High Gear: Custom clubs by Hopkins Golf
There’s a new kid in town in the highly competitive retail golf market and after just a few short months the crew at Hopkins Golf has already shaken up the hierarchy in the wedge category of the industry.
“I don’t think I’m a threat to the top two companies, but I’m shockingly bigger than people think,” said Greg Hopkins, CEO of Hopkins Golf. “Consumers get what we are trying to do and although we’re new, we’re certainly not the smallest wedge company out there. We’ve already passed some pretty big names.”
To be fair, Hopkins is neither a “kid” nor a newcomer to the retail golf business. Before launching Hopkins Golf around September 2013, Hopkins was a 16-year CEO at Cleveland Golf where he specialized in wedge and iron design.
Hopkins is quick to credit his design background and extensive knowledge of United States Golf Association regulations, which govern every conceivable aspect of equipment specifications, for his ability to quickly produce and market quality products that are on par with the industry’s big boys. But beside every successful man there is usually a great woman and the company never would have come into existence if not for some gentle nudging from Hopkins’ wife, Linda.
After announcing his retirement from Cleveland Golf in May 2012, Hopkins, now 59, thought he was settling into a life of relaxation. He quickly discovered he was about to embark on a journey back to the workplace in the same style of what is becoming a modern day American entrepreneurial fairy tale.
“I was driving my wife crazy,” Hopkins said. “In those first couple of months I must have cleaned out the garage three times, and when I wasn’t doing that, I was either laying on the couch watching ESPN or out on the course playing golf.”
The retirement fantasy faded almost as quickly as it began as Hopkins searched for more productive ways to occupy his time.
Getting back into the golf business was a logical idea considering that’s where he spent his entire career, but Hopkins had little interest in returning to upper management after 16 years serving as CEO for one of the industry’s giants.
The next logical consideration was to go into business for himself, but in order to compete with the big boys Hopkins knew he was going to need strong partnerships and a brand new product, or a least a uniquely creative spin on an old product.
“I wanted to create a new golf company because, number one, golfers love that, but it’s almost impossible to launch a new company in golf and be successful,” Hopkins said. “I knew I was going to need to sidestep the big chains and provide a direct-to-consumer product to be successful in a market that no one is profitable in right now.”
The light bulb finally lit one night over dinner with family and friends, Hopkins said. The conversation soon turned to golf’s changing retail landscape and an opportunity to fill a void in the marketplace by providing the weekend golfer with a PGA Tour player experience through fully customized equipment, particularly in the wedge sector of the industry.
“Everyone knows wedges featuring custom grinds is golf’s dirty little secret,” Hopkins said. “I decided I wanted to give consumers a product experience only previously enjoyed by tour players and having come from Cleveland, wedges are right in my wheelhouse.
“The selling point for me was knowing wedges featuring custom grinds benefit all players, from the 18 handicapper to a pro like Vijay Singh.”
Hopkins vision was to offer wedges in 11 different loft options, from 46 degrees up to 64 degrees, plus seven different custom grinds. Although he had a solid product idea in place, Hopkins knew he was going to need some serious inventory space or to find a partner that would allow him to provide delivery direct from the manufacturer to the consumer — enter the United Parcel Service.
Leaning on old relationships built while at Cleveland, Hopkins pitched his product idea to the top brass at UPS. During the course of the negotiations, Hopkins was not only successful in landing UPS as a shipping partner, but also convinced them to house his club assembly facility inside the UPS hub in Mira Loma, Calif., and taught UPS employees how to build clubs.
Today, consumers can place an order on http://www.hopkinsgolf.com, where they can fully customize their wedges by choosing from three club head finishes and an array of loft, grind, shaft, grip, color and personalization options. Those orders are sent directly to Mira Loma, where UPS employees build, box and ship orders all from the same facility.
“I save a considerable amount of time and money building clubs that way,” Hopkins said. “But the biggest benefit of partnering with UPS is that I can put custom made golf clubs in the consumer’s hands in as little as 48 hours.
“It definitely beats trying to manage multiple facilities and hundreds of employees. Now I can do what I love to do — design clubs, kick back and enjoy life.”
Hopkins wedges start at $109 each and range up to about $150 when fully loaded with all the most expensive custom options.
Hopkins also recently unveiled two golf ball models — the VL Speed, a two-piece ball starting at $9.99 per dozen that has similar performance characteristics of a Titleist DT SoLo, Callaway Supersoft or a Nike Power Distance 8, and the VLPro, a $19.99 per dozen three-piece ball similar to a Titleist NXT Tour.
This summer Hopkins plans to release his first complete iron set, which is still yet to be named, but is modeled as a performance cavity back. Game improvement irons will follow in the fall.
“There’s a new sheriff in town and I think people like that,” Hopkins said. “But in reality, we’re just trying to blend the old school way of doing things with a new school way to deliver it. If nothing else, I am giving people a choice.”
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