THIRD PLACE: GROOVE CADDY

Gadget solves problem for golfers, opens door to big market

 

Every golfer wants clean grooves on their golf clubs, and a new device called the Groove Caddy is gaining a lot of attention.

ndahlberg@MiamiHerald.com

Not golf balls again.

That’s what golfers everywhere might really be thinking on Father’s Day, birthdays and Christmas — at least that’s what Jose "Joche" Espin is banking on.

Espin invented the Groove Caddy, a hand-held, battery-operated brush that cleans the grooves on a golf club more easily than the current process of soaking and hand-brushing, he says.

“This is something new, very innovative, and it is something that the golfer receiving it is actually going to use. So it is the perfect gift. All that scrubbing, no one wants to do that,” said Espin, an avid golfer himself.

Espin’s plan for Groove Caddy won third place in the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge FIU Track. “Groove Caddy offers the passionate golfer a great solution for keeping his or her clubs clean. I loved the ingenuity, passion and creativity the team brought to the table,” said judge Lourdes “Luly” Balepogi, founder of Chispa Marketing.

And this is not the only accolade the Groove Caddy team has received this year.

In January, Espin and his partners introduced the Groove Caddy at the PGA Show in Orlando, the largest show of its kind for the golfing industry. At the show, Groove Caddy won "Best New Product for 2014.”

Since that time, Espin said he has received interest from South America, Indonesia, New Zealand and Australia. “We are talking to distributors and retailers all over the world.”

In its first two weeks on the market, Groove Caddy sold more than 600 units — a boxed set that comes with the brush, adapter and cord, a spray bottle for cleaning solution and a carrying pouch retailing for $39.99. In South Florida, it is available at Planet Golf, the Biltmore Golf Course, Riviera Country Club and the Miccosukee Golf Course, and more locations are coming soon. Luxury Beyond the Gates, a golfing publication, recently tested and reviewed Groove Caddy, giving it its seal of approval and official endorsement, said senior editor David Ross.

Despite the early progress, it has been a long entrepreneurial journey for Espin, who worked in his family’s auto insurance business for 16 years. The most difficult part? Taking that first step, a step that has been easier because of his supportive wife, Espin said.

“A lot of people have ideas; a lot of people think this might work, that might work. But the most difficult step was convincing myself that I was going to take this concept and make it a reality.”

Espin began working full-time on Groove Caddy about a year ago. The PGA show represented a deadline. "We needed our product, website, video, booth, everything ready to go,” Espin said.

In the past year, he attracted investors and set up a team, identified a company to build a prototype and found a factory overseas to manufacture the product. “I always envisioned Groove Caddy as a side project, but little by little, I’ve come to believe it can be something a lot bigger,” Espin said.

His co-investors and partners are Carlos Martell, with 16 years of sales and marketing experience in the pharmaceutical and biotech industry, and Mike Lowell, an FIU alumnus and former Major League Baseball player for the Boston Red Sox and the Florida Marlins. Together, they funded the $120,000 in product development startup costs.

The next step is to try to reach big-box retailers and expand advertising, including spots on the Golf Channel. Also being considered: QVC and Home Shopping Network, as well as print ads in golf publications. FIU judges said the team needs a full-time sales person.

To be sure, there’s a big international market of affluent golf enthusiasts out there, a $60 billion-a-year industry with more than 31,000 golf courses and 57 million golfers worldwide. The U.S. alone has approximately 29 million golfers, 18,000 golf courses and driving ranges, and 5,000 independent golf retail stores, Martell said during the live pitch with the FIU Track judges.

Initially, the Groove Caddy team thought the market was the golfers themselves and gift purchases. They still think that’s a big part of it, but feedback at the show and with country clubs has also sent them in other directions.

“Clubs want to put these in the hands of bag boys to show their members that they have a product that will help them clean their clubs effectively. It can drive sales to their store after the round,” Espin said at the pitch.

The grooves on a golf club are there for a reason, of course. They help determine accuracy and distance, so clean grooves can increase performance. But there is another factor, too. “Having clean golf clubs adds confidence, and you need that in golf,” Espin said.

“Golfers love their gadgets, and golfers would like to add anything to their bag that will help them improve their performance."

Read more Business Plan Challenge stories from the Miami Herald

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