Matt McJunkins and Josh Turner are golfers and entrepreneurs. Their lunch info-session sponsored by the COBA Center for Professional Excellence was an ideal case study for entrepreneurship students. The bearded pair were entertaining and engaging as they explained their journey as new owners of what began as a garage-workshop product, and the challenges before them in scaling the company up. By the end of the hour, students were pulling for their success.
The Ice Cube Putter is a 400-gram, clear acrylic putter head with a stepped shaft and Karma Jumbo grips. It was first manufactured in singles out of inventor Wes Mickle’s workshop in Texas. The elderly hobbyist had managed to get five different patents — four for design and one for utility — on the putter head, and had persevered seven long years to obtain USGA approval for it. But he was in his seventies now, and needed a buyer who could take his project to the next level.
Turner, who was already using the putter himself, got a call from someone who thought he might be interested in buying the rights to it. He and McJunkins were interested, and Mickle was willing to provide the structured buyout on which the purchase depended. They did the deal. Mickle and his wife drove from Texas, set up the shop in Searcy, and trained McJunkins and Turner in their production process. Now it was up to them to make it successful.
Now that they owned the product, the critical issue became how to mass-produce it. Turner had an acquaintance traveling to China for personal business, so he sent a putter with him. Two weeks later they had a manufacturer that would reduce their per-item manufacturing costs considerably. The components are still assembled locally. Sales are increasing, but the next big step is how to expand into overseas markets. “Shipping is a big hurdle,” Turner said. “I sold one putter to a buyer in South Korea. I explained that the shipping would make the $149 item cost $400, and it was fine with him.” But they know they still need to find the right channel to facilitate overseas sales in larger numbers. Canada and the UK are the priorities right now.
Turner owns an oil field company, Environmental Resources, which remediates saltwater and hydrocarbon spills on site. He is also on the Physical Resources staff at Harding University. He is more oriented to the production arm of the company. Turner passed a prototype around the room for students to examine as he spoke. He displayed the original lackluster packaging and poor quality head cover that had been sold with early iterations of the putter, and explained their process for revising the branding. The new logo design includes a stylized polar bear. Turner demonstrated how it was interpreted on shipping boxes, a slick black head cover, and golf bag. “Ice the competition” is the new tagline on the website.
Serial entrepreneur McJunkins in the sales side of the pair. He owns a trucking company and does oil and gas consulting through his company Legacy 7 Surfsol. His relationships in different markets allow him to identify future partnerships that might benefit Ice Cube Putters. The company has been approached by those who want to affiliate, but he and Turner enter those relationships with caution. “We want partners, of course. But from experience I can say that you need to be careful who you choose for those business relationships.”
They are working to affiliate with businesses interested in promotional items, since the putter head can be customized with laser-engraved logos or other art. Their website features clubs engraved with the autographs of pro golfer John Daly and entertainer Toby Keith. “Licensing is a big deal,” Turner said. They are pursuing sports licensing relationships that ultimately will benefit sales.
One new component of their marketing strategy is the decision to sell through Amazon. The process of being accepted at Amazon took two months. “You have to send all kinds of information to prove you are a legitimate company. We had to provide patent information and so forth,” Turner recalled. Eventually, they partnered with Domazon, a marketing firm providing consulting for sellers who want search optimization for their products on the Amazon platform.
Other challenges? McJunkins said they recently became aware of someone overseas who was knocking off their product. “Patent infringement lawsuits are expensive,” and “you have to decide how important pursuing a particular case is to you.” Ice Cube now manufactures a second USGA-approved putter, the Face-On putter, and sells logo golf hats and head covers as well. In the meanwhile, they are pursuing their expansion strategy while balancing other jobs and projects.
McJunkins had some advice for aspiring entrepreneurs in his audience, “If you have a dream to start a business, don’t be afraid to do it. Get some experience in the corporate world if you need to, but go ahead and do it. You’ll probably make mistakes, but if you have a family later on, it gets much harder. I’m most proud of taking the risks I’ve taken and not just taking that corporate salary.”