Interview with Matt Ward
A country club manager turned internet entrepreneur in 1995, Tom Cox has been involved launching and helping to start businesses for 25 years. Married to Susan — also an entrepreneur — father of Thomas, a 2-year old.
THE COX STORY —
Is President & CEO of Golfballs.com, a business he co-founded in 1995, and notably was one the first ecommerce businesses in golf. Golfballs.com has been named by Inc Magazine to the Inc. 5000 list of the fastest growing companies in America eight (8) times.
You wake up in the morning — what’s the driving passion?
Innovate, improve, learn — repeat.
What was the genesis for the start of the golf ball company?
I was a Golf club manager and tournament director in early 90’s. Computers were my hobby and when the internet came along, I thought it was going to change everything. So I figured I would combine my hobby with my business and started Golfballs.com in 1995.
How do your efforts distinguish themselves from your competition?
Our business operates on our own proprietary software platform, from the customer facing website to our production operations, allowing us to scale and develop faster. We differentiate ourselves by offering our customers ways to customize their golf balls different from and faster than others. To stay ahead, we launch new product lines every year that typically requires new equipment and software to get it right at scale.
Golf ball prices — especially for premium balls are not inexpensive. How much of a performance difference do golfers really receive when forking over the extra dollars to purchase them when compared to what you provide?
We carry nearly every brand and make of golf ball. Unless you are very low handicap golfer, it’s very difficult to notice the performance difference between a premium ball from each of the big brands. The larger manufacturers have scale and are able to produce better golf balls but how the balls perform is only part of the picture. Top brands know that how you feel about their brand is just as important as how their products perform. The average golfer might shoot a lower score if they used a golf ball suited more to their ability and not one designed for a Tour pro.
How do you go about branding your efforts?
80% of what we sell is customized in some way. Our brand positioning statement is “The World Leader in Golf Customization.” All of our online and Golf Channel advertising reinforces that message and internally, we focus on efforts to live up to that statement. We try to create a Golfballs.com-branded experience at every customer interaction.
Customer service is routinely touted by companies these days. Define the term and the approach you follow.
As a former country club manager, customer service is in my DNA. We established a 100% satisfaction guarantee from the beginning. It makes it easy for line-level decisions when the answer is always the same: make it right for the customer.
If you could change one thing in golf unilaterally — what would it be and why?
Make it easier, less intimidating, and less expensive to enter the sport.
The major golf organizations — USGA, PGA of America R&A, PGA Tour, LPGA — are all seeking ways to attract new players especially Millennials, minorities and women. If you were advising them what would you counsel they be doing?
Be careful not to alienate your core as you adapt the game and venues to attract younger golfers.
You’ve expanded your company into different areas beyond golf balls. Do you expect to expand into other areas such as clubs, apparel, other elements?
We do carry a full line of golf clubs, equipment, apparel, and many other items. It seems like there are already a lot of places to find those products online and offline. We will likely continue to expand into additional customized golf products for golfers and businesses, as we have a distinct advantage and 20 years of experience in this arena.
Best advice you ever received — what was it and who from?
I am fortunate to have several great business mentors and friends. They give me unconditional advice and coaching as we continue to grow Golfballs.com. I think the best piece of advice I have ever received came from a book, the Blue Ocean Strategy. It’s been the underlying strategy for Golfballs.com for many years and it reinforced many of the assumptions we made before the book was written. In a nutshell, the book speaks to the importance of developing a differentiated business strategy that focuses on high growth current and future segments of the market. For us, that means that we double down on customized golf products every year.
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