Sean Kelly heads up the charity, Action for AT, and he kindly introduced me to Mark Stewart the Founder of Stewart Golf as I wanted to write a lifestyle piece about golf trollies. I am getting to that stage in life where possibly I should not be carrying my clubs and can’t afford the ultimate luxury of a caddie every time I play.
Mark has supported Sean for many years firstly at SPARKS and now at Action for AT. I arranged a game at my home course, Sunningdale Heath, to see why Stewart Golf makes the premium trolly in the market and get to know a little bit more about the company.
The first thing that really impressed me was the way the trolley fitted into a very professional case specifically designed for the unit, in this case, the Q follow which is the top of the range retailing at £1800, and made it fit neatly into the boot of any car. I felt an air of excitement as the trolly was taken from the case and very easily put together in less than 10 seconds. Mark suggested that I use one of his trolly bags as my stand bag doesn’t really do justice to the experience.
Mark gave me the remote control and off we went to the first tee after a few instructions on how to use some of the buttons and what they were for. Being a complete technophobe, I was slightly scared of the trolly ending up in a bunker or even worse the middle of a road and crashing into a car.
Mark set up Stewart Golf in 2003 thanks to investment from his father. The company is based close to Cheltenham and for many years had a workforce of 14 people and was very much a family run firm with the employees being very local and having stayed with the company from the very start.
Having never considered owning a trolly before I didn’t really know the brand until I saw a story Mark had written reach the top of most-read pieces on Golf Business News for the year. I was intrigued as to how he had done this as it is no mean feat.
The title of the piece was “Stewart Golf Saves The Day at Augusta“. Mark asked if I had seen the date of the post which I had not and when he told me it was 1st April, and the piece was an April fool I couldn’t stop laughing. Now that is clever marketing it certainly got my attention and why I knew Stewart Golf existed!
The pandemic like many companies in the golf industry has seen a huge upturn in business. Mark explained that pre-pandemic, they made the very bold decision to come out of retail accounts and focus on online sales directly to the customer. This was a risky thing to do but sales have soared especially in America where people didn’t want to take a cart due to COVID implications instead they took a remote-control electric caddie so they could walk and not have to carry their clubs.
The workforce rose steeply to 37 people to keep up with demand, but Mark has kept the family feel to the company with just one shift working Monday to Friday with everyone finishing at 4.30 pm (3 pm on Fridays). As with most manufacturing businesses supply is sometimes challenging, but the turnover has gone from £2.6 million prior to Lockdown to £6.5 million for 2021.
As I got more comfortable with the Q Follow, Mark showed me the benefits of both the remote control and the follow commands which allow golfers not to have to walk over to a trolley after putting it out rather sending it to the next tee which in turn speeds up play. In addition, on the longer holes, the trolly will just follow you so rather like having a caddie you can chat to your fellow golfers without having to push or pull a cart or worry about your bag.
As you can imagine it was not all plain sailing and I did get the Q Follow going into overdrive on a couple of occasions and falling over due to a combination of me being out of control with the remote and my bag being lighter than the trolley is designed for. However, I really enjoyed the experience, and you can see why business is booming. The SG marketing team are producing short videos to give advice and tips to help newcomers to get the best out of the Q Follow and I think if I made the plunge to purchase one, I would see some real benefits when I review the Top 100 courses.
Mark always wanted Stewart Golf to be the premium brand in the marketplace and is known for being the most expensive. He backs this up with a very good range of machines and has invested a huge amount in research and development especially the Follow which took around 3 years to launch and is still being honed 7 years later.
Mark knows there are a lot of companies making trollies some of whom are small mom and pop firms. Anyone can make an electric trolly but the real challenge is to build a brand and commercialise the product. This is something Mark and his team have done really well and are now seeing the fruits of their labour.
We returned to the car and once again I was impressed how easily the trolly folded away, put back into its case without getting mud or dirt on your clothing and then into the back of the car.
Mark really knows his business and has taken some risks which have paid off and I thoroughly enjoyed learning about something I never really understood. He will be off to America next year for a number of business trips to capitalise on the sales they have secured over the last two years. I have no doubt that with golf being seen as having benefits to fitness and mental health more people will be walking and playing with the Q Follow and future models for a long time to come.
It just shows you that an April fool can turn into a clever marketing opportunity that ends up in a sale.
Until next time