One in a series of stories about the participants at the 2018 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla.
Basements are the incubators of many great ideas.
Golf.com was started in my basement in the early 1990s and eventually moved to my neighbor’s basement before finally landing in real office space.
In talking with Todd Bishop, one of the owners of Dormie Golf Workshop, a 3-year-old company that makes custom-designed leather headcovers, I was reminded of those days with a programmer and dog in the basement.
Bishop, 47, and his brother Jeff, 37, residents of Halifax, Nova Scotia, approached their potential business much like Steve Jobs did as co-founder of Apple. The Bishop brothers wanted not merely to create leather headcovers but make them better. They sought to find a niche in a sport that is difficult to enter.
The Bishops struggled to make it as professional golfers competing for prize money. Both eventually earned Canadian PGA cards – Todd in 2008 and Jeff in 2012 – to become club professionals and teach golf.
With most of their professional lives in golf, the Bishops met many industry leaders in Canadian golf. Those contacts provided the base for Dormie.
“We were living in an apartment,” Todd said. “We got this huge map on the wall, and we divided it into provinces. Then, we subdivided those provinces into the top 100 courses in Canada, and we just put pins in them until we got them. But that was once we actually got a product, so in order to get to that position, Jeff and I were doing a lot of just figuring out how to piece it together.”
In their small residence, the brothers had little room for storage and no money for machinery. They needed to find sources of materials, seamstresses and facilities that could sew leather.
Halifax, with a population of about 400,000, is no hamlet, but it’s hardly a hub of leather seamstresses, either. Using Kijiji, the Canadian equivalent of Craigslist, they searched for help. The Bishops created a network of workers before they eventually found a source who could handle their company’s growing demands.
From what started as a 10-foot-by-10-foot booth at a local Canadian golf show, Dormie sold about 2,000 units in its first year. Last year, sales increased to 7,000 units. By the end of this year, that number is expected to double. In 2018, the goal is 30,000 units.
Like all small companies, the founders point to certain seminal moments that made their company successful.
The first was a show at which Dormie was introduced to the golfing public and would leave with orders from some golf courses without having shown any finished product, just hides of leather.
The second was the difficult decision of taking out a loan for $15,000 Canadian (about $11,700 U.S.) to appear at the 2015 PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla.
The most recent involved receiving orders from Cabot Links, a high-end resort about three hours northeast of Halifax. The order opened the doors to other courses in Canada and the United States.
“We were so green, and pretty much somewhat nervous,” Todd Bishop said of their first PGA Show. “I wouldn't say terrified, but opening up a business and knowing how hard we boot-strapped it to get to where we are, to drop that amount of money on one show, that early in the game, was a really high risk, but it really paid off.”
Dormie is doubling down on its booth size, to 20 feet by 10 feet, for the Jan. 23-26 PGA Show and building and exporting its own booth to Orlando, which is part of the company’s expansion plans.
“What we keep telling everybody when they ask us about our success, that the success is from attending trade shows, attending tournaments, going to industry meetings, and it's the facetoface that has really got us where we are today,” Todd Bishop said. “You just can't sit behind a computer. You still need to get out there and meet and greet and build those relationships. That's what we have been able to do before we got into the business, and we continue to make that probably our strongest asset: the relationships that we have with people.”
Alex Miceli is the founder and publisher of Morning Read. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter: @AlexMiceli