Although around golf his entire life, Steve DeWalle never imagined himself in the golf business. Having earned a Bachelors degree in Sociology from Virginia Tech there never was a specific career plan. After a couple of false starts DeWalle landed a position in the print advertising business where he remained for 17 years until the golf business came calling.
The DeWalle Story —
I spent 7 years of my life traveling the country and playing the Top 100 golf courses in the US. Purely for fun I started keeping my photos and notes on a Website — www.golftripper.com, and that Website ended up becoming quite popular with the golf architecture and travel crowd. Over the years I received thousands of emails from people who wanted to talk golf and I always obliged. One of the people who contacted me was a guy who wanted to sell a fledgling little belt business that he was running as a hobby, but appeared to have a lot of potential. Having spent the last 17 years in the print advertising game I knew that business was dying and it was time for a change. Six weeks after the initial discussion I owned myself a belt company. We were lucky enough to develop a wonderful partnership with Peter Millar who made us a licensee and the rest, as they say, is history.
Steve DeWalle: I love what I do so its easy to get up and get moving. I like to get in early before our staff arrives so my driving force each day is to get into the shop early and make sure our systems are all set up and ready so that production will run smoothly for the day.
MW: So much is written and spoken about customer service — define the term as you see it?
SD: Customer Service is providing a positive experience to someone with whom you are engaged in a transaction where you are the seller. It’s pretty simple as we see it — make sure the customer is happy and feels good about doing business with us.
MW: What techniques do you use to secure input from customers?
SD: We are very active on social media and very responsive in that forum. We get a lot of feedback and suggestions from our customers though that channel. We also keep a very open relationship with our wholesale customers and our sales reps. I don’t think anyone is afraid to let us know if there is something that we could do better. We have encouraged that type of environment with our customers as well as internally.
MW: Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
SD: About 20 years ago I started a business with a friend’s father. He was obviously much older and he had a wealth of business experience. If I ever tried to give him an excuse for something he would always say “You can make excuses or you can make money, but you can’t make both.” That has always stuck with me.
MW: Your biggest pet peeve is?
SD: Wasting time. I absolutely cannot stand for time to be wasted.
MW: What key lessons were learned for those in the golf industry following The Great Recession in ’09?
SD: I wasn’t in the golf business during the 2009 recession, but I think no matter what business people were in a valuable lesson was to closely manage cash flow. I believe cash flow is one of the most under rated aspects of business for new entrepreneurs. It can make or break a business when tough times hit.
MW: You can change one thing in golf unilaterally – what would it be and why?
SD: I would love to see the game played faster. As much as I love to play golf I don’t want to spend 4+ hours getting around a course. I would love to see the US adopt the brisker pace of the UK and have rounds completed in three to three and a half hours.
SD: Everyone is made up from the sum of their life experiences so I believe everything we do and everyone we know contributes to who we become. I’m very fortunate to have had an incredibly vast array of experiences and people in my life all of which have inspired, guided and sometimes served as a warning sign along this journey of life.
MW: Your biggest satisfaction in business comes in what way?
SD: I love to build something. It has been amazing to watch our business start in my garage and grow to what it is today. I get excited about every expansion, every new product and every change that comes along. It’s very rewarding to look back at where we started and equally as exciting to look forward to where we are going.
MW: Identify the short and long terms challenges facing your company efforts and how you plan in dealing with them?
SD: Our biggest challenge, long and short term, is to stay fresh. Its important to always be looking to what’s next and how we can do something different from the other people out there in our field to separate ourselves from the crowd.