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 at Springdale, his home course. A handicap is a numerical
representation of a golfer’s ability, and Martin’s 7 puts him well
above 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 afficianandos 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."