I’m thinking of getting into the Direct-To-Consumer (DTC) golf ball business. All I need is a catchy name, a slick logo and a unique selling proposition.
And it would be nice if my balls perform similarly to Titleist, Bridgestone or Srixon — for a lot less money.
Presto! I’m in the ball business.
It’s not that easy but it’s not that much of an exaggeration.
You, the golfer, benefits greatly from the DTC movement: more choices and better pricing are great but the true mavrik – er, maverick – loves flipping the middle finger at the golf manufacturing establishment and its sacred retail channel.
DTC gives you that opportunity.
Two new-ish DTC ball brands are making waves this spring, each with its own selling proposition. Whether you find those propositions unique is up to you.
Seed checks the catchy name and slick logo boxes and its selling proposition is most definitely unique: golf balls by subscription.
“The golf industry is very traditional, very conservative and a little slow to move,” says Seed owner Dean Klatt. “I was looking at other industries with similar market conditions: two or three leading brands with large market share that maybe weren’t seeing the changes in the market we were seeing. Dollar Shave Club is the obvious example and that’s where the original idea came from.”
Seed sells its golf balls by subscription. You pick the ball you want (Seed offers four models) and the delivery plan you want and Seed sends the balls to you. You customize delivery: monthly, every other month or annually and you can cancel whenever you want.
“If you’re buying golf balls, you can get a deal but you have to shop around a bit, wait for them to come on sale or buy five or six dozen if you want a really good price,” says Klatt. “Our thing is to make it really simple and easy. It’s a flat price, always our lowest price. You just have to buy one dozen to get the best price and subscription is the easiest way to do that.”
Klatt’s golf background is in brand management and product development. He set up OGIO’s web business in Europe before the company sold to Callaway and has sold in traditional and non-traditional channels.
“The constriction point is not necessarily the consumer,” he says. “It’s more with the sales channel.
“You’d often get retailers or golf professionals saying, ‘It’s a great product but I don’t have the space.’ Or, at the time when TaylorMade and adidas were together, shops would have to take everything to get the best discount to be able to make money. Other products would get squeezed out.”
It’s a tale as old as time: If it’s not on the shelf, the consumer can’t buy it. It doesn’t matter how good the product is.
Seed is based in Ireland and used a grant from a group called Enterprise Ireland to help fund the startup. Klatt says industry data indicated three groups that might be receptive to a new idea.
“Around 2016-2017, golf memberships were in decline but actual rounds played were starting to increase,” he says. “Demographically, those rounds were being played by juniors, millennials, and women coming into the game. I felt those new people would be open to a new method of purchasing those products, but also a new brand that had a different take on traditional golf marketing.”
Seed launched in 2017 with no marketing – sales were all word of mouth. Klatt says the brand faced – and still faces – three challenges. First, would people believe someone could develop a product with the same, or at least close to the same, performance as the market leaders and sell it for half the price? Second, would they buy from a brand they’d never heard of? And third, would they tell their friends?
“When we first proposed the idea, people looked at me like I’d lost my marbles. Once we started checking those boxes, we figured we were on to something,” he says. “That first year of no-advertising, our customer profile was very different, mostly people under 40. As we’ve grown, we’ve found the over-55 demographic is definitely open to saving money. We’re in over 34 countries now.”
As you’d expect, Seed doesn’t make their own balls. Foremost and Launch Technologies – both from Taiwan – do. Klatt says Enterprise Ireland set him up with a technical university in Ireland to help with R&D. The entire process was helped by expiring patents on intellectual property.
“There are heaps of patents around three-piece urethane golf balls and they change every year,” he says. “The reason you’re seeing a lot of movement in this space is because the original ProV patents are coming to the end of their life. That makes it easier to reverse-engineer that core technology.”
“It’s what an IP lawyer would call going into the public domain.”
Seed offers three different cast urethane balls: the three-piece SD-01 Pro One, the four-piece SD-02 Pro Tour and the low-compression three-piece SD-05 Pro Soft. The company also offers a low-priced ionomer distance ball called, appropriately enough, the SD-15 Country Mile.
It’s important to note Seed is not trying to sell you industry-leading performance. Its proposition is a good ball that’s close enough in performance at a price you’ll like. The cherry on top is the balls come to you by subscription.
“There’s a lot of tech being developed just for the sake of developing it, to have a new story every year,” says Klatt. “There’s a lot of cost that goes into developing that and a lot of cost in securing all that IP. We took a different tack. What can we put together based on what’s already available? How can we modify it to give customers the absolute best product we could for the best value for their money?”
Seed has done its own testing against the Usual Suspects (ProV1/1x; Chrome Soft/Chrome Soft X; TP5/TP5x). Those tests show Seed’s Tour balls anywhere from one to 1.5 MPH slower off the driver (110 MPH swing speed) compared to Titleist and TaylorMade and about the same amount faster than last year’s Chrome Soft.
At 90 MPH, you could throw a blanket over all of the ball speeds. Seed’s balls had more carry than Chrome Soft but not as much as the other two. Overall, the differences were within one mile per hour and maybe three yards.
Makes you want another MGS ball test, doesn’t it?
Quantix – A Senior Thesis
About 20 minutes into my phone conversation with Ean Martin, co-founder and CEO of Quantix Golf, it dawned on me how young he sounded. I had to ask.
“I’m 21. I’m graduating in May from Abilene Christian University.”
At 21 I was busy mastering the art of beer drinking and making an ass of myself.
