'You usually start off with a retail store, then go in to online sales. We've done just the opposite,' said Tom Cox, president and chief executive officer of a store that started nine years ago as an Internet site to sell used golf balls.
He found his store while scouting replacements for his New Iberia warehouse. 'We couldn't go through another Christmas in that building,' he said.
Then he saw an empty Campo Electronics building with 6,000 square feet of retail space in addition to the storage space he needed. That's enough to include putting greens and a hitting area among all the clubs, balls, shoes and bags.
And he added five full-time employees, for a total of 23.
'The biggest risk of opening a store is buying inventory,' Cox said.
But golfballs.com already had a supply of balls, clubs, bags and putters.
The retail store also lets him carry more items from major manufacturers, such as Nike, Wilson, Callaway and Titleist, which are still more inclined to sell merchandise to retail operations instead of Internet-only companies.
Cox said he also hopes the store will bring more sales of big-ticket items such as woods and irons, since many players want to handle and test them before buying.
'We're hoping to sell more customized and personalized items through the store,' he said.
He plans to put his expertise - and customer list - to good use.
'We know how to use our e-mail list to drive business on the Web site,' Cox said. 'Now, we want to put that to use on the retail side.'
For example, an Acadiana golfballs.com customer who buys Nike clubs will get an e-mail about an upcoming sale or in-store visit from a Nike sales representative. Local customers will also be able to place an order online in the morning and pick up customized golf balls or bag at the end of the day.
Golfballs.com employees developed all of the company software, including a program that converts customized printing orders into a bar code. This keeps employees from repeatedly typing in a name meant for a set of golf balls, reducing the chance of a mistake.
'The employee takes the order, scans the bar code, and everything is set up on the machinery,' Cox said. 'So we only have to type everything in once.'
Over the years, golfballs.com revenue has increased 20 percent a year. This year, the company is set to bring in between $5 million and $5.5 million in sales.
Cox said he doesn't expect the retail store ever to make up more than a small portion of golfballs.com's overall business.
'We think this is a great step for our business, and we'll work on developing the retail operations over the first half of next year,' he said. 'For us right now, we're in the beta testing for retail.'
Another focus for golfballs.com is a new venture into personalized caps, T-shirts and polo shirts. Cox has registered the domain name logogolfcaps.com and will visit a cap manufacturer in China early next year.
The plan would be to use the equipment and technology that's being used to customize golf balls to embroider names and logos in small batches.
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