Conversation with Dean Snell – Part 2

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

This is the second of a three-part conversation with Dean Snell, owner and inventor of Snell Golf balls.  In this segment Dean discusses Snell Golf’s value proposition, their focus on value through direct-to-consumer shipping and insight on his approach to product development.

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4. My understanding is the golf ball market is highly competitive. What would you say distinguishes Snell from other golf ball companies; what is your value proposition?

DS – There’s a lot of direct-to-consumer on-line companies that are out there that offer good products.  For 25 years I have been fortunate to be in golf ball design, to pretty much understand the patent portfolio that’s out there – I hold many patents myself – and bring what is important to consumers with respect to performance.  Working with a tour player that has a problem keeping a 4 iron in the air and not knuckling and falling out of the sky is a lot different than working with an 18 handicap who doesn’t really hit a 4 iron anyway.  Having that knowledge and understanding of performance is important.  The credibility and authenticity of being able to work with tour players and design golf balls which they use and put their livelihood on the line and win major tournaments is a validation to the product side of it.  We can bring the performance and processes and best materials and keep the price affordable.  Our uniqueness is we have the best performance in golf that we can give and we don’t the high overhead costs like marketing and tour contracts.  We pass that savings along to the consumer.  So there’s a credibility side, a performance side and an affordability side.

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5. The business model for Snell Golf is unique with a focus on online access. What was the rationale for this and what has the feedback been on this distribution model?

DS – There’s a lot of people who like to go on computers today!  The rationale is the traditional approach is to go into a pro shop or a retailer and look at a wall of balls, not really understanding what they are.  A lot of times people are not there to explain them to you nor could they do it if they were there.  So, when you’re online you have greater access to information; we want to use education as part of our message.  We have a forum where people can ask questions and we can provide technical answers.  We have videos that explain how players can do testing and how to go about it.  The website offers an experience that helps give an understanding about what you’re looking at doing; how you should test, which ball you should use.  Those kinds of things you don’t get when you go into a lot of stores.

Also, online shopping is big.  We did our Christmas shopping on a Friday night from home with a nice glass of wine.  It was quick, easy and we were finished.  There’s an ease to online shopping now.  There’s delivery which we can offer and I acknowledge it can take a little time to get it but having these strong technical people who love the social media world get into golf and support it that is a unique niche we’re trying to target.

But things are starting to expand.  We have had a number of pro shops reach out to us and say, ‘Hey, our members want us to carry the ball, do you have a sales rep?’  We say no, if you’d like them we can sell you six dozen golf balls and we’ll ship them free to your shop.  We’ll sell them to you at a wholesale price and you can sell them for the same price we sell them online for.  Your customers still get the savings and you enjoy a nice margin.  We don’t do credit terms, payment terms, and have markups for sales reps so the process is very clean and easy.  It’s a minimum six dozen and if you don’t sell them we’ll take them back.   So that business is growing for us without the high costs that get passed back to consumers.

In the US, many shops make you take a minimum 48 dozen or 36 dozen and you pay the shipping.  You have them there and have to deal with them at the end of the season.  For us, minimum 6 dozen, we pay shipping and it’s much easier.  We process credit card orders and ship next day.  We have pro shops that started with 6 dozen – there’s some in California now who are ordering 24 dozen a week.  It’s working.

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6. You recently made a change, introducing an optic yellow Get Sum ball (my favourite and personal ball of choice, I might add). Are there any new products in the pipeline?

DS – Yes there are.  One of the best things I love about social media sites – and I get up early and I read them all – is that there are blogs and sites where people give us feedback.  My method is I review it all.  There are some who say, I love it, don’t change a thing.  And there are others who write, I’d like it softer or firmer; spin more, spin less; fly higher/lower; all the different attributes people can say.  And I fill in boxes around specific comments.  When boxes get full, there’s a voice there saying maybe there’s an opportunity here.  Everybody has feedback and ideas so we’re not at a place where people say, I love it and don’t change a thing.  I take all that feedback from consumers and it informs my product development.  So based on feedback so far we’re on our fourth iteration (of the ball) based on feedback from players who play them.  We’re looking to create a level of performance based on requests from people playing the ball.  So around something new, I don’t have a launch date yet, or the plans or how it will roll out.  But the specs are almost complete and we have some cool things coming this year.

MJ – So, I’ll allow myself a self-indulgent follow up.  Are there plans for a yellow My Tour Ball?

