Given that golfers have a sea of instructional material available to them on the newsstand and at the book store, why would anyone in his right mind go into the business of selling golf instruction material?
Alan Martin of East Windsor, a golf fanatic, did just that. Martin, a savvy character with a background in marketing and sales, is using the Internet to sell his “Thumbs Down” golf instruction booklet.
Martin launched his business part time in 2002. He has worked in the network and security software business for a number of companies, including Lanier Word Processing Systems in Lower Manhattan, but was sick of “being beat up by the technology industry,” where, he says, getting an okay from a purchasing manager has been a labrynthian nightmare. A graduate of the State University of New York at Albany (Class of 1976), where he earned a degree in business management, he is also an athlete, and tried out for the Giants and Jets as a kicker in the mid-1970s.
The professional kicking gig didn’t work out, but Martin is passionate about his lifetime sport, golf, and is enthusiastic about an off-shoot that is totally new to him, disc golf.
Despite his love for golf, he, like so many longtime golfers, came to a crossroads with his progression, and was ready to quit golf altogether back in the early 1990s.
But, he says, “One day it dawned on me on the 15th hole at Springdale, a par 3 of 126 yards, there I am with a wood in my hand, and I say, ‘If I have to hit this club, I’m going to give the game up. I’ve got to learn to hit my irons again.’”
This was the genesis of Martin’s “Thumbs Down” instructional method. He figured out why he wasn’t hitting it off with his irons, and has parlayed his insights into a successful website, an E-book, and two print books available for sale from the website. His plans include a DVD and video release.
The essence of Martin’s golf method is that golfers can teach themselves. Essentially, the idea is for the golfer to turn his strong hand thumb down through impact with the ball. The focus of Martin’s “Thumbs Down” method is not the many other things that are important in the golf swing, but on the hands and ball striking, “because I’m not a professional and I don’t want to sound like I know everything about everything,” he adds. Still Martin plays to a respectable 7-handicap [in other words, he averages around seven over par on Springdale’s 18-hole course], considerably ahead of the average recreational golfer.
“I realized the run-of-the-mill golfer wouldn’t mind spending some disposable income. I just saw the potential: if this could help me, how many millions of other regular every day golfers are there out there with the same problem? Obviously, the hard part is how do I get to these people?”
Martin is marketing his golf instruction booklet, “Thumbs Down: The Virtual Golf Lesson,” to tournament organizers as a hand out. Typically, golfers who sign up for a fund-raising golf outing get a “goody bag,” which includes perhaps a sleeve of golf balls, a logo hat, perhaps a golf shirt, some tees, refrigerator magnets, and a variety of other small gift items. He reasoned that his booklet would fit in well.
He set up his website, www.thumbsdown.info, in 1998, he says, “to at least have a vehicle to have an Internet presence. Once I had something to sell, the actual booklet, I put myself on the map a little bit, but I was very much under the radar.”
To boost his profile, Martin took a booth in February at the Greater Jersey Golf Show at the Somerset Exhibition Center, and that helped fuel more orders for fundraising tournaments, which buy his instruction book in bulk.
“I’m in the computer business, so I knew a bit about the power of the Internet, and while I’m a neophyte when it comes to being a webmaster, I realized I should be taking full advantage of this, and doing a whole lot more.” He has done so with the help of Middlesex resident Nick Petti, who has extensive experience with marketing music on the Internet. It was he who suggested that Martin make his instructional method available in two formats, both marketed through the Internet. He gives potential customers the choice of downloading an E-book or purchasing a booklet and having it snail-mailed to them. He has also added new products, including a vinyl scorecard holder to keep scorecards dry during squalls.
The strategy is working, and Martin has gotten Internet orders from as far away as Nova Scotia and Australia.
In a surprise twist, his mere presence on the Internet has set him off in a new direction. It seems that some aficionados of disc golf, a sport that uses frisbee-like spheres and Rube Goldbergesque nets and baskets, were looking for scorecard holders and saw his website. “I never would have found these disc golf guys,” says Martin. He is now forging multiple relationships with practitioners of this sport, whose venues include the Douglass campus of Rutgers University (check www.discgolfdirectory.com/New Jersey for a full list of courses). In addition to supplying the scorecard holders, he is acting as a spotter at disc golf events, and is working on articles about the sport.
“Disc golfers look like hikers,” he says, “no disrespect intended.” Before they found his scorecard holders, the disc golfers were “using Ziplock bags.” Trying to move a little more into the mainstream of sports, the disc golfers are snapping up his more professional looking, and easier to wield, scorecard holders at such a clip that, Martin marvels, he has actually been contacted by major manufacturer interested in large-scale production, “instead of me begging him.”
He has also learned that, helpful though it is, just having an Internet presence is not enough. “What I’m finding out is it takes more than just having a website,” he says. He finds that working the search engines and forming networking partnerships is essential.
Disc golf business is new to Martin, whose bread and butter remains instructional materials on his thumbs down golf method. Martin insists he can’t compete with the experts in golf instruction, top name instructors whose drills and practice exercises appear regularly in the pages of “Golf Digest,” “Golf” magazine, and other national publications devoted to the sport.
“Even though I’m making what looks like a book, I want it to be a training aid,” says Martin. “I said, ‘If you could buy Jack Nicklaus’ book for $5.95, why would you buy Alan Martin’s book for $20?’ I decided I didn’t want to be in that market, I wanted to be able to demand at least $20 by labeling my book as a training aid. Until then, maybe I’m able to do better by selling it as a marketing tool, as a give-away for golf outings.
“Companies and organizations can put their logo on the back of the booklet,” he says, noting that during the time he had this realization, in the late 1990s, the whole game of golf was exploding in popularity, spawning hundreds of golf outings every year in the state of New Jersey alone.
“The game was getting bigger and bigger and I realized I have a nice give-away with a golf theme. Golf outings are a natural for this product,” he says.
Martin’s booklet is available in E-book form for $9.97 from his website, but if golf outing organizers want to order a bunch of them, discount pricing is available.
“I took the smallest of baby steps along the way,” Martin says, “and what I’m happy to say, almost 10 years after having this idea to produce this instruction booklet, is it’s a real product with a real business being built around it.”