I Turned My Hobby Into A $12M/Year Disc Golf Business

Alan Barker
Founder, INFINITE DISCS
$1M
revenue/mo
2
Founders
30
Employees
INFINITE DISCS
from Logan, UT, USA
started October 2012
$1,000,000
revenue/mo
2
Founders
30
Employees
47.2K
alexa rank
38.6K
followers
11.1K
followers
market size
$7.2B
avg revenue (monthly)
$1M
starting costs
$28.2K
gross margin
33%
time to build
10 months
average product price
$2000
growth channels
SEO
best tools
Yoast, Amazon FBA, freelance.com
time investment
Side project
pros & cons
35 Pros & Cons
tips
2 Tips
Discover what tools Alan reccommends to grow your business!
Discover what books Alan reccommends to grow your business!
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

I’m Alan Barker, founder of Infinite Discs - the largest direct-to-consumer disc golf retailer in the world. I’m a 42-year-old father of five with a primary focus on faith and family. I am very conservative and don’t consider myself a risk-taker, but the last time I worked for someone else was my sophomore year of college. I have been fortunate to find opportunities and then act on them.

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Infinite Discs is a distributor of disc golf equipment, primarily frisbee golf discs. Initially, all of our sales were retail products that we sold directly to consumers, primarily online on our website InfiniteDiscs.com. We now also create unique disc golf products and sell these wholesale to smaller retailers and on third-party sites like Amazon and eBay.

Disc golf is one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States and our entry into the industry 9 years ago couldn’t have come at a better time. We became the largest disc golf retailer by creating the most user-friendly website with more information, more inventory, more brands, and unique disc artwork. Our website achieved a competitive advantage when we listened to the requests of our customers and gave it the ability to display “individual pictures” of every disc.

I started this business as a side project just after I started playing disc golf in 2012. The business began as a hobby and an excuse to test out new disc golf products. I was hoping to make a few bucks back to cover the costs I spent on product testing. I never imagined that I would be able to make a living from this business. I could not have fathomed that I would one day have more than 50 employees on the payroll.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Infinite Discs began because a disc golf course was built nearby and the internet went out.

Before Infinite Discs, I had a business making lead-generating websites for real estate agents. This business was entirely web-based and so one day when the internet went out, an employee and I decided to leave the office to play some disc golf. We couldn’t do anything productive while the internet was out, right?

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Because building and optimizing websites for search engines was something we already did, we decided to slap up a quick disc golf review website on Wordpress. In those days, the search engine competition for disc golf terms was almost non-existent. The traffic came very quickly and we looked for ways to better monetize the hits our website was getting. We partnered with a disc golf distributor in Kansas that was willing to drop ship products sold through our website.

Now that we had products to dropship, we officially organized Infinite Discs as a legal business in October of 2012. My previous business was successful financially and when starting Infinite Discs I did not need or expect to receive any money from it. It was more than two years before I took home any pay from the business.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

In the beginning, our product was our website. Our goal was to make it the most informative and inclusive website in all of disc golf. We spent countless hours writing content, creating uniform disc flight ratings, reviewing products, and providing an advanced way for customers to find the best disc for them.

Don’t get too frustrated by all of the ridiculous obstacles, fees, requirements, and loopholes the government will make you go through. If you can overcome them, the success will be worth it.

Our initial website platform was the Wordpress blog platform. It only took us a couple of weeks to get this version of the website functioning with basic products and payment processing. The time-consuming part was adding all of the products our drop shipper had available.

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After we started to see some success we realized that to provide all the information that we wanted, we would need a more robust platform and decided to develop a custom eCommerce website. This development, at least enough for live basic functionality, took about a year. But, we continued to refine it and add additional features including a rewards program, tournament management system, a disc golf course directory, in-store sales management, wholesale sales, and more.

After about five years, this version of the website was using old technology and needed an update. We began the development of our next website version, which we hoped to launch in 2020. Because of how big and complex our website grew, the new version is still not ready for launch (we’re planning on January of 2022).

While the creation of a custom website gives us lots of options and competitive advantage, it has not been cheap nor easy. It takes a lot of patience. If I were to do it again, I might choose to go with an established eCommerce platform like Shopify.

Products Under Our Own Brand

After about a year, we decided to try and create our disc golf bags. We found existing bag manufacturers in China on Alibaba.com and paid for samples. We then modified them to make them better and more durable. This was a very slow process as the manufacturers in China would send samples, they’d have an error, we’d make modifications, they’d make new samples and mail them over and over.

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More often than not we were not satisfied with the products and weren’t confident that we’d be able to sell the MOQ promptly. We finally had two different bag variations that we were happy with and paid the 50% downpayment required to have them mass-produced.

At this time we were still relatively small and so what seemed like a “big” production run for us was relatively small and did not provide the economy of scale benefits of a big order. After shipping, taxes, customs, and tariffs, what looked to be big profits ended up being very modest.