DS – That question is probably one of the big boxes that get filled in on my chart.  And it’s an interesting question.  The cast urethane yellow is the hardest process to do in golf.  When you make a cast urethane ball you have to pigment the cover to match the colour of the paint that goes on the balls as well.  (Currently) The urethane is pigmented and put a UV stabilizer so it doesn’t turn yellow when it hits the sun.  Then you have to put two white coats of paint to protect it and then you have to put a clear coat of paint over it.  So now, if you want to make a yellow urethane you have develop a yellow cast urethane system for the cover, develop two yellow paint coats to go over it, a clear coat over it and clean it out well so white balls made afterward are white and not yellow when you start to make them because it is a tough process to clean the system out.  So it’s not easy.  The paint system development is a lot of work because getting a white paint when you get the right viscosity when you add fillers and you add colours and you add the parameters of the paint; the dimples get flooded and the ball flies high.   It is very, very hard to do.

The market for yellow tour balls is extremely small.  So we hear the voice today of people asking for it but those are the people asking and don’t represent a large segment of the golfing population.  And I’m not saying we’re not working on it because we are, and having something in the future could happen, but it’s not easy to do.  The yellow golf ball market is only 10%.  That’s with everything, even 2 piece golf balls.  3 piece tour quality balls is only 1% and that is voice we hear a lot from people who want them.

MJ – We’re a vocal minority, thank you very much.

DS – Yellow golf ball sales, in the US market, increase in the fall.  Leaves come down, the grass isn’t as green, and it’s harder to see.  But in the summer time the sales drop quite a bit.  Our studies in our sales show we sell more yellow balls in August, September and October than we do during the rest of the year.  Having something to offer though is good for us, 10% is a decent market size.

Tomorrow – the third and final part of this conversation, including Dean Snell’s dream golf foursome.

Click Here to access Part 1 of my conversation with Dean Snell

Click Here to access Part 3 of my conversation with Dean Snell

Conversation with Dean Snell – Part 1

@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf in Canada. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.

This is the first of a three-part conversation with Dean Snell, owner and inventor of Snell Golf balls.  In this segment Dean discusses his business philosophy, why he turned down Tour players seeking to play his ball, his love of Canada and hockey, and his support for Snell Golf Canada’s commitment to junior golf.

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  1. Dean, your story is well documented – your early history of work in the industry and how you hold numerous patents on golf ball technology. But for those who are not familiar, why did you choose to go out on your own and brand your own ball?

DS – I have been extremely fortunate to work for two of the best companies in the golf industry in Titleist and Taylor Made.  I have been very blessed to have the opportunity to develop products for the best players in the world.  I spent the last 25 years between those two companies designing golf balls and working with tour players and recreational players getting a lot of feedback from players on what they’re looking for in performance, especially the tour players.   I have a lot of good friends on tour and I spent of time with them.  So understanding golf balls and golf ball technology is something that I know very well.

The golf business was struggling a few years ago, with courses closing and people canceling memberships; it’s expensive, people aren’t playing.  What I thought I could do was see if there was a way I could give back.  First, I wanted to make sure my three children were finished with school before I did something on my own.  I wanted to give back through taking the best materials, the best process, and the best performances and create very high end golf balls but not have big overhead costs.  No big marketing budgets and definitely no big tour contracts.   So the cost to make the balls are the same as other manufacturers, the performance is outstanding, but all the savings that I don’t have to pay out I pass back to the consumer.  So the main focus was to keep the price affordable.  We sell direct to our customers, we sell in some pro shops, but we focus on providing performance for average golfers who may have found balls like this too expensive to try.  Maybe if they can have it they can enjoy the game more and maybe play better, play more and help grow the game.  For me it was the chance to give back by providing great performance at affordable pricing.

MJ – With tour pros, have any of them had an opportunity to try your ball and do you foresee a day when a pro may go, ‘No, the heck with it, I am going to be playing a Snell ball’?

DS – We have had that.  We have had five tour players approach us with their agents wanting to play the ball and we declined.  They obviously would be looking for some endorsement money and if I do that than someone has to pay that bill.  I want to make sure that everything that I do with this business that affordability and performance doesn’t change.  Having these things would add costs and that is not the goal.  If I do anything with retail or pro shops I’ll take the margin hit but I want to keep the price the same to continue to provide that level of performance at a price that is affordable.   We did have tour players’ call, they were interested in playing (Snell balls) and we respectfully declined.

