Former high school teammates, unfulfilled in previous jobs, partner to create business that brings golf to the home
About a dozen years ago, Shawn Foley had no clue a basement flood would serve as a catalyst to running a company.
As a high school golfer, Foley, along with his father, tinkered crafting at-home mini-golf courses so he could practice during the frigid Wisconsin winters. So when this particular flood occurred, it forced the Foleys to build a subfloor, immune to similar catastrophe, that housed a 200-square-foot putting green replete with turf and cups.
Foley went on to play golf at Northern Illinois University while staying connected to high school teammate, Zach Vanderveldt. Post-college, both felt unfulfilled in what they viewed as mundane jobs. Foley worked as an insurance underwriter; Vanderveldt dabbled in e-commerce with one of the first jobs developing a website that sold bean bags.
"I did not feel stimulated, which would be an understatement," said the 29-year-old Foley.
"I left a job I didn't like for a job I wasn't passionate about," said Vanderveldt of the bean-bag era.
They put their heads together and brainstormed about 50 ideas for a new venture that shared their golf passion. They narrowed it down to indoor putting greens before founding Rain or Shine Golf, which eventually found its niche as a home golf retailer/manufacturer.
Five years ago, the Charlotte, N.C.-based company originally dove into the market as a golf product reseller. As the business progressed, Foley and Vanderveldt paid attention to the feedback buyers had about the various merchandise they sold. After two years they decided to tweak the business model and set their sights on creating their own in-house commodities.
They divided responsibilities. Vanderveldt took on a strategical role, studying e-commerce, marketing and growth. Foley's umbrella included sales, customer service and product development.
"In the beginning, the big thing for us was capitalizing and providing a good e-commerce and online shopping experience," said Vanderveldt, 29. "A lot of our competitors weren't capitalizing on that as well as we thought as we could. To this day it's been a big growth driver.
"Secondly, we've always been willing to provide awesome customer service. We want to help people understand before making a big purchase. A lot of companies weren't doing it, or weren't willing to do it, before and after purchase at the level we wanted to. It helped differentiate us in the beginning."
Core sales are driven by simulators, launch monitors, hitting bays, mats and other accessories, such as indoor greens and projectors. The difference maker has been the warehouse. With that in place, Rain or Shine Golf streamlined the process where all the parts needed to assemble the at-home setup shipped from one location.
To get a fully equipped setup that included a simulator used to cost $25,000 about a decade ago. Rain or Shine Golf can do that in a fraction of the expense, said Foley.
The company has grown from just the two co-founders. Its staff works with customers to identify budget, goals and placement. Additionally, Rain or Shine Golf offers expert support pre- and post-implementation. It helped that Golf Digest lauded the Rain or Shine Golf simulators and accessories in reviews.
The company’s SkyTrak SwingBay Package was its top-selling simulator package in 2020. To get all that it has to offer, such as detailed launch metrics and data, there is an annual subscription that ranges between $100-$200.
"Last year, with the pandemic, something strange happened," said Foley. "Suddenly demand went way up when people understood golf was something you could do indoors, at home."
Foley and Vanderveldt were poised. They calibrated the Rain or Shine Golf's website to provide a seamless e-commerce experience. It worked.
Since its founding in 2016, Foley said Rain or Shine Golf has gobbled up more of the simulator market. In 2020, the company saw a 123% increase in revenue year-over-year. As a result, the company doubled its warehouse space and tripled its staff. The gains have apparently outweighed any growing pains as Charlotte Business Journal has chosen the company as a finalist in its Best Places to Work Awards program for 2021.
To that end, all this happened while trying to manage a company on the fly.
"Both of us were thrown into this, trying to learn the business angle," Foley said. "Things started happening quickly. And then we're responsible for all these humans, supplying jobs, and it goes beyond this just being about golf."
Vanderveldt had no illusions that making Rain or Shine Golf successful would follow a recipe of tweaking, re-tweaking and lots of hard work. That said, he spoke with quiet confidence, as though the two discovered a secret sauce. He hinted to it by referencing his lumps, such as the bean bag debacle and lessons learned related to shipping and the e-commerce angle.
The platform they built has served as its foundation, or conduit, to success
"We're growing really fast and don't have plans of slowing it down, so hopefully we can keep it going," Vanderveldt said.