A baby stroller.
A golf pushcart.
The connection is so obvious. So brilliant. Trust me on this.
Not to suggest securing clubs on a pushcart is commensurate with ratcheting a howling infant into a stroller.
Been there. Survived that.
Let’s leave the kids in the car for a moment and focus on the important issue: golf.
The Bag Boy Nitron pushcart is different, so different it requires special attention (just like those kids, dammit). It uses compressed nitrogen (Nitron Piston Technology) to assist with opening and closing.
Bag Boy Nitron Genesis
Bag Boy (and parent company Dynamic Brands) isn’t a flashy organization. The intent generally isn’t to contrive commercials or push gadgets. Golfers buy heaps of junk. Remember those infomercials from the 1990s? Iron head covers? A string of beads to help keep score? The list is endless. So is the gullibility.
The task is to bring to market high-quality products that never sacrifice function for a bit of form. According to Leighton Klevana, Dynamic Brands CEO and founding partner, the Nitron pushcart was intended to create something “innovative and technically superior to what’s on the market.”
It’s fine to toss out such lofty goals. However, it would require that the final result benefit every user while at the same time establishing a fundamentally better way of doing something. That’s a big ask.
There wasn’t necessarily a “Eureka!” moment that spawned a clear vision of what needed to be done. It was more so the admission that for walking golfers, the first and last thing they do is opening and closing the pushcart.
Some products come about as a direct result of consumer feedback. This wasn’t one of those situations. No one was complaining about the difficulty or number of steps involved in setting up a pushcart. But sometimes companies have a hunch that great products create demand, rather than respond to it.
About Those Strollers
I bet you’re still wondering about the strollers.
In 2003, Klevana acquired a baby jogger brand. He sold it in 2012 but throughout that experience, Klevana found himself dealing with the same materials, design concepts and engineering challenges as in creating push carts for golf.
Many of us can relate to the parent, hands tied, loading groceries into a minivan with severely annoyed children. They just want the damn stroller to collapse and fit in the trunk and get going. For many of us, that sounds a lot like today.
Creating a solution for stressed-out parents helped find a fix for golfers.
The most obvious example is the front wheel on the TriSwivel II, with its 360° maneuverability. For a baby stroller, remaining nimble in a crowded department store is a competitive shopping advantage. While golfers are less likely to be fighting for the last shirt on the sale rack, the feature comes in handy far more often than one might think.
Trust the Process
Most consumers don’t understand the costs associated with product development. It can take months to generate a viable design and that’s before any considerations are made for supply-chain requirements, material sourcing or changes in market dynamics.
“The team worked through double-digit finished prototypes,” says Pat Gallagher, Project Manager on the Bag Boy Nitron design, “and it wasn’t ever a sure thing that this was actually going to work.” There’s always an up-front investment a company makes to get a project off the ground. If it flutters and ultimately fails, it’s a sunk cost. Eventually, such costs get absorbed somewhere and are often passed on to the consumer.
Implementing a nitrogen canister is one thing. However, Gallagher’s team had to come up with a design that didn’t sacrifice any of the existing features (weight, size, durability) while eliminating steps from the set-up process. If the typical cart takes eight to 10 steps and 25 to 30 seconds to get ready, shaving a couple of seconds and a step or two isn’t going to qualify as revolutionary. It would be like buying a ceiling fan because it offers one or two more speed settings while saving $2.81 on your annual electric bill.
Bag Boy Nitron – Just Add Nitrogen
Nitrogen gas is typically used in welding and to pressurize pipelines and process food. Compressed nitrogen (think lift supports on a hatchback of a vehicle) make it easier to move something one direction without making it too difficult to move it the other direction. In the case of the Bag Boy Nitron pushcart, the nitrogen canister had to produce sufficient oomph in opening the cart without making it impossible to close. Though it was tested to surpass 10,000 uses, it also had to be simple to replace as a stand-alone part.
Most consumers will fixate on the nitrogen canister. It’s the keystone technology so that makes sense. However, without an automated front wheel, the overall geometry wouldn’t work. It couldn’t be a one-motion solution if locking the front wheel required additional steps. It’s a small thing that’s actually a pretty big thing. Once a viable design is in place, there’s a solid six-figure investment required to move forward and build the tooling for production.
That’s not unique to this situation but it underscores the amount of human and monetary capital that goes into any product design before a single unit is ever sold.
Then it’s time to hit the market and see if it resonates with buyers.
With the Nitron, Bag Boy went all-in on a convenience opportunity it believed was there. Actually, the Nitron could have launched 12 months earlier, but Klevana says it wasn’t 100-per-cent ready. The difference between right and exactly right can drive those who demand excellence to the brink of insanity.
But, because Dynamic Brands is privately owned, “We’re not driven by release dates,” says Klevana. “It might be objectively boring but we’re just plugging away, working to do what’s right for the consumer.” Whether that means a product goes to market in July, October or something the next year is secondary to being completely satisfied with the outcome.
There’s always a measure of risk with any new product and, frankly, pushcarts aren’t all that exciting. Compared to drivers, forged irons and custom putters, pushcarts are the definition of utilitarian. The implicit benefit is that carts are useful and perhaps becoming an industry staple.
In this case, the value is realized when golfers open/close the Bag Boy Nitron alongside a competing product. It’s not only that the Nitron is easy to operate. It’s that it’s easier to open/close than competing pushcarts.
It’s the difference between someone trying to explain to you how much more fun it was to watch sports on an HDTV in 2001 and watching it first-hand, realizing you could read the names on the back of each jersey without squinting. The proof of the pudding is always in the eating.
According to Dynamic Brands, consumer response to the Nitro-Piston Technology has been exceptionally positive, presumably because it does exactly what it’s supposed to.
Looking at two pushcarts sitting in cardboard boxes on the floor of a big-box retail outlet isn’t a good way for anyone to discern which one is better. Moreover, it’s not like Bag Boy is the only company working to refine designs, add features, reduce the size/weight and offer more accessories. There are a number of quality options on the market and a compelling case can be made for any number of models depending on specific criteria.
That said, the specific nitrogen technology is patented. So, while competitors might focus on stability, braking systems and durability, if the plan is to offer a version similar to Bag Boy Nitron, there’s going to be some serious red tape to work around.
Bag Boy Nitron – Helmet or Minivan?
The topic of on-course transportation is constantly evolving.
A year ago, I called for the death of the two-person golf cart and I stand by that. The problem is that without an obvious and actionable alternative, the status quo remains. Things haven’t played out like I wanted and for the time being, there’s going to be a COVID-19 cloud over all of our conversations – golf-related and otherwise.
To the degree golfers approach topics of public health with a new perspective, it’s reasonable to think more players will consider using pushcarts. We’ve seen increased usage among collegiate golfers and competitive amateurs. Do you really think if professional tours didn’t have caddies, players would be double-strapping and lugging a bag all over the course?
Not a chance.
When I was a kid, there was a movement promoting bike and ski helmets. The safety statistics overwhelmingly supported the use of helmets but it took some time before there was universal acceptance. Now, it’s commonplace. It’s good real estate for sponsors of professional extreme sport athletes and a place to showcase stickers from different resorts or brands. In short, now you’re more likely to stick out if you’re not wearing one.
On the other hand, minivans are the most sensible vehicle choice for anyone with kids. But over time, minivans try to look less like a minivan in an effort to be a little less “soccer mom” and a little more rugged SUV.
The standard pushcart is somewhere in the middle of the helmet-minivan spectrum but we might be getting to the point where it’s the best choice for walking golfers.
What do you think?
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