This was the primary concern I had after being contacted by Jana Skrabalkova (Marketing Director for RukkNet). The idea of retailing a net that would truly allow you to practice hitting balls in the office intrigued me, but I was skeptical. When we realized we were not that far from one another Jana and I decided to meet at Bulle Rock in Havre De Grace, Md.
Jana was accompanied by one of the partners of RukkNet (Samuel Hyland) and I was excited to have Rick Rounsaville (Director of Golf and General Manager at Bulle Rock) sit in on the meeting. Rick is one of the best teachers I know and I was sure he had looked at many nets and mats in his career especially since I had heard him talk about doing some in-door teaching. The meeting moved to the range where Samuel quickly set up the net. Rick hit a couple of dozen balls into it and we talked construction and quality. When we were done Samuel said it took 10 seconds to fold up and put back in its carrying case and he was true to his word; it is incredibly portable. Here is what Rick had to say about the quality:
This net is perfect for an indoor or outdoor application where space is at a premium. It is well made, the assembly, take down and fold up is simple. It is lightweight and easy to transport. It is a great design and well thought out.
Seeing this product as both incremental in terms of retail sales and a great tournament favor the rest of our meeting consisted of talking about the best way to introduce and market this to the golf shop community as well as how to display the product in the shop and make the consumer aware of its uniqeness. This seems to me a story best told by the RukkNet principles and so we will be talking with Ryan Dickerson (founder, partner and designer) as well as Jana and Samuel who were at our initial meeting.
Ryan, tell us how you originally became interested in designing this product and the progress that has gotten you to where you are now with RukkNet.
Craig, thanks for giving me the opportunity to talk about the RukkNet. It is a passion of mine and I am very proud of it. The RukkNet idea started when I lived in a tiny apartment in Manhattan. I really wanted to get good at golf so when I could I would hit up the driving range at Chelsea Piers. I couldn't do that everyday so in the evenings I would hit a foam golf ball into the wall of our courtyard to improve my swing. Having the ball roll back was just great so when I actually had a chance to design a golf net from scratch I knew it had to have that feature.
I live in China and spend about half my time in our factory. The first net I designed was a total disaster. I used mesh which just gets holes all day long. Obviously you don't want a hole in a golf net. That is one of the biggest problems with most of the nets on the market - they give you a false sense of security!
Early on we decided to go with spring steel rather than fiberglass. Fiberglass can shatter and wear out and it is just a pain to set up. Spring steel makes a much higher quality product but you have to get it just right and it is an expensive component. Too thin and the net will collapse. Too thick and it won't fold easily. Too much carbon and it will rust. And so on. It took us several generations to get it just right but we got there and now I think we have the perfect net. It is light, portable, durable and a lot of fun to use. I use it every day.
It seems to me as I mentioned in the intro that the quality of this product is of paramount importance.
I talked with a guy from a big retailer the other day. He said "people that care about quality usually have an emotional attachment to the product, retail stores just want good enough." He is right in a lot of ways and to tell the truth I know enough factories that it would be very easy to churn out cheap products all day long. At this time in my life it's more important to make something that I care about and that I would like to have myself. There are lots of golf nets out there and I know what goes into every one of them and I'm convinced the designers of these nets never actually use them. There is no attention to detail - they don't test out -carrying the bag for long distances, etc. I can honestly say we have the best pop up net in the world right now.
The portability and ease of set-up and take-down is obviously an important selling point and design feature.
The RukkNet is not supposed to replace a driving range, what it does is offer a golfer a chance to improve his or her game as well as improve their oveerall lifestyle through fitness and activity. Most of us can't go to the golf course everyday but we can get 30 minutes of uninterrupted exercise doing something we love and on top of it improve our golf game. As you may know, when it comes to exercise no one wants to waste any time, you want to get down to it. With the RukkNet there is no wasted time setting up or putting down the net. You can take it anywhere so there is no excuse not to use it and with any exercise it is about repetition, so we have a net that can be replaced after thousands of golf balls go into it. You don't have to stop becasuse of a worn out product. You also get to do what you like which is swing. You don't have to do a lot of bending over to retrieve balls - one is all you need.
We've discussed some things that are of importance in terms of partering with golf shops that will want to retail this product. I think we should revisit those points for the reader.
Ryan, Jann, Samual - thank you so much for your time. I am excited about your product and what it can provide in terms of incremental retail as well as service to the true aficionado of the game. Is there any other aspect of the product or its marketing that you would like to discuss?
Craig, I really want to thank you again for giving me the opportunity to present RukkNet to your readers. As I am sure you know, every small business involves a lot of sacrifice and struggle. But when I get the chance to present my design and my product it is worth every bit of it.