My name is Jason Hiland, founder, and CEO of Sub 70. I have been running golf equipment businesses for the last 25+ years. I established Diamond Tour Golf in 1995, founded Hurricane Golf in 2008, and was able to launch my true passion project, Sub 70 Golf, in 2018. Sub 70 is a company founded on a genuine love of golf, and a wish to share that love with others who feel the same. As opposed to other golf equipment companies that have massive overhead, marketing, and tour sponsorship costs built into their pricing, Sub 70 provides the highest quality clubs possible at the most affordable prices on the market, creating a community of golfers that love the game and identify with the message. Sub 70’s goal is to redefine expectations for golf equipment consumers around the world.
We pride ourselves on our customer relationships and the purchasing experience. We want to provide the best clubs possible, at the best prices possible, while also offering a purchasing experience no one else in the industry can match. We accomplish this by working directly with the consumer rather than selling through big-box retail stores, pro shops, local golf club sales outlets, etc. We have cut out the middleman and minimized any expenses that we don’t feel add any value to the actual product itself or the customer’s experience.
2020 was a challenging year due to the global pandemic, but Sub 70 was still able to grow significantly due to our service and the affordability of our products compared to what our competition can offer. We are looking forward to expanding and updating our product lines as we move into 2021 and beyond.
What's your backstory and how did you get into entrepreneurship?
I grew up in the small Midwestern town of Hinckley, Illinois. As a child, I spent countless hours hitting golf balls in the fields around our house and tinkering with golf equipment in our barn. I still remember getting my first full set of golf clubs and have been passionate about the game ever since.
Find people that see your vision and will help motivate you to keep it moving forward one day at a time.
After high school I attended the University of Wisconsin-Osh Kosh, playing on the golf team during my time there, and graduated with a business degree in 1995. I worked in a variety of golf-related positions throughout high school and college which allowed me to learn a lot about different sectors of the business, but I was always drawn to the equipment side of things. I knew that I wanted to work in the golf business after graduating and immediately launched my first company, Diamond Tour Golf. I’ve always had an entrepreneurial attitude so I was confident I could create and run a successful business.
The internet and e-commerce were starting to grow significantly and I saw an opportunity to sell golf club components (shafts, grips, club building supplies, etc.) to people who either did not have access to them locally or could get them at a lower price through our service. This has been my primary business for the majority of the last 25 years and provided a great foundation for the creation of Sub 70. We have had a few different multifunction facilities over the years in northern Illinois. Our current headquarters is located in Sycamore, Illinois, and includes all of our offices, warehouse space, and fitting space for on-site visits.
Take us through your entrepreneurial journey. How did you go from day 1 to today?
With Diamond Tour Golf, I was focused on selling golf club components. With Hurricane Golf (established in 2008), we were reselling clubs, clothing, shoes, and a variety of other golf-related items from third-party golf product manufacturers. The experience with those two companies taught me a lot about golf club design, product testing, product categories, marketing, logistics, and suppliers. I had always dreamt about starting my own club company and after 20+ years in the industry, finally felt I had the knowledge and resources to do so.
The idea for Sub 70 came about as more and more companies began offering direct-to-consumer products and services over the last five years or so. Clothing, shoes, razors, beauty products, and even mattresses can be purchased directly from manufacturers at a far lower price, and the consumer was willing to purchase those products due to the incredible customer service and guarantees offered by the company. Why couldn’t the same model be applied to golf equipment? I saw the cost of golf equipment increasing at a ridiculous rate and knew that equipment performance gains had stagnated for the most part. Oftentimes golfers were being charged much higher prices for products that might perform marginally better than the version that came out 6 or 12 months before it. The large equipment manufacturers have to release products frequently, price them higher, and market them aggressively to cover their expenses. A direct-to-consumer company with high-quality products, that perform as well as anything else on the market, and with lower prices would have a lot of potentials.
