Mar 23, 2023

T-Time Podcast // Ep. 23: Building a Golf Apparel Business from the Ground Up with Founder of Golftini, Susan Hess

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Today on the show, Tori is joined by Susan Hess, the CEO, and founder of Golftini, whose story is truly fabulous. Susan and Golftini were at Shopping Night at Desert Classic, and she is a true inspiration. She shared an abridged version of her story with Tori at the PGA Show this past January. Just a few days or weeks later, Tori contacted Susan and invited her to be on the show so they could share her story, which was a big deal.

How Golftini Started

In 2004, Susan, a stay-at-home mom with a sales background, started playing golf to keep herself busy. She quickly became hooked on the sport but was unsatisfied with the clothing options. She wanted something shorter, more stylish, and modern. Unable to find what she was looking for, she decided to design her own golf clothing, starting with skirts. She found a sample maker named Sherry in New York City. Susan worked with her to create the first Golftini skirt, adding ribbon down the sides and a back pocket to give it a unique touch.

She started selling her skirts out of her car, and demand quickly grew. Today, Golftini is a successful golf apparel company that offers women a wide range of stylish and comfortable clothing. The company owes its success to Susan's love for golf and desire to create something she couldn't find in stores. She saw a need in the market and filled it with her own unique vision, ultimately building a successful business in the process.

How Susan Came Up with the "Golftini"

Susan came up with the name after going to a martini bar with a friend in 2004. She was inspired by the popularity of martinis in New York City at the time and wanted to incorporate her love for golf into the name. Initially, she considered combining her grandfather's name with the word "ball" and using a golf club as the letter "L." She also wanted to incorporate breast cancer awareness since her mother had passed away from the disease. While at the martini bar, she saw a neon sign for martinis and wrote down "Golftini," combining golf and a martini glass. She trademarked the name after finding no one else was using it. 

Golftini’s First Gig at the PGA Show

Golftini's first gig at the PGA Show happened just one year after Susan launched the brand. She invested $6,000, which was a lot for her, and attended a seminar on how to do the show. She ran a booth that cost $10,000 and brought her friend and niece to help. She quickly made new clothes to showcase her collection, including skorts, sleeveless and short-sleeve shirts, a sweater, and T-shirts. 

However, things turned out well as a man told her to trademark her brand, and she received a massive $70,000 order from PGA Tour Superstore, which bought every single piece. They liked her clothes because they were feminine, different, and made of stretched cotton. She also sold to two country clubs, but the big order put her on the map and allowed her to go to production. She felt happy and celebrated with her friends! However, she had maxed out her credit cards and needed to borrow money from her dad to fulfill the order.

Golftini’s Busiest Times of the Year

Golftini's busiest times of the year are during the release of their new collections, which happen on January 1st and June 15th, an industry standard. The collections are named "Island Fever" and "Mrs. Brightside," and each item of clothing is named after something related to the theme. The founder enjoys coming up with these names, and they reflect what's going on in her life. The upcoming "Energy" collection is set to release in June, and the 2024 collection is already complete and themed around traveling and going on adventures.

Golftini’s Skirts Length

Golftini offers various different skirt lengths: from around 16" to 19" in length. However, the length of the skirt varies depending on the person's size. Golftini has found that women who wear medium or large sizes and are shorter may find the regular length too long, so they offer a shorter option. The shortest length available is 16 inches on a medium size, but it decreases by half an inch for each smaller size. Golftini will soon introduce a new length of 14.5 inches for testing, which will come with a cute jacket. Additionally, they plan to make two different lengths for this new style. Explaining these nuances through the website or to salespeople can be difficult, but Golftini is improving this communication.

Why Women’s Golf Apparel is so Expansive & Why There Are No Larger Sizes

The cost of women's golf apparel can be expensive for several reasons, including the cost of production and sourcing materials. In addition, many brands do not offer larger sizes, limiting accessibility for women of different body types. Some brands have resorted to vanity sizing, which can make customers feel good temporarily but does not address the root issue. Susan recognizes the need for more size options and is working on creating fuller cuts for certain items but acknowledges the financial risk involved in expanding the size range. She also mentions the costs of producing sustainable products and the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the brand strongly emphasizes customer satisfaction and quick delivery. Overall, the golf apparel industry is complex and evolving, with brands facing challenges in meeting the needs and demands of a diverse customer base.

What Susan Knows Now and Wishes She Knew When She Began

When Susan thinks about her experience starting Golftini, she reflects on what she wishes she had known when she began. She ponders whether she could have approached the growth of her business with more thought, especially regarding investors and financial planning. While she ultimately did not have investors and relied on her own funds, she wonders if she could have expanded Golftini more strategically. Despite the challenges she faced along the way, such as calling in favors to pay the mortgage, she feels more confident now that she knows her numbers and understands how to improve profitability.


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