Why did you decide to start this business?
I was swinging a swim noodle in my driveway about 10 years ago when it occurred to me that perhaps I could extrude a short "noodle" in the form of an X and have an affordable wind-resistance golf trainer. Well, that really couldn't be done in the scale that provided enough resistance, so I shifted gears and decided to make the SwingWing as an inflatable product. The inflatable design would have all of the same attributes as other wind-resistance trainers on the market, but with lots of advantages and also additional uses. My biggest goal and the reason I created SwingWing Golf was to make a wind-resistance trainer that is simple to use and affordable to own.
What was the biggest hurdle you had to overcome?
The first big hurdle was perfecting the product, overcoming the many design issues and manufacturing stumbles. After many months of trial and error, the perfect balance of product design and production tolerances resulted in the current version of the SwingWing. The big remaining hurdle is just simple brand exposure and awareness. Once a golfer sees or tries the SwingWing, it sells itself. But the golf industry is strewn with training aids and it can be very difficult and expensive to promote the product and establish brand awareness.
What was the most rewarding moment in this process?
I have had two long drive champions contact me (unsolicited) to tell me they think the SwingWing is a terrific idea. Marcus Edblad stopped by my booth at the PGA Merchandise Show this past January to tell me he thought my product was the best training aid at the show. Later I learned that Marcus is the Swedish Long Drive record holder and has been dominant on the European Long Drive Tour for years. Another long drive champion, Steve Griffith, wrote me a very nice letter of encouragement and support. Although I have not met him yet I plan to thank him in person sometime soon.
Explain the process of going from idea to having a finished product for sale. How long did it take?
The original idea of an extruded water noodle (formed as an X) did not pan out, and then came the inflatable concept. To work through the bugs and perfect the design took about a year. Then I applied for a patent and that process took maybe a year and a half before it was finally granted in 2005. Unfortunately, at the time I did not have the resources (or the courage) to move forward, but that changed in March of last year when I decided to truly go for it with the SwingWing. Fifteen months later, I have sold more than 1,000 SwingWings from my website, and have distributors carrying the product in six countries outside of the United States (Australia, New Zealand, Sweden, Holland, England and Canada), not to mention four major distributors here in the U.S.
What unexpected challenges did you face?
In addition to exposure and establishing brand recognition, the big challenge is gaining acceptance with the major golf chains, like Golfsmith and Edwin Watts. Although you can find the SwingWing in a lot of retail stores (including Golf Galaxy and Roger Dunn Golf Shops) the biggest golf store chains are not that easy to get your product into. They have so many great products to choose from. Although I think the SwingWing would be a good product for all of them, it just takes time and market awareness before stores will devote shelf space for a new product like the SwingWing. I can say with clarity that if someone has a new product they are introducing to the market, it is critical to design the packaging so that the product's message is crystal clear and simple to understand. My first version of the packaging was drab and not easy to understand, while my current version is succinct and to the point ... and is performing much better in the retail stores.
What advice would you give to someone thinking about starting a golf business?
Advice is hard to give because circumstances can vary drastically from case to case. But in a nutshell, I'd say that the key to success is total commitment, both psychologically and financially. If you believe your product is viable, and you honestly feel it has market potential (and you've done solid market testing) then you need to form a good plan and commit the resources to get it done. I've recently retained a great marketing consultant (Holly Geoghegan, President of Golf Marketing Services) who has helped me structure a cohesive game plan moving forward to avoid costly mistakes and expenditures, while maximizing SwingWing's exposure to the golf community at large. I only wish I had retained a consultant like Holly much sooner, the advice and knowledge is priceless, and I'm already seeing opportunities for SwingWing Golf that I would have never imagined prior to her involvement.