@36aday is pleased to introduce interviews with leaders in the game of golf. Nine questions are presented to probe important issues of the game, personal experiences, stories and insight. Just like 9 holes of golf, I hope you find this enjoyable and that it leaves you wanting more.
This ‘Quick Nine’ is with Ryan Sommerfeld who leads Shinebox Lifestyle Brands, Inc. Ryan has recently acquired distribution rights to Snell Golf Canada products and I wanted to connect to learn more about this acquisition, what is Shinebox, and probe into his vision for growing the Snell brand in Canada.
- Congratulations on your acquisition of Snell Golf Canada distribution rights. You’re the owner and operator of a unique golf company, Shinebox. What is Shinebox?
RS – Shinebox is short for Shinebox Lifestyle Brands. It’s a golf distribution company that was incorporated in 2010. Back in the early days there was only one brand, IJP Design, Ian Poulter’s former apparel line. I began Shinebox when I moved away from Acushnet. It was simply more conducive to my life at the time, with a young family.
MJ – You talked about IJP Design, I still own three pair of those pants. The quality is unbelievable.
RS – That Poulter product was excellent quality but the price point was tough. But as a young golf pro with connections in the industry, I was excited to get out on my own.
- I suspect Canada is very unique versus other countries in terms of golf business development. At a systems level, what are the challenges and opportunities for brand distribution in golf in Canada?
RS – The biggest challenge is a simple one: Canada doesn’t have sufficient small freight service. It’s a pain in my side; there are so few freight options here. And compared to the US where free shipping is so common, it is tougher here. Opportunities? Being an independent distributor; there are not many. My overhead is low and I don’t have overhead challenges like many distributors.
MJ – Fair enough, but then you must also have many strong relationships within the golf industry in Canada. That must really help you as an independent.
RS – Certainly so. I was golf professional in Manitoba for 6 years. After that, in Vancouver for 4 years. When I then moved on to be a rep. for Titleist with over 120 accounts in the greater Vancouver area. Then a move to the GTA where I continued with Acushnet for another 2 years.
MJ – I suspect those relationships are still relevant to you now in your role with Shinebox.
RS – Certainly.
- What intrigued to pursue and ultimately obtain rights to distribute the Snell Golf brand in Canada? How do you see that fitting within your vision for Shinebox?
RS – I actually learned the former Canadian distributors were looking to get out from a contact of mine and it was the former group who contacted me. They are great guys and the communication was excellent.
My vision, and this was tough to introduce, is to expand beyond the Direct to Consumer (DTC) model here in Canada. The entire process only took 5 or 6 months. Like Titleist, I developed a green-grass level proposal. The product is easy in that reps will not need to hold onto excess samples. Balls are an easy add on for anyone who represents other products too. For me, it was a logical fit.
- Dean Snell has built his brand on a Direct to Consumer (DTC) model. You mention this may change under Shinebox? Can you please elaborate, and do your other products have DTC options?
RS – There will be some avenue of DTC sales. There is a loyal group of people who order regularly but the DTC model will need to be examined on an ongoing basis. For now, people will be able to order direct off www.snellgolfcanada.com There will be a subtle price increase for the balls, but the price remains excellent. As we continue to expand engagement with pro shops, consumers will be able to walk in to a proshop near them and get their Snell balls right before they tee off.
MJ – I know the previous distributors made shipping free on any purchase. Is this something you will continue?
RS – We will provide free shipping on any Snell order over $100.
- What are some of the short term plans you have to grow and build the Snell brand in Canada?
RS – Shinebox has reps all across the country and we’re focusing on building relationships with clubs across Canada. We should be in 75-100 pro shops across Canada this spring, which is great. Some examples of our plans are exhibiting in Golf Expos, sponsoring Men’s Nights, and aligning brands under the Shinebox umbrella. I have ideas for new hats and headcovers. The quality of the AM&E brand will allow for some great quality headcovers promoting the Snell brand. It’s exciting.
- The launch of a new MTB Black model and a completely new MTB Red were released in 2018. Are there any insights you can share about a pipeline for 2019 or beyond?
RS – February 18 saw the release of a new MTB-X ball which is the best combination of the former Red and the MTB Black. The idea of Black and X models will be easier for consumers to understand. With delivery planned for April 15 golfers will be able to place pre-orders on Snell Golf Canada any time before that. I had a chance to talk with Dean and he’s very excited for the new ball. Modifying and improving the Red into the X should help performance. Also, all balls will be available in yellow.
MJ – You have not mentioned the Get Sum. Are there any changes proposed there?
RS – No. I’ll tell you, it’s an excellent ball, likely the best value ball on the market. Reminds me of the Titleist Tour balls.
- Snell Golf Canada had a modest Brand Ambassador program. Will this continue under your leadership?
RS – No. And don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings but I need to focus on strategic partnerships within the industry. A more open door approach is a challenge. I get inundated with requests for free stuff. Focusing on the industry liaison will help drive business efficiency; it’s simply a matter of focus.
- You’ve shared details about Shinebox, but what about your story Ryan? How does a PGA Class A Professional land as a business owner and distributor for several leading golf brands in Canada?
RS – I started the game late but loved it. Becoming a golf professional was more an opportunity. I had been working part time in a Manitoba golf shop, Niakwa, and started helping with sales. It really just grew from there. The move to Vancouver, and working at Shaughnessy was wonderful. We had the top Auschnet account in Canada. I was good at sales and simply enjoyed liaising with people. I’d play a lot of golf with members and simply say, “just try this”. Honesty helps sell and was able to draw from great relationships over time.
A Titleist rep position opened and it was my head pro at the time, who helped me land that job. It coincided with my wife getting a new position in Toronto. But Toronto is different than Vancouver and with a young family on the way we were looking for something new. I was able to start distribution across Canada for IJP Design and things just grew from there.
- We’ll close with a stock question in all my interviews. What course in Canada tops your bucket list and if you could play it tomorrow, who would you wish to include in your dream foursome?
RS – I’ve been fortunate; I have been able to play 57 of the top 100 courses in Canada. One region in Canada I have not played yet is in PEI, so maybe one of their courses would be where I’d like to play. As for my foursome – Tiger, Michael Jordan and Tom Brady.
I’ve actually played with Tom Brady already. Crazy story, I did a lot of teaching when I was at Shaughnessy and was contacted by a hotel in the city that had a guest seeking lessons over the summer. That guest ended up being model turned actress, Bridget Moynahan. Over about a 4 month period we worked together on her game and she mentioned her boyfriend was coming to visit and that he’d like to join us for a playing lesson. After learning the name of her boyfriend I called in one of assistants on a rare day off and told him he needs to work. Now he’s a massive Tom Brady fan but he was pissed he had to come into work, and I didn’t tell him why. When he shows up got introduced to Tom Brady…well, let me tell you, he left me a hand written thank you note and a nice bottle of whiskey. That was a fun day.
MJ – What a story! Ryan, thank you for your time and I wish you success with Shinebox and with the Snell Golf Canada brand.
RS – My pleasure Mike, thanks.