From his early years as a cart boy working his way through college to his most recent position as head pro at his hometown golf course in Roxbury, N.Y., 38-year-old Joel Iacovelli dreamed of owning his own business.
So how did Iacovelli manage to make it from a tiny town in the Catskill Mountains to Cary, where in early October he proudly opened the doors of the first Golf Etc. store in the Triangle, and only second such franchise location in North Carolina?
The move was simple – his wife Pam accepted a job at a pharmaceutical firm in Research Triangle Park and the couple had always wanted to move to the Carolinas. The decision to finally pull the trigger and dive head-first into his own business – well, that took tons of legwork and even more homework.
“I was looking at the area and I was trying to figure out all the things I would need to do to open a golf store, and to be honest with you it was a little overwhelming,” Iacovelli said. “There is a lot to it, a lot that I would have probably missed and a lot that I still have missed even though I’ve had help. The other thing was the lending process. Banks are more likely to lend to something that has a model, a plan.”
So, Iacovelli began talking with Texas-based Golf Etc. Founded in 1992, Golf Etc. is the fastest-growing golf retail franchise in America, with more new store openings the past five years than any other similar golf business. The company now has locations in more than 20 states and Europe.
Golf Etc. helped Iacovelli write his comprehensive business plan to pitch to the banks. He was still turned away several times for funding before RBC Bank closed the deal.
“The scariest part was the whole eight-month build-up,” he said. “And not really knowing the golf culture here, not having the core guys that I would know back home that would be out spreading the word. That has been a little different, but the people I’ve met have been very supportive and my vendor reps have been very supportive.
“Now that the doors are open I’m in my comfort zone. I’m ready to meet the public, I’m ready to do fittings; I’m ready to repair clubs and ready to take care of whatever their needs are. That part I’m used to because of my past golf experience.”
For now, Iacovelli is a one-man show, which is the way he wants it. With attention to detail and an outgoing personality to match, he’s interested in forming a bond with his new customers. Iacovelli will shake your hand and work on your clubs – or build some if you like — in his 2,000 square-feet location, which is about a pitching wedge from Prestonwood Country Club.
“My background is a club professional, and that whole job is based around service,” he said. “You were there for those members and that’s what I want to do with my store. You don’t have to be a member to come in the door, but I am going to treat you like you are. That’s how I plan to distinguish myself from everybody else in this business.”
While the new Golf Etc. of Cary store carries such popular brands as Mizuno, TaylorMade, Callaway, Cleveland, Bridgestone and Puma, Iacovelli separates himself by stocking some “boutique brands.” Those custom golf club lines include Japanese-based Miura, Scratch Golf and KZG.
“They are brands your everybody golfer is not necessarily going to recognize, but they have PGA Tour presence and are very, very good custom products,” Iacovelli said. “They are for the guy who is looking to get something his buddy doesn’t have.
“I’m a golf geek and I read all the websites and blogs,” he added. “They are just companies that don’t market to the masses and don’t have that marketing budget but still have great products. Some are at a good price point and some are high end. The Miura clubs are very high end but they are the best clubs I have ever seen, the best I’ve ever hit.”
Iacovelli is a firm believer in Golf Etc.’s business model, which aims to capitalize on the growth in golf technology, with an emphasis on personal service and consultation.
“Clubs are either cast or forged,” he said. “The forging process can be as little as a cast club that got one stamp and boom they can put forged on it or the Miura clubs, which are a 12-step process that are all made by one man in Japan. It’s the same with a fitting. It’s like getting fit for a suit. You can get fitted for a suit at J.C. Penny and you can get fitted for a suit at Brooks Brothers. Are they the same price? No. Is the fitting the same? Not exactly. The best analogy I’ve ever heard is getting your car washed. You can go and spray water on your car and call it a car wash or you can go spend $300 and have it detailed, and still call it a car wash.”
Iacovelli also has access to Golf Etc. software that can measure a specific shaft to .10 of a flex. “Nobody else really can do that … and of course I can build your clubs here for you on site.”
It takes Iacovelli about six man-hours to build a set of eight irons, which can cost anywhere from $200 to more than $1,000, depending on shaft selection.