck is looking forward to playing golf at Pebble Beach this fall. Until then, he will settle for selling clothes that bear the name of the course he's so fond of.

Gluck is president of Columbia-based Pebble Beach Apparel, which has exclusive rights to be the North American wholesaler of golf and tennis apparel that has the logo of the world famous golf course. The clothing is sold in several stores, including Nordstrom.

Not only is Gluck gearing up for his November trip to Pebble Beach, but he is also preparing for a marketing and selling blitz starting next year that will lead up to the centennial U.S. Open at Pebble Beach in June 2000.

Before Gluck, 47, hooked up with the Monterey, Calif., resort, he helped run the golf and tennis division at Columbia-based Head USA -- with his partner, Monty James -- after working for a Head subsidiary in his native South Africa.

"I came to America 20 years ago because I wanted a change. As far as golf is concerned, this country is the best there is, and Pebble Beach, of course, is the best of the best," Gluck said.

Stephen Latz, an analyst who covers Nordstrom Inc. for A. G. Edwards in St. Louis, said it's difficult for an independent wholesaler to pitch a product to a large department store.

"You'd have to have a product that is recognizable, and you'd definitely have to meet the rigorous standards of a store such as Nordstrom because they have a certain customer base," Latz said.

Gluck said his connection with buyers at Nordstrom when he and James were at Head helped his credibility when he went out on his own.

Gluck left Head in 1995 because he didn't like the "direction it was going."

Upon leaving, he established his company -- SWC Inc./Dynamic Design -- and became a wholesaler distributing private-label sportswear, such as the "Zinger" brand endorsed by pro golfer Paul Azinger, mainly to Nordstrom.

A few months later, James joined Gluck and became vice president

the company.

Likewise, it seemed as if the top brass at Pebble Beach wasn't too pleased with the direction in which its licensee was going. So in January 1996, Gluck got a call from Pebble Beach marketing executives. At the time he wondered, "Why me?"

"We had been aware of Hilton for some time, when he was a very valued vendor at Head. And we realized that, with 26 million golfers out there, we have to cater to their needs exclusively," said Steven Wille, senior vice president of marketing at Pebble Beach.

Wille said commitment to a quality product and professionalism are something his company looks for in a licensee. "We found that in Hilton," he said.

It was then that Hilton realized why Pebble Beach chose him instead of some $300 million wholesaler.

"They knew that we, as a smaller outfit, would devote all of our time and efforts to this company and its product, whereas a larger company may delegate that responsibility to somebody else," he said.

"I think that's why they chose my company."

Neither Pebble Beach Co. nor Gluck's company would talk specifically about how much the license cost, although Wille did discuss the general terms of such an agreement.

Licensing deals vary from product to product. Gluck's agreement with Pebble Beach was based on royalty percentages with a guaranteed minimum fee for exclusive rights, Wille said.

"Ralph Lauren may do something entirely different, like charge a flat fee for a licensee to distribute socks with his logo," he said. "In a case like this, we asked for a percentage of the projected revenue coupled with a piece of the royalties from that point on."

Selling a license to the highest bidder isn't always a good idea, Wille added.

"Sometimes you can hurt yourself by looking at money instead of the viability of a long-term partnership," he said.

After the contract with Pebble Beach was finalized, Gluck and James got straight to work, changing their company name to Pebble Beach Apparel and parlaying their new venture into what is now a $7 million company.

"It was a good opportunity for me, and Hilton and I worked well together," James said. "We both saw a need for independence and entered into a pretty good business in a lucrative market."

After receiving $2 million in start-up money from the Maryland Trade Finance Program, Gluck was able to expand his operation to a 10,000-square-foot warehouse where the company employs eight people.

Currently, Pebble Beach Apparel is preparing to release its fall line. Gluck said the product needs very little advertising or marketing because "the Pebble Beach name sort of speaks for itself. It's synonymous with excellence and class, which is directly reflected in the clothing collection."

James agrees. "The exposure the resort gets is sufficient advertising for us. When people see the apparel, they are going to think authentic golf."

Gluck and James design the clothing together, confer with people at Pebble Beach and, finally, send sketches and ideas to their manufacturers in Thailand.

Gluck said his company has gotten off to a better start than most apparel companies, which usually take a while to get up to par.

"In this industry, it takes six to eight years to turn a profit; we've become profitable in three," Gluck said.

Some of Gluck and James' most memorable moments have been on the course at Pebble Beach.

"The crashing surf and the climate that changes every day; no game is the same," James said.

"The few birdies I've shot there, the course is really amazing, I'm looking forward to faring a little better the next time I play there," Gluck added.

Pub Date: 7/06/98

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