Novice in the golf industry strikes it big after winning best new product category a year ago
Mark Wolf went to the PGA Show a year ago with meager expectations.
And rightfully so.
Wolf, the president of Fireside Industries, had been entrenched in the camping/outdoor world for almost a decade. He was persuaded to attend the golf industry's biggest event by golfers after his company donated unique insulated speaker drink tumblers to a charity tournament.
Heck, Wolf admits he didn’t even know where the PGA Show was located a few weeks prior to heading cross country from Arizona to Orlando, Florida, as an exhibitor for his new product called Vibe that had been well received. The product looks like an ordinary 28-ounce insulated tumbler, but features a 3.7-watt detachable Bluetooth speaker in a puck-like bottom.
"The whole PGA Show was really an accident — and a great one at that," says Wolf, a year later. "I was hoping that maybe we could pick up 15 or 20 golf courses and some extra business on the side."
There was extra business all right after Wolf entered and won the Best New Product award at the 2022 PGA Show as voted on by a panel of PGA professionals and top golf buyers.
Lots of extra business it turns out.
Twelve months after winning the coveted award, Wolf’s Vibe tumbler is now in more than 3,000 golf courses and resorts across the country, and has provided as many as 10,000 at a time to pro-am tournaments like the AT&T Byron Nelson. He now has associations with brands such as Tito’s vodka and Maker’s Mark bourbon. And just six weeks ago, Wolf signed up Troon Golf LLC.
"We started off as a camping and outdoor gear company so I didn’t even think about golf, and certainly didn’t think about the promotional world that comes through golf," he says. "All these big names keep calling us to do all of these promotional products associated with golf. To be honest with you it has been pretty spectacular."
Wolf’s company is truly the poster child for the potential power of the PGA Show, and why as many as 800 exhibitors/vendors from every corner of the golf world will converge on Orlando this week. The 70th edition opens Tuesday, Jan. 24, with Demo and Fitting Day at Orange County National Golf Center in Winter Garden, Florida. The Show then shifts to Orange County Convention Center Wednesday through Friday where more than 800 companies will display their wares to golf professional and industry leaders.
Wolf says his company grew 1,000% in 2022 thanks in large part to the PGA Show honor.
"I even hate to say that number out loud," Wolf says. "When we went to the PGA Show last year and won that award we had only one laser doing all the engraving for all the different golf course logos we put on the tumblers, and we now have 11 lasers and those are going 10 hours a day. And our staff has quadrupled."
Marc Simon, a member of the PGA Show management team for more than two decades, just grins when hearing of stories such as Wolf’s.
"One of the things that is really cool about the PGA Show is it’s the combination of having the biggest and the best brands in the industry, but it’s also having those inventors and those upstarts or those new companies that may become big," Simon says. "Some of these brands start out in a 10-by-10 tent and look where they are now.
"That is the coolest thing — seeing the innovation, the passion and the continued influx of new companies. Being able to recognize the best new products makes it real for them and it just furthers the innovation and passion. I have more fun talking to those new brands that are there for the first time and hearing their stories. It’s incredible and part of what keeps us going and gets us really excited each year heading into the show. There are so many cool stories out there."
Wolf’s focus has certainly shifted 180 degrees, heading back to the so-called drawing board with Vibe and embracing his forte.
"Yes, I’m the owner, but I also an engineer and design all the products," he said. "And as a result of the company growing and winning best new product I’ve actually reinvented the entire line. It’s kind of exciting because we’re re-entering in another new product category at the 2023 PGA Show and will try to win it back-to-back.
"I’ve rethought what Vibe could actually be instead of just a speaker tumbler. It was somewhat limited. Again, I wasn’t really trying to make it the next new thing; I was just trying to add a complement product to my camping line. Now what I’ve done is we have all new bottoms, all new screw on attachments that you can change in or out.”
One such attachment is a power bank battery that can charge two cell phones at the same time. Another is a special LED light that has a super wide angle of light, producing a 10-foot diameter of light around your feet as you hold the tumbler cup and walk.
"So, if you are getting off the course and it’s late, you literally have a flashlight on the bottom of your tumbler that still has your cocktail or coffee in it," Wolf says. “Now with all these versions it’s becoming functional drinkware. We have light, we have power and we have music — all these new inventions — so I’ve been working on all the new molds and all the testing to make sure we come out with high-quality products.
"It has been a remarkable ride. So that’s where I feel compelled and have recommitted myself to not even working on the camping side anymore. All I’m doing now is re-engineering what the Vibe can be. The Vibe all of the sudden can become a "go-to" product. So, imagine now at the golf course you could buy three different 'puck bottoms' with one Vibe. I have also invented a coaster that screws into the bottom that doesn’t slide around like all the other metal tumblers. It won’t scratch your desk, it won’t scratch wood, and it doesn’t slip on granite counter tops. It’s just a much more secure product. Again, it’s all with the same tumbler."
This year's PGA Show expects to return to pre-pandemic exhibitor numbers after just 550 golf clients last year. The lineup will include such major manufacturers as Titleist, Topgolf Callaway, Cleveland Golf, Cobra, Ping and Mizuno — who did not attend last year because of logistics surrounding COVID-19.
The 2021 PGA Show was also performed virtual so it will be the first time in three years the event will not be watered down.
“In the last few years a lot of pros and buyers have kind of stayed in their local circle and connected with people locally but have missed out on that kind of connection that maybe you haven’t seen in 10 years, or someone from another part of the country to share best practices with and learn from people they don’t normally see. That is going to drive a lot of energy and a lot of excitement to the show,” Simon says.
While many will be returning to the Show, Wolf actually won't be in attendance. His Vibe team has grown from himself and one other in 2022 to a total of eight and a much larger convention floor footprint this time around.
"It’s not just the money side that I was building this company for," Wolf says. "I know this sounds corny but I’ve very much enjoyed the golf relationships. I was in the automotive industry for over 25 years and I’ve been in the outdoor/camping industry for eight years and the people in the golf industry just have that integrity — when they say they’re going to do something they do it. All the golf reps, the courses, the superintendents and golf pros we work with have been studs. They have just been really nice to work with.
“Last year for us was just a suitcase and a couple of displays. We really have a whole new look and a whole new feel based on the success of winning that best in product award."