If you're going to take on the Goliaths of the golf equipment industry, you'd better have these three things
If you’re going to take on the Goliaths of the golf equipment industry, you’d better have three things: great product, exceptional pricing and customer service you can’t get anywhere else.
Jason Hiland believes he hit the trifecta. But more than that, Hiland started Sub 70 Golf in tiny Sycamore, Ill., with the idea that you should know who builds your clubs and that “custom” means you get it exactly how you want it.
Sub 70, which opened for business in December 2018, is a tiny company in the grand scheme of golf. But among those golfers for whom equipment is a priority, Sub 70 is getting some attention and making a few waves.
Hiland created an equipment company that sells its product directly to the consumer. The product line is not deep but it touches on all the critical areas of the game. The priorities for Sub 70 is product that compares with the OEMs, prices that are about half of the big manufacturers and that each club is custom built.
Sub 70 Golf offers a full line of clubs, and sells directly to the consumer via online from its factory in Sycamore, Ill. [Photo: Sub 70 Golf]
“I saw other industries with a factory direct model with high end products, being in the golf industry and doing the consulting work I did, it could be possible to do our own OEM but do it in a different fashion,” Hiland said.
“We’re doing factory direct and custom building the product in Sycamore. Other industries inspired me to take what I know and apply it to make a more efficient mouse trap.”
Hiland has been in the golf business since 1995 when he started Diamond Tour Golf, which sells golf club components online. He also runs Hurricane Golf, which is an online discounter of name-brand equipment, clothing and accessories.
As a result, he has formed relationships with the manufacturing facilities overseas that make all the OEM products and used that experience to create his own line of golf equipment.
“I think I knew enough to be dangerous about how to design some clubs,” Hiland said. “I had some concepts that I thought would work and we used their engineering to help me do it. I tell people that we were a really good garage band for music. There’s enough talent there to write some original songs. That’s why this project took three years to get launched. If the products weren’t as good as major OEM companies, the project wouldn’t be worth doing.”
Most of the overseas factories have engineering departments and Hiland took advantage of that expertise.
“We could use those guys to work with us with our concepts and they give you feedback about what metals you might use or how you might do things,” Hiland said. “You put your science together to make prototypes and get to the point where you get something that works.”
Prototypes were first tested using high-end launch monitors. If the numbers passed muster, the clubs were passed on to company employees and Hiland’s friends who were all good players. The subsequent feedback was used to refine the clubs until the finished products were created.
“Our testing pool was all our buddies who love golf,” he said.
The next challenge was to figure out how to sell it, literally and figuratively. “We thought the products were really good,” he said. “But we could say that all we want and that doesn’t matter.”
Along came Jay Armour, who owns a sales and advertising business in Chicago — about 70 miles from Sycamore. Armour became a partner in Sub 70 and his focus from the beginning has been to create brand awareness.
“We don’t have an advertising budget,” Hiland said. “We’re not going to be running any ads on Golf Channel.”
Instead, Hiland and Armour sent product to the websites that test golf equipment like My Golf Spy and Golf Unfiltered. The clubs tested so favorably that they already — unexpectedly — sold out of two of the three iron models Sub 70 offers. Replacement product is on the way.
There is a custom fitting gadget on the Sub 70 website or buyers can get fitted elsewhere and send the results to Sub 70 club builders. Customers can talk to their builders on the phone and occasionally, a buyer will visit the company’s facility in Sycamore. Remarkably, Sub 70 has a 60-day, no-questions-asked, money-back guarantee.
“I’ll never sell something to somebody just to sell it,” Hiland said. “I want to make sure it works for them and they’re happy with it and that it helps them with their golf game.”
Mike Purkey has written about golf for more than 30 years for a number of publications, including Golf Magazine and Global Golf Post. He lives in Charlotte, N.C.