After over 30 years as a golf professional, I realized that something was lacking in my career.
My absolute dream was to have built and owned a golf course, but I also knew that balloon had burst because of the massive overbuilding of courses.
Instead, I kind of fell into the management of a golf-oriented amusement park. It had a go-cart track, bumper boats, a dance hall with two bars and a kitchen, a huge mini-putt on a mountain with gardens and waterfalls and a moat with paddle boats and a driving range.
I thought to myself, “How tough can this be”?
After all, I’d been successful in the golf business for 30 years. The problem was it wasn’t the golf business, it was the recreation business.
Our patrons weren’t golfers trying to improve. They were young guys trying to impress their girlfriend by how far they hit a golf ball. It was kids having fun mini-putting. It was families spending time together.
Other than some business acumen and my golf teaching ability, none of my background helped me. Furthermore, the place was terribly run down and broken, but I took it on.
Now that I am described so frequently as being old, out of touch and old school, I thought someone somewhere might use some of the sales generating concepts we used.
I was the general manager for four-and-a-half years and the owner for 18 months. During that time, we doubled our profits every year for the six years and sold it after 18 months for three times my purchase price.
My deal with my wife was that she would agree to my ownership, but we would not invest a single penny of our own money — no loans, no debt, no credit lines. The following is a list of ideas I developed to help promote our facility.
A major clean-up of every tiny corner of the property and construction of multiple gardens. I selected geraniums as my main feature for several reasons: they are beautiful, bright and the easiest to care for. In November, I drove around to every city-owned garden and took the geraniums they were throwing into the garbage. I potted them and grew them in my restaurant which was closed for the winter. Six years of collecting in this manner produced over 1,000 plants and helped us win a 4 Rose Award from the Communities in Bloom in 1995, the year our city won the world championship. All done at no cost.
Two-fore-one for our mini-putt and free small baskets of range balls became my second name. I gave thousands of these coupons to every concert, organization, association and event held anywhere. Once, there was a massive antique car show parade down the main street that attracted over 10,000 people. I hired two clowns to walk through the crowd distributing two-fore-one passes and free small buckets. Every time someone redeemed a two-fore-one, someone else paid and then bought our ice cream, food, and drinks, or played our video games. All of our food was frozen and microwaved, so we had no spoilage and little, if any, problems with the department of health.
Free small baskets of balls. Nothing is free. First, never fill the baskets stocked on the shelves to the top. When a customer pays for a basket, always top it up with more balls because they think they are getting more. When they redeemed a coupon, we always talked them into a large basket for $3 plus their coupon and then topped it up. Often, they required a club which we rented for $2. Plus, they purchased our food etc. The rentals were purchased from country clubs that sold us their lost and found items for for $2 or $3 per club.
Free Junior Clinics. We placed ads in the newspaper and had over 200 kids respond. I taught the lessons in groups of 25 kids per night for eight weeks. After every class, we gave each student a two-fore-one and a free small basket not to be used on the day of their lesson. They had to come back and, of course, they brought a paying friend to mini-putt and/or a parent for whom we upgraded the size of the range basket. Plus, once again, food, games, etc. Free? This program generated over $15,000 in sales. FYI, two boys who had never played golf before each went on to win the Ontario junior championship as a result of these lessons.
One of my absolute favorites was the flyers bearing a tear-off two-fore-one coupon, which we put on car windshields. Sunday was free open air concerts in the park that attracted 1000 to 2000 car loads of families. Country and western acts proved most productive for us because young families attended in greater numbers than rock concerts.
The auto mechanic across the street was having difficulty shuttling cars around his small lot during the weekdays. Our weekday business didn’t start until 6 p.m. We allowed him to use our lot all day, which made it appear as though our lot was always busy. We also gave his customers a free small basket of balls while they waited for their cars. Once again, we upgraded the size, rented them a club and sold them our food/drinks. They played our games and paid full price for the mini-putt.
We redeemed discount coupons from retailers such as Canadian Tire, then used them to purchase supplies and/or tools.
We always supplied good quality range balls. We did this by purchasing half of our balls new and the other half from an exclusive, private country club. The club we selected had very old, rich members who demanded new balls every year, but were too old to practice a lot.
We cut the range once per week with a very sharp gang mower (back lapped after every use) and had it perfectly striped to add value.
We bought a used PA system in an auction held at a horse barn and played ragtime music over the mini-putt. It made people feel good and controlled behaviour because they felt calm.
Our banquet hall was filled with hockey, soccer, baseball, football banquets, you name it. Coaches who were out of their element trying to control discipline could let the kids run wild around the mini-putt and then serve them pizza, which we bought frozen. Once again the two-fore-one and free passes were distributed which lead to our other products.
Sunday mornings, we gave our place to Big Brothers and Big Sisters. All they had to do was take our two-fore-one and free passes for other kids and, of course, that led to our food, drinks etc.
We always encouraged the police to be near or around our facility. We were always open on our posted schedule. It didn’t take long for people to figure out we had a safe place for kids. Parents frequently left their kids mini-putting for another parent to pick up or while they went shopping. They knew our whole place was about fun, but we had a very strong safety code.
The whole thing became a numbers game. We learned that two-fore-ones redeemed through the newspaper were at a rate of four per cent per 50,000 readers, concerts were 11 per cent, junior clinics were a wonderful 37 per cent. Factoring in an average cover of $6 per child (under 12) and $9.40 per adult, we knew exactly how to spend our time and money while looking for Dad and two or three kids.
In the end, I won the Entrepreneur of the Month Award in a city of 500,000 people.
The lessons I learned that might help you create a new idea are:
People love clean neat, efficient and reliable.
Free doesn’t mean you don’t get paid for it.
Even if it’s free, make sure the person thinks it has value.
Nobody mini-putts alone.
It costs the same to pick up 1,000 range balls as it does to pick up 20,000.
A big part of the business can be a loss leader if the costs are fixed and the profitable items generate significant profits.
Staff are great believers in the golden rule and things that go around, come around. If you treat them properly, they will go beyond. If you don’t, they will wait until you aren’t there to even the score.
Even though I am old and out of touch, I still believe anyone can monitor the expenses. It takes talent to generate income, especially today.