How two young golfing friends grew up to dominate the home golf industry


Rain or Shine Golf, a retailer and manufacturer of home golf equipment and accessories, has become dominant in its space since its inception in 2016, with 150% year-over-year growth since its inception. creation. [Data is self-reported.]

The two founders and co-owners, Zach Vandervelt and Shawn Foley (both 29), are former high school golf teammates who reconnected after college and realized they were both hungry for more. an entrepreneurial adventure. Foley in particular was not satisfied, working in insurance as a cybersecurity underwriter and “not feeling challenged or energized, to put it mildly.”

Vandervelt was having a little more fun with some fledgling ecommerce projects, although he wasn’t really up to it, he confesses freely now. “My craziest effort was a bean bag business. Nothing against bean bags, except: What is a central element of e-commerce? Shipping. That’s right. And is there anything heavier and harder to ship than a bean bag chair? “

They brainstormed “at least fifty” ideas for a business, but kept reverting to their first impulse, indoor putting greens, which evolved into a more general focus on home golf. “We ended up rejecting the other 49 ideas,” Vandervelt tells me, and “we focused on the one that really interested us, because it was part of the golf world.” (It has since surprised them, Foley tells me, “how little golf is involved in what we do on a daily basis. Most of the work for us was learning how to grow a business, which was a whole new thing.” world for us, from scoring and forecasting to product strategy and marketing to logistics and human resources. But it makes the groundwork more fun when we can take a moment to get a feel for the size of the golf course. in the world and the way we live. a bigger impact than just being two of the tens of millions of people playing this crazy sport. ”)

The two co-founders have a naturally easy relationship, but have chosen to divide their responsibilities in a somewhat formal way. “From the start,” says Vandervelt, the way we have divided our roles is this: I am more involved in strategy, in e-commerce, in marketing and in growth. And Shawn’s focus is more on operations, sales, customer service, and product development. I think we’re both pretty analytical people, but Shawn is more, and I’m maybe a bit more of the “strategic dreamer”.

One thing they agreed on from the start was that they wanted a ‘connected’ business in the sense of having all of their operations under one roof, which they did in spades, hosting their own. customer service and their sales teams, warehouse, shipping and product development. in one location in Charlotte, with much of their bespoke manufacturing also done in-state. This proximity has fueled one of the advantages of Rain or Shine: unlike some competitors, Rain or Shine ships many of its products directly to the consumer from its own dock rather than having them delivered directly from elsewhere. This allows the Rain or Shine team to perform quality control inspections and reduce the number of boxes a customer receives compared to what they would find at their doorstep if the units were individually shipped directly from the store. ‘manufacturing plant.

Foley and Vandervelt have also tried to keep an ear attentive to customer feedback, to collect it and use it in the design and refinement of the products. “Our custom turf product is one example. This is a direct response to the dissatisfaction we have seen in the market. The two [existing] the turf market leaders were far from ideal, either too soft or too thick; none of them give a good feeling when you hit the grass. So we started a project to design our own specs for what we thought was the best simulation of real grass. In the end, they devoted almost six months to experimentation and refinement, ultimately creating a product they call SwingTurf, “which we – and our customers – are very happy with. [Disclosure: I have given them assistance in improving their customer service.]

The pandemic has amplified everything

While the pandemic has changed consumer behavior, from early 2020 the effect on Rain or Shine has been immediate. “From a demand perspective, we’ve been completely blown away by how this has increased during the pandemic,” Foley said. “With everyone locked out, golf has become one of the few things you can still do. [at home] while everything outside your door was closed. Couple that with the e-commerce boom and we were in a very good position on the demand side. The tricky part of this has been twofold: trying not to disappoint this influx of customers with delays and supply chain disruptions; Although almost all of the manufacturing of Rain or Shine is done in the United States, there are still quite a few delays associated with sourcing, manufacturing and transportation. The other challenge was to quickly grow their business on the employee side. “We are two young people who are learning the ropes of the business world as quickly as possible,” says Foley, “and we suddenly found ourselves responsible for more than a dozen humans, learning to deal with human emotions during uncertainty. … It’s not easy, but it’s essential. ”

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I was curious if, when these challenges weighed on him, Foley ever wanted to return to the world of underwriting insurance. “Oh no. Not even slightly,” he laughs. “I feel so engaged here every day, engaged in the design challenges, with the employees, with the customers.” And, Vandervelt rang out, “I don’t. never wanna see another beanbag again, not even a single one bean, if I can avoid it. And, on this front, so far, all is well.


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