We did have three guys on tour last year actually play the ball.  A couple of them got in trouble from their sponsors and they had to switch back.  We had a couple players qualify for the US Open that used the ball.  One player actually qualified for the Senior Tour this year and he used the golf ball for free because he likes the performance.  The tour players who did play it liked it – and I don’t want to give names and get anyone in trouble – but there has been an interest in it.  I think over the next couple years more and more people will be interested.  Some players are seeking contracts of $100,000 or $200,000 but they have putts on the 18th green for that amount.  That mindset is starting to change.  They can take money but if they think performance is better they could win that money back if the ball is better.  I hope that message will continue to get out and our growth on tour will take place that way and keep the price low.

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  1. How would you categorize the success of your work under Snell Golf?

DS – It’s been much better than expected.  It was a nice little project I wanted to start.  It was self-funded with some help from some friends.  What I thought I would do in sales in the first year I did in six months.  And we started direct on-line sales.  We ship free in the United States; it’s a little different system in Canada.  2016 was our first full year and our business was up 400%.  Having something grow 10-20% year over year is nice but we grew by 400%.  I wanted to do a nice crawl-walk-run approach and we went from crawling to sprinting pretty fast.  It’s all good, it’s moving in the right direction and we will continue to support access to affordable, quality product.

MJ – I know the interest the public has in a quality, value ball is high and the example of the interest in the Costco ball is a good example of how something can snowball pretty quickly.  So 400% is extremely impressive.  Is growth for Snell Golf something you see being able to sustain over time?

DS – I don’t see 400% year over year, if so this is a gold mine, but in this industry which I have been in for 28 years the targets are for 10% annual growth.  Our January (2017) was 2 ½ times over the year before and February has been strong too so far.  Now these are the slow months because so much of the country is cold and people are not playing golf.  We’re off to a good start; we have some new things coming in March and April.  Word of mouth and social media have been how we’ve been able to keep the price down on the marketing side and our customers help spread the word.  This is all helping keep our costs down.  Things are moving in a strong and very positive direction.

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  1. As I’m sure you’re aware, Canada is a golf-crazy market with over 5 million people participating in golf annually. Why is it important to have set up direct Snell outlets in countries outside the United States?

DS – I have a real passion for Canada.  I am a hockey player.  I love hockey and it’s my first favourite sport if I have to be honest.  I spent a lot of time in Canada growing up around the game of hockey.  I love the Boston Bruins – Montreal Canadiens rivalry.  The Canadian market for us is close to my heart.  Looking at our social media outlets I see so many passionate golfers from countries outside the US.  And if there’s a way where we can take what we’re doing here in the US to another country, like Canada or Japan or other places, if we can set it up then we will.  Now it was a struggle when we got started.  It was not easy to get balls from the US to Canada.  We shipped across the border and it was expensive and balls would get returned.  Being able to come up with a solution that fits and offer the product is a home run.  We started in the US and we’re now in 11 different countries today.  Of those 11, Canada is one of our biggest.  We’re excited about it.  Last year was our first in Canada and it started modestly but things are building and we’re excited for the growth and future success.

MJ – Following up, I know the Canadian office has been aggressive in promoting support of Snell Golf Canada for junior golf.  What are your thoughts on that?

DS – I think it’s outstanding.  The future for golf is not with people who play now and have played for 20 years.  It’s going to people with people who are learning it today and who will play it for 40 years.  We have to continue – through sponsorships of junior programs like the team at Snell Golf Canada are supporting – to do things different.  I share the excitement and energy of the Canadian team at Snell Golf for initiatives like this.  Identifying areas that can have a nice impact on the game that can hit a lot of players and help grow the game are things we will support.

MJ – The investment strategy of connecting your brand to junior golf in Canada is great to see.  Snell Golf Canada also piloted an ambassador program.  There are certainly options and working with countries around the world opens up unique opportunities in those areas.

DS – I agree.  We launched an ambassador program here in the US in August or September last year which identified key people in golf in the US.  This kind of effort which gets the word out and helps keep costs down are an important part of our business model.  Having ambassadors to the business is important to us.  If we got into the traditional golf way – endorsement contracts, magazines, TV commercials – which is what we’re trying to keep away from, it helps us manage our costs and we can continue to provide current products and explore future product options.

Click here for Part 2 – great insight on product development.

Click here for Part 3 – Dean’s approach to ball fitting