Filled with entrepreneurial drive, CEO and founder Eric Burch has up-and-comer New Level Golf competing with the best boutique equipment manufacturers and even major OEMs
Eric Burch knows that to innovate, you never stop asking questions. Burch, founder and CEO of New Level Golf, has made a long and successful career at a relatively young age, in part, through his seemingly boundless curiosity.
New Level, which primarily produces forged irons and wedges for the clubmaking and direct-to-consumer market, is Burch’s latest venture since he first went into business for himself in 1997 at age 22.
The company, which was formed three years ago, exists because the 45-year-old Burch believes he can create golf equipment equal to or better than other boutique manufacturers or even the major OEMs at a price point substantially lower than any size company can offer.
Burch’s road to New Level begins in the Detroit area when, as a teenage high school golfer, he started building clubs for friends using components from GolfWorks and Golfsmith. “We weren’t very well off, so I needed to find a way to feed my need for golf equipment,” Burch said. “It always intrigued me.”
In 1995, he left junior college when his daughter was born, and two years later, with some money saved and a loan from a family member, he started his own clubfitting shop, called Parfection Golf, in Rockford, Ill.
In a short time, Burch became one of the leading fitters in the Midwest, known for having a wide array of demo clubs and not being married to one or two club manufacturers. He owned one of the first Swing Dynamics launch monitors, which he used to fit customers with real data.
Burch was so successful that he was named Top Retail Clubmaking Shop in 2004 by the Professional Clubmakers Society. About that time, he created and developed an innovation that would change the way clubfitters do their work.
The big OEMs started shortening the product cycles and instead of introducing product every two years, new clubs started coming out every 6-12 months. “As a small business with not much inventory, it was difficult to keep up with changing drivers that often,” Burch said.
So, he invented a fitting that could be installed on clubheads and shafts — woods and irons — to enable him to use any shaft with any clubhead. “The originals were for my own use at the retail level,” he said.
Burch rented a booth at the PGA Merchandise Show to display his creation, which was called Club Conex.
“Clubmakers and clubfitters went gaga over it,” he said. The idea revolutionized the fitting industry by giving clubmakers hundreds of options to get the best fit. More importantly, customers had considerably more choices.
By 2005, Burch was out of Parfection Golf and fulltime with Club Conex. His biggest problem turned out to be suppliers. One such firm quoted him a price on titanium prototypes but wouldn’t honor the price after Burch secured a big number of pre-booked orders. Burch lost a sizeable amount of money when he refused to raise the price with his customers.
So, with no engineering background — “I wasn’t even very good at math,” he said — Burch spent about $100,000 for a sophisticated CNC milling machine. “I got a wild hair,” he said. “I’m a figure it out myself kind of guy. I don’t learn much listening and I don’t learn at all by reading.”
The milling machine arrived on Valentine’s Day. “I got real intimate with it,” he said. In 60 days, he was making reasonable pieces that would work and in six months, he was running the machine in daily production.
The investment group that owned True Spec Golf — one of the biggest national clubfitting companies — was one of Burch’s customers. They approached Burch about buying Club Conex. By that time, he had six utility patents and developed products. Burch sold the company for “seven figures plus,” after starting the venture with $3,500 and never borrowing a dime.
Burch stayed on with Club Conex as a consultant but sitting in an office “and don’t do anything until we tell you,” didn’t fit his personality. When 8AM Golf, which owned True Spec, bought Miura Golf, the premier Japanese forging house, Burch was there to assist.
But his heart — and mind — was set on another venture. “I have to blaze my own trail,” he said. And New Level was born. Burch knew cause and effect of golf clubs and had some design experience. And he’s an experienced, competitive player in his own right, having played in the U.S. Mid-Amateur three times and the U.S. Public Links twice.
“When I started the company, my goal was to design some really cool stuff, put into the hands of the clubfitters that I knew and just run with it,” Burch said. “I’m not trying to be a world-beater, I’m trying to build really good stuff and build the brand abroad.”
New Level has 170 dealers worldwide but in recent months, the coronavirus pandemic has radically changed the business model. Burch opened up the company and it has now become primarily a direct-to-consumer business. He dropped prices on the company’s website on April 3 and in 10 days, sold more clubs that the company had in all of 2020 to that point. In 60 days, it was New Level’s best stretch in the company’s history.
“For what I started this company on, you probably couldn’t open a hot dog stand,” he said. “But in three years, we are profitable. When I’m ready to sail off into the sunset, this will be my last big endeavor.”
It’s hard to believe that one day Burch will stop just like that. Asking questions is simply in his DNA.
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