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Driving Passion

[ 0 ] Apr. 1, 2008 | SBO Editor

As much as Joe Assell loved golf, he was ready to walk away from it in order to focus on starting his own business. But almost as fast as you can say, well, fore, instead of leaving the sport behind, he simply found a way to do both.

“I was looking to get out of golf and just going into business because I really had a passion for it—and this opportunity came up,” said Assell, a former golf pro and owner of GolfTec, which offers golf instruction using the latest technology paired with the skills of a PGA Teaching Professional to help golfers improve their skills. Pretty ironic, right? Not necessarily, he noted. “I don’t know if it’s irony; it’s just that people who are most successful in life are passionate about what they’re doing. I was a golf pro, but I was more passionate about business. I found a way to combine the two.”

He said he did so by tapping into the age of technology, which was just starting to make its way into the landscape in the 1990s. As a golf pro, he said he and his colleagues were on the lookout for “a better way to teach golf and we knew that all of the technology that was coming online. Computers were just starting to become main stream and we sought out to experiment a little bit and find technology that we could use to help golfers.”

Assell explained that he and his team searched for a company that could modify technology that was originally designed for medical use for range of motion that could be used to measure a golf swing. “We adapted the medical technology to measure a golf swing and then launched the marketing side of the business through PR,” said Assell, who noted the original partners self-funded the business to start.

It soon became apparent that it was a hole-in-one concept. “When we opened the first center, we were quickly booked.” Eventually, he said he opened a second store and has been presiding over a growing company, which has revenues of about $40 million.

But like making adjustments to a swing or stance, Assell explained that he’s constantly learning lessons along the way. “Every day,” he chuckled. “We had a fair amount of progress raising capital and there was a lot of reevaluating our structuring along way.” Furthermore, he made several additions to the senior management team, which meant learning how to bring in the right people. “We learned from our mistakes. We made a couple of bad hires and placed some ads that didn’t work. There’s no textbook or class on how to build a company. Good entrepreneurs learn how to figure it out as they grow.”

And grow the company has—to the point that it now includes more than 100 locations. Of course, that hastened challenges as well. “We had to learn how to operate nationally and how to market a franchise. “On the marketing group, we had to learn how to dial into the golfers and the best mediums to use, to stretch our marketing dollars.”
Speaking of dollars, Assell said that to get the best impact from its advertising dollars, the company has a sophisticated system that tracks all new customers and how they heard about the firm. “We cross reference the amount of money the customer spends with the source and the cost of the ad or lead. We then analyze which marketing vehicles work for us and which do not.”

Naturally, there were times when he second-guessed his decision to start his own business. “I think everyone has that moment of ‘what did I get myself into?’” He might have asked himself that in the late 90s, “probably when we were really struggling financially and it was hard for us to raise investment money. We were a retail business and every investor at the time wanted to invest in the dotcom business. We just weren’t a dotcom and people wanted us to be one.”

He said that for a few years the firm tried to redefine itself by becoming a dot-com company, but were “getting into a position where we were burning cash at a rapid pace.”

Furthermore, even as it was repositioning itself, “the bubble burst and no one wanted to invest in a dotcom. So we had to retool back to our original business plan to be more of a stable business that people are interested in. We stopped pursuing the money-losing Internet strategy and focused on our bricks and mortar stores, which were profitable. We had to do what the market was telling us.”

To succeed in any market, not only is it ideal to have “a cash cushion in the bank,” it’s essential to start planning as early as possible. “If you have a well-thought-out plan, you reduce your risk of problems that could surface if you’re just ‘winging it.’” And by all means, he added, it’s paramount to put together a “team of smart people who are ready to react to whatever happens.”

Such as dealing with the high cost of retail real estate, said Assell. “It’s harder to find store locations that we can afford, especially on the east and west coast. We have to hustle a little more, get a little more innovative and try to find maybe a smaller space or, perhaps, an office warehouse.” He said his company’s strategy is to identify locations in close proximity to office buildings, high income neighborhoods and highways. “When we find an area of a city that meets those three criteria, we then look for a suitable strip mall for our store.”

Ultimately, Assell said, when starting a business, tenacity is the bottom line. “Don’t give up. People don’t realize the challenges ahead of them; they just want to run a business. They can do it, just have good advisors and backers, be well capitalized and have a good plan.”

GolfTec is located in Denver, Colorado. The phone is: 303/388-4832.

Joe Assell, shown above next to the company logo, says strategic planning is an important key to any small business. Many first-time business owners try winging it and Assell says this can be destructive. He also recommends that entrepreneurs keep a cash cushion in the bank.

Tenacity is another key to success, says this successful business leader. Golftec is a company that offers golf instruction that combines the very latest technology with the skills of teaching professionals. People who work for Golftec are passionate about what they do, said Assell.

Category: Magazine, Start Your Own Business, Start Your Own Business Spring 2008