Head of Business Development
Interview with Matt Ward
Brought up in South Africa, it looks almost as though working in the golf industry was a given. Starting with a cut down 7 iron and progressing to a very creditable +2 handicap, the love of golf was very much in the blood. Coming to England after completing a degree in Business Management & Marketing Robert spent the last 6 years working with Europe’s biggest golf buying group before seizing the opportunity to work with a unique product – HoleMorePutts.
The Slade-Baker Story –
After playing golf for almost 30 years I still find myself shooting more bogeys than birdies although these days with a little more finesse but it’s fair to say that golf is a passion and I have had the privilege of working in the game for a good few years in that time I’ve met and worked with some of golf’s most influential people – the likes of Scott Cranfield, well respected PGA Master Professional and Paul Hedges, CEO of Foremost Golf, are two that spring readily to mind.
I’ve also been fortunate over the years to have been approached by a number of different companies, all with great products and business ideas but I have to say that none really caught my imagination until last year when I met Kevin Burke from HoleMorePutts – and had a WOW moment. He and his brother Des are keen golfers (with good handicaps) and they discovered a hole in the market – there isn’t a product available in the whole world that gives complete and instant feedback on the putting stroke, that shows a golfer what they are doing wrong and supplies the solutions to solve these short comings.
They have spent the last 2 years developing and patenting technology to do all these things and with the support and knowledge of PGA teaching Pro’s Dave and Ian Kearney they have created a product that every test study shows golfers want. This product is truly unique.
Our recent visit to the PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando — our coming out party in to the US golf market – went far better than we could ever have expected, the feedback has been amazing and Pre-order interest was significantly higher than expected. Our greatest challenge now will be to remain focused, deliver a fantastic product to the market, then to learn, adapt and evolve as this segment of the market changes and develops.
It’s a very exciting time and I’m delighted to be a part of this team right from the get go.
MATT WARD: What was the genesis for SQ9?
ROBERT SLADE-BAKER: Like many initiatives and companies, SQ9 was born out of a necessity. We wanted a way to quickly identify what we needed to do to improve our own putting. We found numerous products that could help in one way or another but none tied it all together. None gave personalized instruction, understandable by the normal amateur and at an affordable price. So we set about building Hole More Putts.
MW: How long did it take from conceptual idea to actual product creation?
RSB: About 2 ½ years. We first explored whether other amateurs saw a need like we did and whether we could develop the technology needed. A big portion of the time was naturally spent on completing all of the technology – golfer testing and feedback played a huge part in the final design.
MW: What separates your product from others in the same category?
RSB: Our aim is to help amateur players improve their putting stroke. Core to this is understanding what our customer — the amateur golfer, needs so they can do this. They need data but in an understandable format. But they also need to be able to identify what to focus on and then they need personalized, easy to follow instruction on what to practice. Hole More Putts was designed from the perspective of an amateur golfer, rather than that of a teaching professional. It is affordable and uniquely provides usable data and analysis as well as providing effective instruction to the player. It is a total solution.
MW: Many high tech golf products are quite expensive — often times beyond the means of most who play the game. How do you deal with this?
RSB: There is a fine balance between how much is possible vs how much is needed. There is a lot of great technology out there – a lot of which is expensive to harness in the quest for the most microscopic detail possible. We have been able to harness a cheaper technology to produce accurate data and deliver effective instruction. This results in an affordable and effective product for the amateur golfer.
MW: Your efforts at the moment are based in Ireland and the United Kingdom. When do you expect to be going full tilt business wise in the States?
RSB: We are in the process of launching now in the UK and ROI with the key retailers there. As part of this we will be ramping up our production capability to meet and get ahead of demand. Once we are satisfied we can deliver on the volumes required, we will launch in the US. We expect this will be from July 2017.
MW: Customer service is mentioned often by many companies. Define the term and how your efforts go beyond that of your competitors?
RSB: We believe that we provide excellent customer service when our customer is happy to recommend us to a friend. We have a team and processes in place to deliver a high quality and responsive service to all our customers. However, at SQ9, we believe customer service must also include the product itself. Hole More Putts is unique and all aspects of its design are heavily influenced by the customer. This will continue to be the case. We will continue to seek out customer input and feedback to evolve our product to keep pace with changing player needs.
MW: Does having product validation through usage by high profile touring professionals matter a great deal?
It can. If a top ranked PGA Tour player says on TV, paid or not, that this is a wonderful product then of course there are people that will take notice. However on the other side of the argument if you consistently have amateurs shaving 2 to 3 strokes off their round because of the product, then I would argue that the latter is a better option. This product was designed for the amateur golfer and validation from them would probably mean more.
MW: If you can change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be?
RSB: Focus on families. Golf clubs are continuously crying out that memberships are down and they are not attracting enough members. Golf lovers are struggling to balance family commitments and golf. I believe if golf clubs focused more on integrating the ‘Family’ in to the club / social environment, clubs would increase revenues and ultimately create a more desirable location to attract new members.
MW: Golf organizations are striving to get Millennials, women and minorities to actively participate in the sport. What would you advise?
RSB: Millennials, I think I just about fall into this category. Golf is fundamentally in the leisure / entertainment business and we are competing with the other hundreds of involvement opportunities people have every day. I think organizations in the US, as well as in the UK do a wonderful job of getting people to try the sport – the problem is keeping them in the sport. I believe the issues are not centered around cost – there are facilities / equipment available for all income levels. The problem is what they often perceive to be an unwelcoming environment that they play in. Create a more open, family, fun environment and we will attract a lot of new people in to the game.
MW: What’s the short and long term challenges for SQ9 and what steps are being taken to achieve both?
RSB: The demand for the product has been extremely positive. Like any new product, our short term challenge is to execute our rollout plan flawlessly. We will be adding to our team in the coming weeks to ensure we can do this. In the longer term we need to ensure we expand within our initial markets and in to new markets quickly and efficiently. Continuing to build on our in-house team as well as the strong partner network we are already working with will be central to this.
Photo Credit: HoleMorePutts.com