Apr 12, 2014 09:00AM
By Kristen Hoffman
“They’re not preppies, hippies, punks,” says Aaron Martin, founder of TeeBoxx. “That’s something that struck me. You can’t narrow them down to a genre. Age range, too. From a marketing standpoint, it’s kind of a nightmare, because they’re hard to profile.”
But he’s done well to figure out his market. It helps that prior to co-founding TeeBoxx, a disc golf vending machine company, Martin’s been both a professional disc golfer and in the advertising and marketing industry.
Martin went fulltime as a disc golfer in 2005. “I spent a lot of years trying to figure out how to grow the sport and problem-solving. And how I could do it full-time and pay the bills, make a living, that sort of thing.” In 2012, Martin met Justin Cherry, who has a business consulting firm and a background in technology.
“I picked up the game right around four years ago,” Cherry says. “And then through playing at Seymour Smith [Park], I ended up meeting this guy [Martin] because he’s a legend. I caught up with him for some rounds, met him at leagues. And then me, I’m always trying to think of business ideas. “
Cherry and Martin started bouncing around some business ideas related to disc golf. According to Martin, the sport has been growing 18 percent every year for the past 20 years in number of courses, players, and purse amounts.
“I think the biggest problem was the availability of equipment,” Martin explains. “Unlike Ultimate Frisbee, where you can go out with one Frisbee and have a great time, with disc golf generally you have multiple discs, so there’s more of a need for the equipment to be available.”
Martin and Cherry registered TeeBoxx in January 2012 and then spent a good year in research and development.
The vending machine needed to be secure, able to stand outdoors, able to fit discs through the vending slot, and small enough that it could fit in any park. It also needed to be easy to repair, something that any vending machine technician could fix in any town.
“Then it was just hitting connections, getting the sales process down, the script down,” Martin says. “Justin Cherry heads that up on the sales process. One of the best cold callers. He’s really making it happen.”
Martin takes care of the marketing materials. A third partner, Ross Brandt, is also a professional disc golfer and a city planner. They also put together an advisory committee and sought out seed money.
“We put together our business plans and projections, and we lightly solicited within the industry. We ended up getting privately funded through an individual in Minnesota who solicited us, actually,” Martin says. “Our goal with that was to get our website up and a machine on the ground.”
They now have two TeeBoxx machines up: one at Seymour Smith Park at 72nd and Harrison streets, and the other in Miami, Fla. Five other locations are in the closing stages.
“We’ve got to be at 15 parks before our business is sustainable,” says Martin. “We feel pretty confident we’ll hit that early this year.”
They offer three program tiers, from simple machine installation to course design and installation to a lease and license agreement. So far, TeeBoxx has identified 160 courses with 150 or more disc golfers each day during peak season. The profits are split; half goes back to the park.
This way, Martin explains, “We fundraise for the parks…and that also helps with getting a fan base and getting support behind it. And that’s been a really good approach so far. It feels like a better company.”
“We really believe in the company, because we love the sport,” says Martin. “We’re part of OEN, Omaha Entrepreneur Network, and I encourage everybody to build their business in such a way that there’s something active in the community that fundraises for the community.”
Martin and Cherry hope to have more investments soon that will allow them to put together a bulk order, saving approximately 70 percent for them and for lessees.
Once TeeBoxx is sustainable, the team plans to branch out into other park-dominant sports. Skateboarding will be next. They’re already getting requests for baseball and softball.
“In the future I could see a machine for hiking trails or at a tennis court or a basketball court,” says Martin. “I think we’re going to hold the same theme for all of it—the Boxx will be at the back of it.”