I spent 2 to 3 years working on product development, business organization, customer policies, and several other items before selling a single club. I knew the products and customer experience had to exceed anyone’s expectations to establish ourselves as a reputable golf club manufacturer. Any golfer can rattle off the names of 4 or 5 manufacturers in the golf equipment space, but to get the attention of golfers and earn their trust when it came to building their equipment, I knew we had to take our time and do it the right way. In December 2018 we had a good variety of products that we felt very strongly about--everything a golfer could need from driver to putter--and we officially launched our website at Sub70.com.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
At this point, we have two full years of business under our belts. 2019 was incredibly important for us to establish ourselves and earn the trust of consumers. We spent a lot of time working with third-party companies that would test our equipment up against everything else on the market. We also worked with hundreds of golfers with skill levels ranging from beginner to professional to make sure we had products that worked for everyone. Our goal was to provide the best customer service in the industry, and that continues to be one of our top priorities. With positive feedback from leaders in the industry and golfers around the world, we started to receive more attention and consideration from those looking for high-quality golf equipment. 2020 was an unpredictable year due to COVID and we dealt with inventory sourcing and logistical issues like most companies did, but our growth was incredible as our customer base grew and the game of golf became as popular as it has been in 15 years.
Website traffic and gross sales increased approximately 7x-8x from 2019 to 2020. In the meantime, we have stayed true to our original plan in terms of eliminating expenses that do not directly benefit the customer. We don’t have a traveling sales staff, large office spaces around the country, massive marketing budgets, etc. and we never will. Our Sub 70 staff has nearly doubled since early 2019 with no signs of slowing down. We will continue to grow our operation to ensure that we are providing the same high-quality products and services to our customers. We will expand our facility and staff as necessary, but most other costs will remain minimal.
In 2021 we have taken a few steps that we think will make our products more accessible to people both in the United States and around the world. Due to our consumer-direct business model, it can be difficult at times for golfers to try our products before making a purchase. To help alleviate this issue, we have developed and will be sending fitting carts out to different areas of the country so that anyone interested can try our equipment at local practice facilities. We are also working on establishing several international distribution partners that will help lower the cost and time increases that can be unavoidable with international shipments.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I would say the biggest thing we have learned is that once you have proven that you have high quality and high-performance products, great customer service can elevate your entire operation to another level. We put a lot of effort into treating customers the way we would want to be treated. Answering phone calls, texts, emails, social media messages, and other inquiries in a timely and helpful manner goes a long way. Engaging with customers and relating to them during their purchasing experience is the best way to demonstrate our honest effort to get the equipment they are happy and proud of. Offering a very liberal guarantee that gives any purchaser peace of mind is another component of that. We want our customers to be our biggest allies and supporters and we feel that is definitely the case.
There have definitely been more frustrating learning experiences, but nothing that has slowed us down significantly. The COVID pandemic definitely created a handful of those as we were shut down locally and then dealt with inventory shortages that were out of our control. Timelines have shifted considerably and we have had to account for that in several areas.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
On the office side, we use Magento, RetailOps, and Google Analytics constantly. They allow our customer support staff, assembly team, shipping/receiving, and management teams to work together seamlessly.
We also stay engaged with customers through phone, email, social media (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook), YouTube, and a website chat service from Crisp. We also make sure to visit golf discussion boards and websites to answer questions and follow up with customers or potential customers whenever possible.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
I have truly enjoyed the Lex Fridman Podcast over the last several years. Lex has had guests from all walks of life and specializations on his podcast to discuss their past and what they are working on now. I really enjoyed his recent conversation with Jason Calacanis. Jason is an entrepreneur, angel investor, author, and podcaster. His conversation with Lex on what it takes to shift how consumers view their options and almost reinvent a specific industry was incredible. I also enjoy Joe Rogan’s podcast in terms of the range of expertise of his guests--I always learn something new.
The book Good to Great by Jim C. Collins has been a great source of information in building my businesses. And when business leaders like David Tepper and Warren Buffett are being interviewed, I will always stop and listen to what they are saying. I particularly enjoyed Charlie Rose’s program and his thoughtful interview style of leaders in all areas of life. In terms of branding, Tom Ford and Jean-Claude Bivet (of Hublot watches) have been particularly inspiring to me. And finally, I could not leave out the company Combatant Gentleman, which first got me thinking about providing high-quality goods in a direct-to-consumer model.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
My first piece of advice would be to consider who you are taking advice from. Some people will offer incredible insight, feedback, and criticism on what you are doing. That information will help move you along and shape the idea of what you eventually create. Some people will not understand what you are trying to build. They may not understand the industry, the products, the customers, the long-term benefits of a particular effort, etc. Find people that see your vision and will help motivate you to keep it moving forward one day at a time.
Not everyone is built to be an entrepreneur. It requires a ton of effort, commitment, and time. You have to commit to what you are building and if you surround yourself with a good support team--whether that is made up of friends, family, or just other business contacts--you can go very, very far. It certainly helps if you are passionate about what you are working on since you will spend most of your days and nights doing it as well.
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