“I like beer,” says Martin. “But I have a real passion for business.”
The Quantix story can be traced to an early 2000s’ ball company called Exacta and its ball designer, Larry Cadorniga.
The Exacta Trifecta
“Larry developed the Tour Balata when he was at Titleist,” says Martin. “He also developed balls for Maxfli and MacGregor and designed the ball Jack Nicklaus used to win the Masters in ’86.”
Exacta went under and Martin’s father (a former touring pro) turned the remnants into Triton Golf.
“Every ball Larry developed for Triton was tested at Golf Labs in San Diego,” says Martin, “and they beat every single ball on the market for dispersion.” His father shut down Triton in 2005 to go back out on tour but it was Ean who decided to resurrect the company under a new name.
“There aren’t too many people who can come out of thin air with an award-winning ball scientist,” he says. “That’s where Quantix came from.”
The Quantix Balls
There are, in theory, two balls in the Quantix offering, the F35 Control and the F18 Tour. We say in theory because while you can buy the F35 now, the F18 has been delayed until the third week of March.
“The F35 Control is our amateur ball,” says Martin. “It’s a three-piece ionomer-blend cover. What’s special about it is that it’s our proprietary blend. We call it our TriTech cover. It provides soft feel, a little bit softer than your standard ionomer blend.”
The F18 Tour is a three-piece urethane ball that Martin says is low spin off the driver with tour-level spin around the green.
“We want people to hit it and see their own results rather than make false claims that it’s going to help you with this, this and that,” Martin says. “People like to buy into hype and, yes, that sells golf balls. But at the end of the day, I’d say 95 percent of the claims are just false.”
The F38 sells for $29.99 per dozen with a Vice-like tiered-quantity discount. The F18 will sell for $34.99 with a similar discount structure. Shipping is extra. Sample sleeves are also available for purchase.
Martin won’t say where Quantix balls are being made (other than “near China”) but he does have one audacious goal: to manufacture in the U.S.
“It’s something we’d really like to do. With Larry’s experience in the golf ball industry, he has all the connections. We’re one phone call away from buying all the equipment we need to make golf balls but it comes down to money.”
The Social Network
Quantix, like Seed and other DTC brands, simply could not exist without social media. As we’ve mentioned in other articles, social media gives startup and challenger brands a platform to vie for your attention.
“The internet has really changed the golf industry,” says Martin. “You no longer have to go to a proshop to see a selection of golf balls. You’re getting information delivered directly to you on your newsfeed or on your stories.”
Martin reaches Baby Boomers through Facebook and younger golfers through Instagram and YouTube.
“We need lots of brand recognition. People are always hesitant to try new things. We won’t tell you our ball is going to make you longer, straighter or faster. We want you to just try it and see for yourself and then we want you to come back and tell us what it did for you.”
One of the great advantages of being 21 is you don’t know what you don’t know and you aren’t jaded enough to decide something can’t be done. At that age, you believe anything is possible.
“Some people may be stuck in the way things were done 20 years ago,” says Martin. “But I can look at my company and say this is where we’re at, this is where I think we’re headed and this is what we need to do to get there. There’s something different about knowing where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, rather than saying to a company in Taiwan, ‘I want to be in the ball business, what do you have?’”
The Seed-Quantix Perplexity
Are these balls any good?
If you want breakthrough golf ball technology, it’s not coming from Seed or Quantix. Seed’s tech is aided by expiring patents and its balls were designed with the aid of aeronautics engineering students and faculty. Quantix balls are designed by an engineer who was last employed full time by an OEM in 1995. And while both Klatt and Martin insist they exert a certain level of control over the production process, their balls are made overseas by someone else.
The good thing about DTC golf balls is that they’re inexpensive so the cost to at least give them a whack is minimal. We mentioned Quantix pricing already. Seed’s urethane balls are priced under $29 but, with shipping, it’s on par with the cost of Snell. The Country Mile may be a huge bargain at $10.95 a dozen.
A side note: Seed’s website shows pricing in Euros but that changes to U.S. dollars once you place something in your cart.
To carve any kind of a niche in DTC, a unique selling proposition is a must. As of right now, Seed’s message is much further along. The subscription model is surely different for golf. Some will no doubt say no freaking way but who thought anyone would buy razors by subscription? And not for nothing, mainstream Gillette is selling razor subscriptions now. That’s the downside of the subscription model: if it works, it’s easy to copy and there goes “unique.”
Seed also features recycled packaging, if that appeals to you. Klatt says he initially looked at recycled packaging because he liked the look but was amazed by the positive response from customers. Seed also sells tees made from recycled bamboo and is looking at golf bags and apparel made from recycled plastic.
The fact Quantix is run by a 21-year-old college senior is a pretty cool story and may pique your interest. Long-term viability, however, requires a longer-lasting hook. “Made in the USA” is a great dream but it will take more than youthful optimism to pull it off.
There’s plenty of mainstream competition in that price range, too. Srixon’s Q-STAR Tour ($29.99/dozen) and TaylorMade’s new Tour Response ($35/dozen) both feature urethane covers. And by this time, we can even call Snell ($32.99/dozen) mainstream. And mainstream, if nothing else, is safe.
Are these balls any good? Both brands have committed to future MyGolfSpy ball testing so we’ll see.
“If it’s good, it’s good,” says Klatt. “If it’s not, then we’ll do something about trying to make it better for the next time around. But we’re pretty confident in the consistency and overall performance.”