Even though we have entered a new century, it is reassuring to know that building a better mousetrap is still a solid, old fashioned path to success. Ben Knapp had an idea, and after a lot of work, his invention is paying off for the company and his retailer customers.
About six years ago, Knapp was a sales rep with a love of golf. Now he's an entrepreneur, and owner of Horseshoe Golf Inc. Back in the day, Knapp says, "My wife bought me a yard game for golf, because I always chip in the back yard. However, it was really meant for kids," he adds. "So I looked for an adult-level game, but there really was nothing out there that let you take a full swing at a real golf ball and play in your yard. That got my gears turning, and I thought of something that I could play and hit, that wouldn't go over into the neighbor's yard." He then transformed his idea from a vision to a product, although there were bumps along the way. "Initially I put a normal-sized badminton birdie on a golf ball, and I did a full swing with that, but it went way too far," says Knapp. "So I searched for a bigger shuttlecock. Eventually I found a company that made a bigger one, and once I put that on a real golf ball, I had it. It worked, and it only went about 45 feet with a pitching wedge. Over the course of two years, tinkering with this game, I came up with something I felt was pretty cool."
Knapp had created a product he loved, and he called it "Big Birdie Golf." But he had to show the world that other people would love it and buy it too. "My wife was rather upset with me because I spent a lot of money on it," Knapp explains. "I made 100 games, we went to our first show in 2008, and we sold out in a day and a half. It was kind of cool for me, because we had made $8,000. After that my wife was on board." At the time, Knapp was working in sales, and his wife was an office manager. It was time to take a leap of faith. "I maxed out my credit cards, spent about $70,000, and ordered thousands of games," he says. However, the investment quickly paid off. "Our first year, 2009, we sold 7,000 games at retail, just going to craft shows and home shows and peddling them ourselves. We were able to quit our jobs and we both focused on this full time. In 2010 we did more, about 10,000 games retail, and 90 percent of our sales were just in Michigan. So now, in 2011, we want to start ramping up to get this to the masses." It's a success story Knapp wants to take national. He is looking for retail partners who will be able to sell his game all over the country. "Now we can get this out wholesale to retailers who want to sell this, and make some money in 2011," he says. "Not only is this a brand new product, it is a proven hot seller."
Knapp's company, Horseshoe Golf Inc., is offering Big Birdie Golf to retailers all over America. "You get two nylon nets, framework and ground stakes for both nets, plus three white and three yellow Big Birdie golf balls," Knapp explains. "All that comes in a bag that can fit your own clubs. You use your own pitching wedges with the game, and it also comes with instructions." Moreover, the pricing on the game is very competitive, especially compared with similar toss style competitors. "Bean bag toss games retail upwards of $250," says Knapp. "If you want a good one, a nice one, you can pay $250 or $300." Compared with that, his product is a bargain. "We have wholesale pricing," he says. "Anything below 100 units is $50 per game. For 100 to 199 units, the price drops to $45. For 200 to 299 units, the price is $43. For 300 to 399 units, $41, for 400 to 499 units, $39, for 500 units and up, $37." Knapp suggests charging a retail price of $89.95 retail. "The game is $79.95 online," he adds, "but there's usually about a $10 charge for shipping. We have retailed these at $99 as well, and they do sell at that price point." The company has a low wholesale minimum order of five games at $50 each.
Because the game is unfamiliar to most shoppers, an effective product demonstration can help make sales, and sometimes Knapp demos the game while selling it, although he has had good results selling both with and without a demonstration. Actually playing the game requires some space, but if there's no room for that, he recommends just setting up the game and showing a game play video that he sells. "The video is $45, and is just constant play," explains Knapp. "It's a looping video that runs for about five hours, and shows the game being played in different places and ways." The Internet has been a useful tool for Knapp, but it is by no means a crucial one, he admits. "The website isn't really an intricate part of our business," he says. "We get sales from it every day, but not many." Moreover, most of those sales are from shoppers who met Knapp at a show or who read promotional literature. "We do have a good website and we have gotten some web sales," he says, "but all of our web sales were generated from fliers passed out at shows." Shows have been important in promoting Big Birdie Golf. For example, the website includes a page with 30 celebrities posing with the game at trade shows. "All those celebrities came through the show and were able to see the game, and they also played it," says Knapp. He is currently using the site as a marketing tool, and has a Facebook presence for the same purpose.
The website, at BigBirdieGolf.com, is intended for end-user shoppers, not for retailers sourcing product. Knapp says the video on the home page is the site's most effective feature. "It starts playing immediately, and I think that's key," he says. Online ordering is only for retail pricing, and if vendors want wholesale pricing, they call. "The reason is that we've done very little wholesale," says Knapp, explaining that his product is so new, retailers have a unique opportunity to sell into virgin markets. "That's why this is such a good thing. It hasn't been out there," he says. "We're the only company offering this." Horseshoe Golf has a deal to distribute the game to larger retailers in 2012, but for 2011 the market is completely untapped outside Michigan, Knapp points out. He wants volume customers to get in touch. "Retailers should call our 800 number, or they can go on the website and reach us through the contact page."
For more information:
Horseshoe Golf Incorporated
4950-J Plainfield Ave NE
Grand Rapids, MI 49525
Toll Free: 800-275-0591
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