B A C K G R O U N D E R – Steve Asman started GustBuster Umbrellas in 1997 — the only un-flappable, un-flappable, un-leakable umbrella in the world. Prior to starting GustBuster, Asman was a real estate developer, builder and property manager in the New York area.
T H E A S M A N S T O R Y . . .
I was building homes in the New York area in the mid 90’s when the real estate market got soft and I decided I needed to look for another way to supplement my income. My father, who was an accountant, introduced me to a client of his who had invented an umbrella with a double canopy and holes in it. I instantly realized he was on to something. It was basically a pressure release valve. It would release the wind pressure and keep the umbrella from turning inside out and breaking in a strong wind. I did some testing and with the help of a mechanical and chemical engineer re-designed the umbrella and basically invented a better mouse trap. The first model I developed and introduced was a tour size golf umbrella for the Professional Tour Players. With the tour umbrella in hand, I headed out to the PGA Tour and the players loved it. They even convinced the club companies to buy their umbrellas from me. GustBuster was off and running and now it’s the #1 Umbrella on Tour.
MATT WARD: What was the genesis of Gustbuster?
STEVE ASMAN: The genesis of GustBuster was simple. I was building homes when the real estate market got soft and was looking for a new business to go into when a client of my fathers showed me his invention. It was an umbrella with holes in it. I saw it as a better mouse trap. I tested it and it did not perform as well as I wanted — so I redesigned it with the help of a mechanical and a chemical engineer. The first model I developed and introduced was a tour size golf umbrella for the Professional Tour Players. I was still also trying to develop a folding umbrella — the model we call the Metro, but that took three more years to get right. With the tour umbrella in hand, I headed out to the PGA Tour and they not only accepted it but liked it so much they started to get the club companies to buy their umbrellas from me. Since that first year, GustBuster has been the #1 umbrella on tour. It’s now over ten years and counting . I owe all that success to the Tour Players who embraced me and knew that GustBuster was simply the best and most reliable umbrella they had ever seen. As you know, these Tour Players have to play in the rain sometimes and they can use any umbrella they want. The fact that they choose a GustBuster is a huge compliment and the reason why we are #1. About a year later, GustBuster won the ING Product of the year Award (now called the product Ingenuity Award) — which is like the “Oscars” of golf. The umbrella really took off after that — the rest is history.
MW: What as the biggest challenge for you in getting started and moving matters along?
SA: As most entrepreneurs know, the biggest challenge you’ll face when starting a new business is capital. Your funds are limited and you must budget very carefully. I relied heavily on third party endorsements over paid for advertising. Most people think they put up a sign or develop a “new widget” and they will make millions. Unless they are very lucky it doesn’t usually happen that way. Also, it’s important to remember that fame and fortune do not necessarily line up. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me I made the best umbrellas in the world — I would be rich. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that. Your competition is always out there trying to take you down. From “knock-offs” to lower priced umbrellas that do not do what ours does — there’s a lot to overcome. Be smart — don’t get ahead of yourself. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Walk before you run.
MW: How does Gustbuster differentiate itself from countless other umbrella products?
SA: We saw a need in the marketplace for a better umbrella. One that could hold up to 55+ mph winds and wouldn’t turn inside out or break in a severe windstorm. So we developed the patented wind release technology and created a product unlike any other umbrella out there. That’s what differentiates us from our competition. We make the only Un-Flippable, Un-Flappable, Un-Leakable Umbrella in the World. Our umbrella is visually different, but not so different that it looks weird. And of course we stand behind our product 100%. We even built a wind tunnel fan to prove what our umbrella is capable of. Many of our competitors made claims about the winds that their umbrellas could withstand. But none of them performed wind tunnel tests and showed the results to the public on news channels and television shows like we have over the years. That’s why every GustBuster comes with a Lifetime Guarantee. If it doesn’t do what we say it will do. We’ll take it back — or repair it — it’s as simple as that.
MW: From a percentage of sales — what is the rough percentage of your sales via online, retail outlets and green grass shops?
SA: Retail Outlet and Green Grass Pro Shop sales accounts for about 70% of our business and 30% online sales. We consider green grass shops the same as retail outlets. We aren’t available in very many “off-course” outlets.
MW: What drives you each and everyday?
SA: That’s easy — to be the best! If you want to be the leader in the industry that means you not only have to have the best product — you have to stand behind it 100% and you have to provide the best customer service too. Without the latter you leave room for your competition to move in and take your spot. Business is difficult enough. Don’t help your competitors by being bad at customer service. You’re just asking to lose business to them. I can’t stress enough how important customer service is to building and maintain a great business.
MW: You’ve been active as a company for quite a few years now — how has the golf market changed since The Great Recession ended?
SA: The Internet has replaced a lot of the off-course retail stores . I am glad we stopped selling most of those accounts BEFORE the Great Recession — or I’d probably be holding a lot of bad debt. We have always catered more to the green grass pro shops, so the market hasn’t really changed all that much for us. We’re fortunate because we’re not dependent on just the golf industry to produce sales. We sell umbrellas in many different styles and sizes outside of golf. One of our biggest sellers is our foldable Metro umbrella which is very popular with commuters. It’s also great as an everyday umbrella. But a lot of people still like to use our golf umbrellas as their everyday umbrella because of its size.
MW: Define the term customer service and how you go about delivering it everyday to your customers?
SA: As I mentioned earlier “customer service” is the single most important part of building and sustaining a successful business. I have always felt that you can have the best product in your category — though I believe we do — but if you do not take care of your customers they will leave you — it’s that simple. We offer a lifetime warranty, to me that’s customer service. Stand behind your product 100% of the time. Anything short of that to me is not true customer service. You have to believe in what you make and stand behind it. That attitude starts with me and trickles right down to my employees who imprint and ship the umbrellas out everyday here at GustBuster .
MW: Have you ever had the desire to expand into other specific product tied to golf?
SA: We did expand just before the Great Recession. We developed the SunBuster Sports Enhancement Eyewear for golf, but the recession kept us from being able to get it off the ground and make it successful. We were under-capitalized at that time and had to shut it down even after winning another ING Product of the Year. This still stings because we had a great product and it was just starting to gain traction when the recession hit. Timing is everything.
MW: Best advice you ever got — what was it and who from?
SA: My father once told me “never lie son.” If you lie you need to have a really good memory — just tell the truth — it’s much easier.” He had a lot of these in his repertoire.
MW: Golf is going through a period in which Millennial’s, women and minorities are not entering and staying with the game as previous generations. Time to play is one item of concern, the cost to play is another and overall frustration when playing is another. What would be your game plan to attract these specific groups to play?
SA: I think all sports, like golf, have a cycle. I firmly believe golf is moving towards an upward trend. I like what Top Golf is doing. I think offering golf as an entertainment alternative is a step in the right direction to introducing the game to Millennials women and minorities and growing the game. If they’re introduced to it as entertainment or a social activity I think they’re more likely to go out to a course and try and play 9 or 18 holes. At least I am hopeful.