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Old-Fashioned cocktail sparks name for Wisconsin-inspired golf accessory business

Green Bay Press-Gazette
Green Bay Press-Gazette
 2022-03-11
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Inspiration for a business name can come from an unusual source. Such was the case for Kyle Herzog, Scott Biely and Joe Maretti of northeastern Wisconsin.

When they began planning a business selling golf polos and accessories, they thought long and hard about a name that would typify Wisconsin.

“In the first couple of days after deciding to start the business, we asked ourselves, ‘What does Wisconsin love?’ And, the answer that came to us was, ‘Wisconsin loves the Old-Fashioned.’ That was perfect — a cool-sounding name with a Midwestern feel,” Herzog said. “We became ‘Old Fashioned Golf.’”

Just like the Old-Fashioned cocktail that Wisconsin made its own by swapping out whiskey for brandy, the three entrepreneurs are on a mission to make Old Fashioned Golf (www.oldfashionedgolf.com) stand out as a brand that is Wisconsin-inspired.

The idea gained traction in July 2020 during the height of the pandemic. Herzog was golfing with Biely and Maretti at Thornberry Creek at Oneida.

“Someone walked in with a Wisconsin golf hat on and we thought, ‘People love things with Wisconsin on it. Why isn’t there more golf gear that reflects that?'” Herzog said. “We kept waiting for a reason not to do this business, but we didn’t find one. It snowballed from there.”

The trio spent 10 months looking for a manufacturer and producing a line of apparel and accessories that call out to Wisconsin pride. Every item, including the name of the design, has some tie-in to the state.

Herzog, who holds an MBA in engineering, works full-time as an engineering manager for a large health care company. Because of the pandemic, he was able to work remotely from his home; the result was less time traveling to the office and extra hours to focus on the business.

Those extra hours and late evenings are spent with his partners as they grow the brand.

“Our greatest challenge has been time," Herzog said. "We have seven young children between us, and our wives aren’t thrilled when we spend all night talking Old Fashioned Golf. But, considering the time it takes, they have been great about it.”

They have relied on the skills that each brings to the business. Two of the partners have sales and marketing backgrounds; that has been helpful in branding. But they haven’t just relied on that. Early on, they worked with a mentor from the Green Bay SCORE chapter and solicited advice from other business owners. A class at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay helped with marketing as a group project.

“It’s crazy how many people are willing to help,” Herzog said.

That advice helped as they put together a business plan and began to set a timeline for launching. In late 2020, they had the first samples of the polos. The following February, a few months prior to the official launch, they emailed family and friends and sold at a discount in order to get feedback.

The comments were excellent. Herzog said every person raved about the quality and feel of the fabric — he boasts that is better than anything else on the market. Although an initial competitive analysis resulted in a spreadsheet with more than 100 companies, Old Fashioned Golf has found a niche with its regional designs.

That niche has resulted in a pivot from the original business model.

“When we started, I thought we would be 100% ecommerce, but we were wrong," Herzog said. "This year, we will be at least 50/50 wholesale to retail.”

The local connection has resulted in custom orders from schools and golf courses. They were in about 20 golf shops this year, and hope to expand that with more options to allow the courses to add their logos. The other unexpected area of growth is in the schools, where providing samples of the polos has resulted in large team orders.

And, while many businesses suffered during the pandemic, that wasn’t the case for golf courses. According to the National Golf Foundation, rounds played and money spent during the pandemic resulted in growth not seen since the turn of the century. Projections are that the growth will continue.

For Herzog and his partners, none of whom had planned to be an entrepreneur, their timing couldn’t have been better.

“When I got my MBA, there were classes on entrepreneurship, but I thought it wasn’t something I would ever be interested in,” Herzog said. “Now that I’m doing it, I love it. There is such a rewarding feeling when people get these polos and love them. There is this huge sense of accomplishment.”

It also has been a learning experience, and Herzog said they have assumed a variety of roles. Biely understands invoices and SKU numbers, Maretti focuses on marketing, and Herzog uses his engineering background as he works with manufacturers. They all find themselves embracing new challenges.

“We have taken our parts, but we are all very new at this," Herzog said. "That’s been some of the fun — learning all of these new things that are so different from our day jobs. It’s been scary, but exciting.”

Tina Dettman-Bielefeldt is co-owner of DB Commercial Real Estate in Green Bay and past district director for SCORE, Wisconsin.

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