Despite the relatively low-profit margin, the first production run of bags was successful and we were able to sell most of them in about six months. We made a second, much bigger run, and this time the quality of the bags was substantially inferior. At the same time, the popular trend for disc golf bags transitioned to backpacks and my garage was full of hundreds of unsellable bags for several years.

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Since then we have launched dozens of different products. While the prices in China are low, there are some drawbacks to dealing with China. In addition to our quality issues, we’ve learned that it’s very common to see products that you design show up for sale on Alibaba and then Amazon under different brands.

We have since found some good Chinese companies that create consistent quality and respect creative rights.

Describe the process of launching the business.

I officially organized our business as Infinite Discs with that employee as my partner. The initial idea was that I would provide the financing, pay him for his time, and he would do all of the work. The main objective was to try and make a little money from disc golf without taking us away from our profitable real estate leads business.

Well, when your passion is your business you have to get involved. Rather than focus on my existing real estate business, I found that I was spending most of my time on the more fun disc golf business.

As your team grows, it is ultra important to have good people to handle important aspects of the business. In the beginning, you can do everything yourself, but this just isn’t possible with a business that has grown as fast as mine has.

As we created more content and added more products the website traffic continued to increase. There were customer service issues when products were ordered from our website that our drop shipper didn’t have in stock. After a few months, we decided that it was time to purchase our own inventory. I funded much of this initial inventory investment with 0% interest credit card promotions.

Using an available office space in my building, we set up our initial storefront and online inventory.

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Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

The first thing that drove initial customers to our website was search engine optimization and PPC marketing. This was our expertise when we started the company. When someone typed a disc golf-related term, they found Infinite Discs.

Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing was very instrumental to our initial growth, and we were able to enhance its effectiveness by giving away lots of free stuff. It’s much easier to get followers and engagement for your unknown brand by bribing people with free stuff. We continue to do giveaways on social media when we have new products that we want to increase awareness of.

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Email Newsletter

As we gained more customers and established a brand following, our marketing focus shifted. The main focus went from acquiring new customers by search engines to marketing to our existing base.

Our most effective, and most traceable, advertising effort is our email newsletter which goes out to 100K+ subscribers. We see a huge surge in traffic and sales every time we send one out. In the beginning, newsletters aren’t an option, but make sure you collect those names and build that list because it has the potential to be very valuable.

One of the ways we grew our list was by running a “State of Disc Golf” survey. We created a survey and then provided analysis on the results of their answers in a series of new blog posts. This survey scored us lots of new subscribers that we were able to acquire through Social Media, Reddit, and Disc Golf Forums. Many of these people would have ignored a marketing solicitation, but because they wanted to help grow disc golf, participated in the survey.

The primary source for our newsletter growth is an “opt-in” at checkout. This is a simple thing to do but quickly brings results.

Rewards Program

To help maintain customers we have also developed a rewards program where customers earn points for completing a profile, writing reviews, and making purchases. We also do lots of unique disc golf advertising by sponsoring tournaments, media, and players. We were sponsors of and had a TV ad during an ESPN broadcast of a disc golf tournament last year.

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Amazon & eBay

We started using Amazon and eBay as selling platforms from the beginning, but the reality is that Amazon fees are expensive. These channels do not work well for retailing products that only have a 40% markup. To sell on Amazon, you need big profit margins. Because we now have many of our products that have higher profit margins, Amazon is a rapidly growing segment of our business. With the changes in the way people now shop and the importance of “free shipping” the Amazon FBA program is fantastic. For our business, Amazon is a different market and we target a different demographic than we do the super heavy users who frequent InfiniteDiscs.com.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Every year we just keep growing. When we started getting our inventory we utilized a single 400 square foot room in the office complex of my previous business. That room soon became three, and when the fifth and final vacant room was occupied we piled up inventory on makeshift shelves in the hallways and bathrooms to accommodate our inventory growth.

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In 2016 we began building our warehouse designed specifically for our operations. By the time we moved into the new space at the end of 2017 we were already planning the next phase of expansion.

Disc golf massively exploded in 2020 in large part thanks to the Covid19 pandemic. In 2020 we doubled our sales from 2019 levels. We now have 13,000 feet of warehouse space, but a large portion of that is empty shelf space as the pandemic has caused a serious disc golf supply shortage. This video gives a tour of our operations.

Much of our recent growth has been limited by our inability to get inventory from our major suppliers. Because of this shortage, we have taken creative efforts to reach out to different companies all over the world. We now purchase from these companies by the container and wholesale many of their brands to other US retailers. In the last year, we’ve also seen rapid inflation in inventory and shipping costs. We have had to pass these increased costs onto our customers to remain profitable. Fortunately, disc golf demand remains high despite the increasing costs.

We are continually finding new opportunities and areas to expand and grow within the growing world of disc golf. In the past year, we’ve added several new products including disc storage totes, retrievers, and cart pouches.

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Growing a business is fun, but at the same time, there are lots of headaches associated with the growth. One discouraging hurdle was when our sales volume increased to a point where we reached economic nexus and had to start collecting sales tax from other states. It’s not cheap, but we found software that handles this headache for us.

