Love of the game: Passion for golf drives business plan

A day at the course with golf clubs in hand means you're in for relaxation, some time for yourself to enjoy the game. Forget digging at the bottom of a golf bag or rummaging through the garage for loose balls; a new subscription box allows golfers to get right on the course with their materials easily in tow.

The idea for Tee Box Club came about in winter 2015, when Matt Fernandez's brother and cousin went on a month-long golf Matthew Fernandeztrip. The two noticed a trend of subscription boxes--they're made for everything from food to jewelry to games--and pitched the idea to Fernandez, a lifelong golfer, when they got home.

They started out with golf clothing, but soon came to realize the essentials would be the most logical and consistent commodity. In June 2016, Fernandez officially started the business himself after family left due to other obligations.

Tee Box Club eliminates the hassle of searching for balls or buying the essentials over and over again at expensive pro shops. Subscribers decide if they want deliveries every month, two months, etc. and balls and tees are automatically delivered to their door, ready to go, with future plans including golf clubs and ball markers. One time purchases like hats and towels are also available on the site and make up about 30 percent of sales.

"We want to kind of build a locker room for golfers, basically everything they need to step on the first tee," Chief Executive Officer and owner Fernandez says.

The used golf balls are taken from the country's top courses, already making them high quality, and are double washed before being inspected. Fernandez takes into account scrapes, scratches, discoloration, aesthetics, and even weight changes to account for water-log, discarding the less-than-perfect products. Fernandez found one supplier through his brother, who works in the golf industry, and the rest through extensive research. The boxes, which contain a dozen balls and tees, start at $15.99. Everything sold comes with a money back guarantee.

Tee Box Club was the fifth business to become an Emerge Fund recipient after four were chosen during a pitch night earlier this year. Recipients received $5,000 and became virtual members of The Underground, a business incubator and co-working space in the basement of Sperry's Moviehouse, which includes accountability to a business plan and an advisory board.

Director of Business Attraction for St. Clair County's Economic Development Alliance Quentin Bishop says Tee Box Club made sense as the fifth choice because the original four companies aren't based online, and Tee Box Club is rooted in e-commerce. It provided a different offering and balanced the group of winners.

Fernandez is a true professional. His daily work changes, but there is always something to do: customer service, looking to add even more value to customers, responding to emails, packing and shipping boxes, getting email campaigns ready, looking into more marketing, reaching out to wholesalers, blogging, checking Google Analytics, or creating social media content. He is constantly thinking about how to improve the business.

"I always try to take a few hours to think creatively about the company going forward. How can we improve to make our members even more loyal? What avenues can we take to increase brand awareness? Can we add another sales channel?" he says.

Only halfway through our phone interview did I finally ask where he is from--born and raised in St. Clair county-- and discovered Fernandez goes to school at Michigan State University. That's right: the owner of this the business is still in his college years. He is studying marketing with a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation--fitting.

Bishop is one of the members of Tee Box Club's Emerge Fund advisory board. He says Fernandez's impressive sales revenue and professionalism made him know the young entrepreneur was serious and knew business.

"His unique business model and plan for increasing market share was accepted unanimously by the review board. He did a great job articulating his company goals and objectives," Bishop says. "We're proud to have a young entrepreneur so focused on his business metrics."

Bishop calls age "irrelevant" in entrepreneurship, and says young business owners have some of the best ideas.

Fernandez avoids disclosing his youth, as it can be hard getting people to take him seriously. He often experiences stereotypes about what age an entrepreneur should be, but his slick website, daily Instagram posts for Tee Box Club's almost 5,000 followers, and an interesting blog prove them wrong.

"When I tell them that I run my own business, some people are super intrigued while others just kind of brush it off like I am running a lemonade stand," he says.

The owner also says being part of a young, tech-savvy generation has its business benefits. Perhaps partly due to its owner's age and partly because of the online nature of the subscriptions, Tee Box Club gets approximately one-third of its sales through Instagram. Another third is from Internet searches, and the last third comes from Facebook ads and email automation.

Fernandez says social media lets him create a brand beyond only a product. It brings about a lifestyle, and a large amount of followers helps consumers know a brand is reliable.

He takes on the approach that customers don't want to be sold to; he develops brand interest before site viewers are customers and uses social media as inbound marketing. Blogging, for example, was added as a way to increase traffic to the site, add legitimacy, and reel in more people randomly searching online. Getting people to read, even if they're only interested in the content, puts products at the forefront of their minds. The more people visiting a website, no matter the reason, the more potential customers a company has.

"Blogging kind of helps tie everything together. It shows your company knows what they're talking about and helps produce content that people actually want to see and read," Fernandez says. "It helps bring people to your website via social media and SEO (search engine optimization) for other reasons than just your product, but if it's done right, you can convert these visitors into loyal customers."

A year and a half ago, the company had a slow start with only six customers, including family. Now, Tee Box Club boasts over 100 members and many one-time buys, with the boxes making their way to almost every state in the country. Join the club to get a quality, convenient, and affordable product while supporting a young business owner.

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