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Featured Business: Clubstohire.com
Name: Tony Judge, Chief Executive, Clubstohire.com
Employees: 35 (6.5 in Ireland)
Since: March 2010
Have you noticed less people lugging golf bags through airports in the last five years?
When Irish-founded Clubstohire.com opened its doors at Faro airport in the summer of 2010 there were no other players in the golf hire market.
The business was founded when Tony Judge and acquaintance Gerry McKiernan, who at the time ran United Optical, got chatting about bringing golf clubs to the Algarve. They did their research and, once they decided there was a product, they set up business.
For between €35 and €60, holidaying golfers can hire a set of clubs on arrival rather than transporting their own clubs at a cost of between €60 and €100 (never mind the effort).
While price is one consideration, club hire also gives golfers the option to try out the game’s latest equipment while availing of a brilliant service.
As it was a new concept for golfers, Tony and Gerry got Paul McGinley on-board as an ambassador and face of the company. Paul and Tony knew each other from college, and the former Ryder Cup captain’s reputation also helped with establishing relationships with golf club manufacturers.
Tony had further golf knowledge. He ran Mount Juliet during the Irish Open years before running golf club St Margaret’s. Aside from getting a premises in Faro for golfers to pick up the sets they’d booked online, the first thing for Tony to do was to establish relationships with the main golf manufacturers, and Paul opened some doors.
As unknowns, it was impossible to get credit and all the stock had to be paid for upfront. For the first two weeks the company had the start-up challenge of having to pay per day what they were charging per week for golf clubs to hire to people who had booked online — the stock hadn’t arrived on time.
Five years later it has a fully online live database of 4,000 sets, almost 50,000 customers on its database, and outlets in 22 locations with plans for more.
Accolades along the way include being shortlisted for the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award and winning a Small Firms Association award as well as golf innovation awards.
Another accolade is the competition. Clubstohire.com has plenty of on-the-ground competitors — something Tony welcomes as it helps establish club hire as the norm, as with ski hire.
Interview with Tony Judge
What was the inspiration for setting up your business?
Gerry had been on a holiday in the Algarve and was waiting for some relatives to arrive at the airport when he saw loads of people struggling with golf clubs. Both of us had experience bringing clubs up and down to the Algarve. Gerry said: “Is there any alternative to this?” We did a bit of research and decided to give this a go. We spotted the opportunity that people paid a high rate to put their golf clubs on the plane, there was no service in Europe and if we could do this in a professional manner and add value, it would have a chance.
How did you initially fund your business?
It was funded through directors’ investment — fortunately we’ve managed to run the business over the last five years with zero borrowings. That has been a bit of an achievement in itself. We don’t have any immediate plans to take debt onboard.
Have you diversified your offering from your original focus or set up other businesses?
No, we’ve been focused on the club hire. It has grown rapidly because we’ve really been fully focused on the service and the product. Our prices have not changed since we started out five years ago.
What have been the highlights to date?
The highlights were getting the two retail stores opened up in Faro and Malaga. They were huge milestones for the business. They’re huge golfing airports. That really put us on the map.
What’s the bravest step you’ve made in relation to your business?
Right back at the start when we opened that shop in Faro because we were going in on the blind. Nobody had ever done this before. The biggest risk and the biggest challenge at the start was spending a lot of money on a shop in Faro and spending a lot of money on stock up front. That was probably the most courageous thing we did. Once that became established and we opened in Malaga and other locations, it had a domino effect. Like for any business, the start is crucial. If you get off to a half decent start in the first 12-18 months it sets the tone.
What’s your favourite part of being a business owner/entrepreneur?
For me it’s all about the challenge, the drive that it’s your own business. When you get up in the morning you know there’s going to be new challenges and new exciting times. When it’s your own you care about it so much more. It’s like a baby, you’re nurturing it along. I worked for people for 15-20 years before I did my own thing. The highs are much bigger highs.
How do you achieve a work-life balance?