The more people you employ, the more different personalities will be working together. As awesome as your team is, coworker dramas are inevitable. I don’t enjoy dealing with human resource and personnel conflict issues. At this point, my role in the company is much closer to my initial goal as the company financier and decision-maker. I have delegated much of my previous responsibilities, including human resources, to my talented team.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Things are always changing. Industries change quickly and you need to be able to adapt otherwise you likely won’t succeed.

The first few years of business were slow from a financial perspective. It was more than two years before I was able to take a salary as all the initial profits went right back into the business. While the inventory supply and net worth of the business were increasing, there was no excess cash for the personal bills. Because I already had a successful business, and a healthy savings account, I was able to make it work. If the business had been financed using traditional methods with interest and loan payments, it would have been much more difficult for InfiniteDiscs.com to have survived long enough to thrive.

After two years, my business partner sold his share of the business in favor of a more stable income and consistent working hours at a government job. The partner buyout accelerated the growth of the business as I could now pursue all of my ideas full throttle. While it’s nice to have a business partner to brainstorm ideas with, it’s time-consuming, and very frustrating when they get shut down and don’t progress. At the time it was nice starting the business with a partner, but for me, sole ownership is way better.

While year over year growth was steady from the beginning, our big break came when the world shut down. A business exploded during the pandemic. Disc golf is a great socially distanced sport and many picked it up as a new hobby when team sports were shut down. As you can see from our Google Analytics, website traffic exploded and our business revenue doubled during 2020. Our biggest challenge over the last year has been getting enough inventory in to meet demand.

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As your team grows, it is ultra important to have good people to handle important aspects of the business. In the beginning, you can do everything yourself, but this just isn’t possible with a business that has grown as fast as mine has.

I don’t traditionally incentivize my employees but have a pay structure set up in a way that would better motivate me. My employees have relatively low base wages but receive a large portion of their pay as bonuses when they, and the company, perform well. This reduces the risk when hiring employees who end up being duds and helps motivate the good employees to be more productive and stick around. I don’t know that this approach is always the best, but it has worked well for Infinite Discs.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

Our initial website was built with Wordpress and a now obsolete WooCommerce-like plugin. For many businesses, this would have been adequate, but for our goals and the unique nature of discs with a unique SKU for every product, we decided to build our custom platform. I outsource this website development through a company in Pakistan called Linez Technologies.

With a custom website, it’s important to find APIs that work with our unique software. As an eCommerce company, shipping is our biggest expense. Having a good platform and excellent shipping rates is a necessity. The EasyPost shipping platform has been fantastic for us and integrates with all of our different shipping carriers.

We’ve switched credit cards, merchant processors, several times and currently use Braintree, which is owned by PayPal.

For email marketing, Email Octopus has been effective and is a lower cost than MailChimp which we previously used.

Once we got more than a few employees I began using OnPay for payroll services and Godaddy Bookkeeping to help keep my finances organized.

One way that you can save/make money as a business owner is by using a great cashback bonus rewards credit card. My primary credit cards include the Capital One Spark Business which earns a 2% cashback bonus on all purchases and the Bank of America Business Advantage rewards cards that payback even more to me as a “Platinum Honors Preferred Rewards member. I also use a few other cards that have promotional 3-4% reward rates for shipping and use those cards primarily for shipping.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I haven’t read any business building or motivational type books for a while. When I first started Infinite Discs, I got lots of ideas from Gary Vaynerchuk’s Crush It. The info from that book is probably pretty dated as social media has drastically changed in the last decade. A few other favorites include the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven R. Covey and Success Principles by Jack Canfield.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Prepare to devote everything to building your business during the first couple of years and be prepared to do it without immediate monetary compensation. If you have the passion, as I did, it won’t seem like work. You will wake up early, excited to implement new ideas and get things done. Seeing progress and accomplishing goals is very fulfilling and one of the best parts of owning a business.

If you want to start a business, sacrifice now. Make sure you have adequate savings. Be extra frugal, only spend on what is essential. Work hard now, work extra hours, do something that enables you to have extra money and freedom -- so that when you find the opportunity, you will be able to take advantage of it.

Be patient. Plan on everything taking much longer than it’s supposed to when it comes to building a website, app, physical building, or new product. Eventually, your efforts will come to fruition and you’ll forget all about how frustrating the waiting was.

Don’t get too frustrated by all of the ridiculous obstacles, fees, requirements, and loopholes the government will make you go through. If you can overcome them, the success will be worth it.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Because we are always growing, we are always hiring and creating new positions and departments. We are located in a college town and almost every new hire is for an entry-level inventory and shipping position. But, as we grow and create new positions the leadership usually comes from our current workforce. Our company’s two top directors both started at the bottom. If you’re interested in applying, you can do so here.

Where can we go to learn more?

-  
Alan Barker   Founder of INFINITE DISCS
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story

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