Where Custom Is King: Behind The Business With Jeff Shuster Golf
For most golfers, a trip down to the Big Box store is all it takes to get up and running with a new set of clubs. But some golfers recognize that to get the very most of his or her ability, custom fit clubs are absolutely the way to go. Establishing a relationship with a company like Jeff Shuster Golf is almost a guarantee of lower scores and increased enjoyment.
We interviewed Jeff and spoke about the benefits of custom clubs, how he got into the business and the continued evolution of golf and the equipment required to play it well.
Jeff Shuster is a Titleist-certified fitter and a member of the International Clubmaker’s Guild.
So, tell us about your business – what is Jeff Shuster Golf?
We’re a one-stop shop for custom golf equipment, specializing in custom fitting and the custom building of high performance golf clubs.
We fit each individual with the best performing golf equipment to suit their needs from a variety of golf equipment manufacturers in order to help optimize their golf game. We use two different technologies in the fitting process: HD Golf Simulators and FlightScope Launch monitors in a one-on-one private fitting environment, which provide the necessary information and feedback to determine the best combinations of products to accomplish the desired results for the customer.
We then personally custom build the equipment to the exact specifications as determined through the fitting process. We leave no room for error with the final product. We do not simply submit a fitting form and allow someone else to build the customer’s final product and we stand by our products and services 100%.
We are a ‘brand agnostic’ company. What this means is that we offer an endless array of club options and combinations from over 20 different equipment manufacturers of heads, shafts and grips. Our products are sourced from around the world and we are not “married’ to any particular supplier so that our decisions on the customer’s needs are completely unbiased.
Our customers are golfers who understand the importance of having the correct tools to achieve their personal goals.
They range from the novice golfer who is just getting started, to Tour level players who make a living with their equipment. We offer all levels of products and price ranges from entry-level budget conscious all the way up to the latest state of the art clubs being played on the PGA Tour.
What made you choose this path? How did you get started in the golf business?
It’s an interesting story. I was a student at York University, studying business and economics in the early 90’s. It was my professor in an entrepreneurial studies course who gave us an assignment in which we had to write a business plan for a ‘new business’. My plan was for a used golf ball company. This was a fledgling concept in Florida where I vacation often and lost a lot of golf balls!
As it turned out, I decided this may present a good opportunity and took a shot and started a company called Good as New Golf Balls. I was the first retailer of used golf balls in the country and expanded into online sales as the Internet gained popularity. I would constantly have people coming in asking if I repaired or sold golf clubs. I have always been a hands-on guy and watched my father, an avid golfer for many years, repair and refinish his own clubs because there was just no one that could get the job done and meet his standards. In 1998 I carved out a few hundred square feet in the warehouse and built a workshop and began to answer “yes, we can fix that for you”.
Over the next two years I took a deeper interest in how to build and fit golf clubs to suit an individual’s swing characteristics, and attended special courses and seminars that were being offered. It was apparent to me that golfers were restricted to those clubs that were being offered by the OEM’s and the options available were simply stiff or regular shafts. Any good athlete knows – whether hockey or bowling – that equipment fit properly to the user’s specific needs improves performance. I decided to pursue this avenue and make a difference.
In 2000 the space next to my golf ball store became available so I took it and knocked down a portion of the wall so that I could oversee both operations. My custom golf shop was born. In 2006 I sold the golf ball business and the rest, as they say, is history.
They say that to be successful you have to be passionate, so share what drives you every day. Why do you love what you do?
I love what I do because I make a difference in peoples lives.
There is nothing more rewarding than receiving testimonials from my customers thanking me for making a difference in their game and increasing their enjoyment level as a result. I have also gained some very close friends who were and still are clients of mine.
I am now working by appointment only, which allows me to spend uninterrupted time with my clients to fulfill their needs as well as ample time with my family. My father worked many long hours when I was growing up and has constantly reminded me that you never get those years back as a redo. I now have achieved a balance in my life where I get to ply my trade and passion as well as see my kids grow up and be active in their lives.
Has it been smooth sailing or have you overcome adversity to get where you are?
Definitely not smooth sailing. Still is not to this day. Like many industries, things are always changing and you have to be able to foresee the change and be proactive. The golf industry is in a state of flux and changing faster than ever before. The offerings from all parts of the world are constantly changing and you need to be on top of all the newest products and technologies available. This requires a substantial investment in time and money in order to able to stay at the forefront. I always like to work on 3 year plans and not become complacent. My current business model is nothing like it was 5 years ago.
If you are reactive to situations, you are always trying to catch up. If you are proactive, you are leading the pack, and that is where I want to stay.
We all know that crazy happens. What’s the wildest thing that’s happened on the job?
This is a good question. There are many to choose from. I would have to say it was “the belt adjustment.”
It was many years ago, maybe a year or two after I opened the club shop. I had a young man working for me by the name of Peter. He initially worked in my warehouse and expressed an interest in the club business so I moved him over and he became my apprentice.
I had a client from Korea who spoke little English but was a regular customer. I walked back into the build shop one day and Peter had Mr. Kang’s belt on the work bench.
I paused for a minute and said “Pete…..what is going on here?”
“Mr. Kang lost some weight so he asked me to punch another hole in his belt…..what does it look like?”
I always taught him, if the customer says “can you”, the answer is always yes. Peter is now a lawyer.
Ha! Too funny! So what do you do with your time off? Are you familiar with the concept?
This is only recently a new concept for me. I worked 6-7 days a week for many years, but I now enjoy my time off playing golf and hockey and spending time with my family. The odd weekend away in the summer is something I now enjoy immensely. Remember, balance in life is a key.
This is the age of the social network. How important is social media to your business and how do you make it work?
Social media is a fantastic business tool, although I will say I have a love hate relationship with it. If you are successful in the sense that you engage people, it can be very rewarding. But it can become very time consuming and overwhelming to respond to everything, which I do. There are so many social media avenues that it requires almost full time personnel to monitor and keep up to date with everything.
Our advertising budget was never huge as we have always been a word of mouth, referral type of business. Now our budget is totally spent on various forms of social media and I am now focusing much of my free time on learning social media best practices. As a business owner you need to have a working knowledge of all parts of the business.
Are you involved in the community at all? What does supporting local mean to you?
A majority of my business is local. I have always been the “niche” guy. I try to support local whenever and wherever I can. Everyone knows about how the “local” shop has been taken over by the big box stores and now they can’t get that personal and knowledgeable service they want. I am still that “local” type of guy and I need my customers support and in return I support their needs, whether it be a local charity or golf tournament or special hockey tournaments and so on.
What does the future look like for you and your business?
Predicting the future. Don’t we all wish we could? I will say that I am in a good position now to grow and sustain the business model that I currently have. I love what I do and I have a pretty good reputation and track record within my industry.
As I mentioned earlier, I have been pretty good at predicting the trends in my industry and I have a prediction as to where it will be within the next 3 years. I will tell you about that off the record, and we can then talk again in 3 years and see if I was correct.
I’ll hold you to it! In the meantime, do you have any advice for aspiring business owners just starting out?
Be passionate about what you choose to do, and then strive to be the best at it, keeping in mind that you need to be profitable to stay healthy.
I learned when I was in the golf ball business; the money was made in the purchasing and processing. The market will, in most cases, dictate the selling price so the less you spend, the more profit you keep. Keep your overhead to a minimum and don’t work to simply pay the landlord and your employees.
As in any business, you need a solid plan and stick to it.