Gerry and I are very family-oriented people. Gerry has a young family and I’ve a young family. We’re away a lot with the business. We try and be back at key times. Family is really first for both of us. We’re fortunate in that we can balance our time around the business to do that. We’ve done that because we have the business at an established level and have been able to take on key staff, which has taken the pressure off a bit.
Are you inspired by any business figures or success stories?
One company I absolutely admire are Apple, how they created something from nothing. Hats off to Steve Jobs and Tim Cook who took over. They’ve just done a brilliant job. They changed our lives. Hence why we’re so key on the customer and making the experience better and different. I think if you do that and you’re really listening to your customer you’ve a chance of survival and success.
What tools or technologies do you use that benefit your customers or business?
Back to the website; it’s key and everything springs out of that. We have a great customer service team in Dublin. We have a mantra in the business that no email sits for more than an hour without getting answered. We deal with everything instantly. Our website is very efficient and easy to use. We use all the social stuff so we’re really big into making it easy for people to find us and transact and understand what it is we are offering.
Do you feel you know what your customers really want? How do you stay updated with this information?
Within seven days of using our service they get an email from our customer service team. We try to get feedback from all our clients via that email, and our team in the field meeting the clients get excellent feedback. That’s our eyes and ears. We can’t be everywhere but our clients, when they come back to us, tell us.
What has been the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The business hit different challenges along the way in terms of growth. As we grew we met the same problems that any company meets: human resources — we had to grow and invest and bring more people onto the team. Buying new equipment and committing to new markets has its pressures because the lifeblood of any business is cashflow and being profitable. We continue to invest everything back into the business to grow and expand. We’re looking at six new locations in Europe and six in the United States.
What part of running a business comes to you naturally?
My background is very sales and marketing driven, that’s what I studied in college. I love coming up with innovative ideas, coming up with different angles on the marketing and selling of the product. That is probably my strong suit, that’s what I enjoy the most.
How did you scale/grow your business?
Purely by expansion and our own funds and company funds. We kept on identifying what was the low hanging fruit — researching where the golfers were going, listening to the industry, listening to the people in the industry for 20-30 years well before we were in it, taking that feedback and then going over and researching the market and checking out if there’s a demand there. We opened three locations in Thailand last winter. It’s pure organic growth.
How do you get ideas to further your business?
Gerry and I are forever coming up with whacky ideas — some make it to the table, and some don’t. The next step is we are going to start selling the second hand sets. There is a huge market for that — that’s something we’re working on at the moment, whereby we’ll market them out to our clients. There’s loads of spin offs to what we’re doing. There’s always something in the boiler pot and we’d like to see two or three of them come to fruition over the next 12-18 months.
What motivates you to stay running a business?
The challenge of seeing it growing. We’ve had growth for the past five years, really great growth in the past 18 months — that tells us we’re doing something right and gives us confidence to go forward with other ideas.
What’s your vision for the future?
We want to make it become the de facto way for golf travel, to expand our footprint more worldwide and to add on other products and services to what we’re doing.
What’s the best business advice you’ve received?
When I worked in Smurfit Praida bank there was a famous saying Michael Smurfit came out with. He said: “Opportunities come to pass not pause.” That means you have to grasp an opportunity when it comes by, and you have to get stuck into it. People have lots of ideas. It’s converting ideas into successful companies that’s a real art. Opportunities come up; some people take them and some people don’t.
What would be your advice to businesses starting out?
Under-promise and over-deliver. Do what it says on the tin and always try and do it better than that. If any business is doing that — if you exceed the customer’s expectations — you’re going to do well. Don’t over-promise and don’t under-deliver because you’ll lose people that way.
What’s your favourite motivational business quote?
A business has to be involving, it has to be fun, and it has to exercise your creative instincts – Richard Branson.
What, if anything, would you do differently?
I wouldn’t do a huge amount differently. It would have been great to have access to more funds in the early days, which would have allowed us to buy more stock and pen more locations quicker. We grew at a speed — a rapid enough speed. In hindsight you learn more when you go along at a nice pace.
Phone: +353 1 833 3323
Interviewed by: Web Content Partners
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