Top golf apparel, headwear, and accessories CEO Anne Broholm shares a few thoughts on anniversaries, change, and driving continued success year after year.
My name is Sean and I’m an AHEAD-o-holic. There, I said it. I only realized I am dependent on golf apparel company AHEAD’s caps and clothes when my older brothers staged an intervention after a recent round. “Great pullovers,” one of them said. “But do you realize you wear them all the time?”
He was pretty much right. I had purchased not one, but two, of the same style in different colors two years prior and ever since at least one of them is within reach. Some people have their easy chairs; I have my go-to golf clothing. No problem, right?
After getting home I looked through the few items of apparel and caps I have purchased for myself (the rest comes my way via hand me downs or birthday gifts), and realized I almost exclusively buy AHEAD. Let me point out that I’m in no way a label hunter. I don’t find AHEAD’s products. They find me.
I had to learn the secret to how AHEAD has managed to speak to me and countless other customers, so I got in touch with the company’s CEO, Anne Broholm, to put forth a few questions. As fate would have it, I learned the company–formed in a garage in the American northeast–is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. That’s a significant milestone for any company. It’s also a sign that the talented people supplying my comfort clothes fix of choice will be around for a long, long time.
AT A GLANCE Anne Broholm, Award-winning CEO of AHEAD, Inc. (since 2012).
Oversees four business units, including AHEAD Men’s Apparel, AHEAD Headwear, PGA Authentic, and Kate Lord (women’s headwear, apparel, and accessories).
Formerly Global Sales Manager of golf for Cutter & Buck and Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Imperial Headwear.
Worked with fashion and active-wear brands such as Liz Claiborne, Ocean Pacific, and O’Neill.
LinkedGolfers: Your company is celebrating its 20th-year anniversary. What does this milestone mean to the company?
Anne Broholm: It’s an important milestone for us. It not only gives us a chance to look back on and celebrate our progress internally, it also offers us the opportunity to re-tell our story to our customers, the markets we compete in, and the local business community in New Bedford, Mass., where AHEAD is a key employer.
A company can have all of the operational tools, a nice building, and even great people like we do, but at the end of the day you have to deliver product that sells. Our team is incredible. They manage to deliver great products, season after season.
LG: Few companies can claim to have survived for two decades. To what do you attribute AHEAD’s longevity?
AB: AHEAD has not only survived, but thrived. Certainly there have been tough times – many businesses are still feeling the effects of the recent recession and a challenging golf economy – but while our company has changed and evolved over time we also have stayed true to our core vision.
At the heart of our vision–and our products–is our creative approach to ornamentation. The company stands out from the crowd as the clear leader when it comes to innovative decoration and logo treatments.
We’re still about being creative with design and ornamentation on top of a foundation of great products that meet our own standards. Whether it is AHEAD’s great assortment of headwear, the quality and innovation in our accessories lineup, or our apparel, we are delivering products that are top in their class.
It’s an honor for me personally to be leading AHEAD during this key anniversary year.
LG: There is no shortage of apparel companies in the golf industry. How has AHEAD managed to differentiate itself?
AB: Although AHEAD was founded on headwear, we have been able to carry that success over to the accessories and apparel categories. In apparel we do not try to be something we aren’t. Rather, we celebrate our core strength of creative ornamentation and are always conscious of applying that concept to all of our product categories. We’ve always been known for our fabulous logo outerwear.
We also have become very skilled technically. We feel great pride not just in our unique style but in how we produce quality fabrications that are becoming more important to the overall mix — lightweight, wicking, polyester. And in the cotton category, for those purists who still want cotton fiber on their heads, we craft a lightweight cotton design in multiple fits that has become one of our best-selling fabrications.
LG: How important a contributor to success is establishing a relationship with customers and how does AHEAD go about this?
AB: We place a very high priority on our relationship with our customers. The closer you are to your customer the better able you are to meet their needs and to truly develop a partnership that is mutually beneficial. We never take any customer of any size for granted.
We also love to have customers come visit and really see what we do firsthand. That’s a bit of a challenge in the winter months but spring and fall in the Boston and New Bedford areas of Massachussetts is beautiful!
LG: AHEAD has traditionally focused on golf, but the company has recently moved into other markets. Can you tell me about that?
AB: Over the past two years we have strategically entered two additional markets – corporate and collegiate. This is a natural extension for us as our sister company Cutter & Buck is very strong in these markets. We are working closely with them and learning a lot about “little” things that really matter to the customers we think we really identify with. I’m not just talking about digging into huge spreadsheets with demographics–but making every effort to connect with, and hear the thoughts of, real people.
That said, AHEAD is first and foremost a golf company – it’s part of our DNA. Golf will always be an important driver of the strategic direction for the company.
Broholm in the Middle (image, top): AHEAD CEO Anne Broholm with Annika Sorenstam and Arnold Palmer, both brand loyalists, at the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show, Orlando.