Past, present, future blog – Bobby Millar, Auchterlonies, St Andrews

The Past, Present and Future #blog looks at life before, during and after #Coronavirus. It considers what #marketing and #communication strategies are being deployed, how businesses are reacting to #lockdown and what they plan to do next. The Word Association, an established PR and marketing agency based close to St Andrews in Fife, interviews leading lights in golf, tourism and hospitality about these challenging times.

This week’s interview is with Bobby Millar who heads up one of the most treasured golf shops in St Andrews. Celebrating its 125th anniversary while also unveiling its first fully fledged commercial website, Auchterlonies of St Andrews was set for a momentous 2020 – then Coronavirus struck.


Bobby Millar, 15:30, 18/05/20

Past – How optimistic were you going about 2020?

“We thought it was going to be a great year – the year before The Open at St Andrews! The orders were all fulfilled and we were stocked up. We were ready to go. Speaking to various people around St Andrews like tour operators and course managers, everything looked good. It was going to be a great year.”

Past – There was a lot of positivity, not least because we had cleared the Brexit uncertainty.

“In a way, Brexit was good for my business because during the season the majority of our customers come from overseas. Because of Brexit, the dollar and euro rates were very strong against the pound. Even towards the end of last year, we noticed tourists spending more because they were taking advantage of the good exchange rate. So Brexit had a positive effect for us.”

Past – In terms of marketing, I assume your new website was the big focus. When was that due to be launched?

“The plan was to launch it in the summer but because of Covid 19 and the shops closing, we decided that if we went online, we would still have a shop door to sell from, as it were. We wanted to hold off and make sure it was 100% before we actually launched it, but Covid 19 brought the launch forward, otherwise we would have probably waited until June/July time. It’s been a big project; we’ve been working on it for nine months now.”

Past – Is this the first commercial website for Auchterlonies?

“Pretty much. We tried to do one about seven years ago, but it was very half-hearted – we didn’t really push it at all. Everybody has a website now and we’ve been getting pressure from our customers asking why we weren’t online.”

Past – Apart satisfying demand from your customers, was the launch timed to coincide with the build-up to The Open in 2021?

“That was definitely going to help, but the big driving force was that Auchterlonies is 125 years old this year, so we thought it would be quite cool to launch a website to help celebrate our anniversary. So the shop started in 1895. That’s when it all began.”


Present – So it was going to be a big year for Auchterlonies, and then Covid 19 kicked in!

“It was a scary time. At the start of all this, we didn’t realise how generous the government was going to be with the furlough scheme which has been a huge help to us. We have a lot of loyal staff who have been with us a long time. We were keen to keep as many of them on as possible because it’s hard to get good people, so the government helped ease a lot of pressure on us. The other worry was that we’d received all our deliveries and the majority of the goods we sell are crested up, so you can’t cancel them at a drop of a hat. It was a lot or pressure – having a shop full of stuff and no customers. That’s quite a worry.”

Present – How many staff do you have?

“On the books just now between the three shops, we have 24. We’ve kept two on full-time.”

Present – What was your communications strategy during the lockdown?

“Our approach has been to keep everyone aware that Auchterlonies is still here and hopefully we’ll come through the storm and reopen in a responsible manor so our customers feel safe enough to come into the store and shop with us.”

Present – How have you achieved that?

“I’ve recorded a couple of videos that have been posted on social media and we’ve been putting out daily posts to keep people up to date with what’s happening and the new products being added to the website. We’re keeping ourselves in the public eye.”

Present – And the website went live in March of course -what’s been the reaction to that?

“It’s really surprised us. We obviously had budgets in place, but the website has exceeded these in the first couple of months. That said, it takes a long time to get your name out there. Although we think we’re quite famous, a hell of a lot of people have never heard of Auchterlonies. It certainly takes time.”


Future – As we edge closer to the lockdown being lifted, are you seeing a change in the appetite for golf in St Andrews?

“Everyone is desperate to get out for a game. That’s certainly what I’ve heard around town – everyone’s fed up waiting. With courses opening in England and Ireland, that’s made us even more anxious to get out there. Even for people’s mental health, I think it will great to get the courses open again. People will get out and get back a bit of sanity.”

Future – And it should help sales.

“It would be great for online sales, but we also thought we would provide a click-and-collect service for local people; you know for essential items like balls, tees and gloves. Stuff they need for their first game back. They’ll order online and we’ll have a member of staff in the shop waiting for them. This will control the flow of people into the shop, because when we do reopen we’ll do so responsibly. For instance, if you’re doing a click-and-collect, there might be a time-slot for you to come down and collect your purchase and there will be someone there to meet you. We’re quite lucky because we have two doors, so we’ll have an ‘in’ and ‘out’ door so people don’t have to get too close to each other.”

Future – Looking forward, how are you preparing for business next year?

“I think 2021 will be an amazing year. All the visitors who were coming to St Andrews this year will change to next year. Also, the fact the R&A has moved The Open to 2022 is going to be great because there’ll be no disruptions. Normally the Old Course is closed four weeks before The Open and week afterwards so there is a lull in business which effects the whole town and surrounding courses as well. The fact that next year will be a normal year will work in our favour.”

Future – Will Auchterlonies change the way it communicates with customers in the future?

“Yes. I think we’ll probably pull ourselves into the modern world. Speaking to all these digital guys, I think we’ll be using social media much more. Before we’ve probably been a bit old-fashioned in the way we’ve marketed ourselves. In fact, we don’t do a lot of marketing, which sounds a bit daft. It’s probably only now we have the website that we’re looking to do more. I certainly see us having more presence online.”

Future – Have you devised a strategy for this renewed marketing focus?

“We’ve been thinking about it. In St Andrews, you have two elements to consider; the person who has already been to the town and knows the shop well, and the person who’s never been but would love to come. So these will be the two different elements we’ll use to market ourselves going forward.”


– Ends –

Situated less than 50 yards from the famous 18th green of the Old Course, Auchterlonies is one of the oldest and best-known golf shops in St Andrews. It was started in 1895 by David Auchterlonie who entrusted the business to his sons, which included Willie who won The Open at Prestwick in 1893 and was back in the shop making clubs two days after his victory.

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