In Their Words: Stephen Boccieri, Heavy Putter founder
05.08.07 | The Tour Van | Jennifer GardnerTour Van used the occasion of Nick Flanagan winning the Nationwide Tour's Henrico County Open to examine how a small company can benefit from a professional win. We talked to Stephen Boccieri, founder of Heavy Putter, to find out a little bit more about how a win like Flanagan's, where he used a Heavy Putter, can be a benefit and just how a smaller company gets its equipment into the players' hands.
TOUR VAN: How do you go about getting players to use equipment from a small company?
STEPHEN BOCCIERI: Just in itself, getting a product - a putter - from a small company into a pro's hands is very difficult simply because the PGA Tour will not allow you credentials if you don't have a player using your product. So step one is, and everybody says, 'How the hell can I get a player to use it if I can't get tour credentials to get out there to give them the product to use?' Very difficult.
The first way is that you have a contract player that you have been doing business with and he's willing to go into a signed contract with the manufacturer of the product and then you can get tour credentials because you have an agreement with a player to use the product. You only have to have one player to do it, but in most cases it's very difficult to get a player to sign a contract.
The second way to do it is to have multiple players using your product. And of course it all has to be verified on the Darrell Survey. In our case, I was very lucky to have a player that I was working with and a couple of players that were able to get me into an event on a one-time pass. That event, I was lucky to get the putter into the hands of a handful of players.
It turns out that a few of those players kept the product in play for a number of weeks. When I called the PGA Tour to get credentials, they said they would grant credentials if they saw a continuous use of product over a certain period of months. They're going to want to see that there's product in play before they say, 'Here are some PGA Tour credentials.' They want to make sure you're a real company and there are players who want to use it. That's kind of the way it all has to start. Your chances of getting on to the PGA Tour, the big tour are slim and none in the early goings.
So that explains how to get it into their hands. It's difficult. To say the least, it's very difficult.
TOUR VAN: Is it easier to get Nationwide Tour, rather than PGA Tour, players to use your product?
STEPHEN BOCCIERI: Those players are more accessible. They're not under major contract with a lot of the big players and their goal is to get to the next level. They have very little to risk because they haven't gotten to the PGA Tour. They're more willing to try something that they think can get them there. That's exactly the comment I got from D.J. Trahan, Troy Matteson. (Troy) goes, 'What have I got to lose?'
The bottom line is that the Nationwide guys, because they're not under a big money contract, when a manufacturer shows up to a Nationwide event and has product (they can use it).
There's pros and cons here. The bad side of the conversation in this is, they'll take anything for nothing. If they don't use it, they'll give it to a friend or they'll throw it on eBay and sell it, because these guys aren't making any money. It's a slippery slope as to how much you want to give away to players. You've got to monitor what you're doing and how much you're giving away and whether you've got the same player coming back week after week and taking product but never putting it in play.
TOUR VAN: How does getting your product on the Nationwide Tour compare to, say, the Champions Tour?
STEPHEN BOCCIERI: A lot of guys look at Nationwide because they think they're closer to that style of golf. So the Nationwide has a little more impact than the Champions Tour.
TOUR VAN: How did you get the putter into Nick's hands?
STEPHEN BOCCIERI: We have a tour rep, Duane Bock. Duane is primarily on the PGA Tour but we've input some Nationwide Tour events on his schedule depending on where he is in the country. Based on locale, we'll deploy Duane to a Nationwide Tour. He was on the Nationwide himself so he knows a lot of the caddies and the players. He thought that the Nationwide guys are so much more receptive to the technology and they are willing to try it that he wanted to go back out there.
So believe it or not, we weren't really too active with it this year.
A couple of weeks ago, he went out and he met Nick, and Nick said, 'I've heard about the Heavy Putter and I wanted to use one.' Duane thought it would be worthwhile to adopt an incentive program for the players. You win using Heavy Putter and you sign a release form so that we can use your name and likeness, Heavy Putter will pay you ... for usage. That's pretty common on all tours for that type of thing to be done.
Nick did not sign the release - his agent was unavailable - but he told Duane, 'I don't care, I like the product and I'm using it regardless of whether I sign it or not. I could care less, I'm out here to play.'
It turns out he took it two weeks ago and won the second week. So it's pretty remarkable. We have a tremendous batting average - it's very high. Like, Adrien Mork on the European Tour took the putter and shot a 59 and won two events, and before that he couldn't make a cut.
So we feel like we have got a great track record. If more people were using this we'd have a lot more wins.
In Nick's case he came over and said 'Listen, I'm a great ball striker. I hit a lot of fairways and I hit greens and my iron play is good. My putting sucks. I'm really looking for something that can help me with my putting.' Basically he worked with Duane and they fitted up a putter, got the right length and adjustments for him, and he put it in play and he won.
We really had no long-standing relationship with him, it's not something we've been trying to get him to use, he's actually a Nike contract player, but he probably has putter out of the deal. Most guys don't have putter in the deal.
TOUR VAN: How does a win on tour pay off for a small company?
STEPHEN BOCCIERI: Once it's in their hands and they have a win, it depends on how small the company is. In our case, we've built a fair amount of awareness through the infomercial and through our large print campaign that we've got going on. Two years ago when you said Heavy Putter they said, 'What?' A year ago when you said Heavy Putter they'd say, 'Oh yeah, I think I've heard of that.' Now they say, 'Oh yeah, Heavy Putter.' So it takes a fair amount of time to get recognition.
The win itself, what the win does is it validates that the top players in the world think the product is good enough to be used on the PGA Tour. It's a stamp of approval. One of the most commonly asked questions from someone who might not know about the Heavy Putter is 'Who's using it on Tour?' They're not even players of any considerable (stature)... it's just that association. If you have a product and it's good, then someone has to be using it on tour. When you start to get recognized and you start to have wins on the tour, that starts to add credibility to the company.
If someone questions the technology or they hear about it via a win, they're more apt to, when they're in the store, say 'Yeah, I heard about that Heavy Putter. A guy just won last week on the Nationwide Tour.' People have to hear something (a few times) - the third time someone says something about a particular product chances are I'm going to Google it and I'm going to do some investigative work and look into it. If I feel like there's some value to it, especially if I see this guy won, and this guy won, and this guy shot a 59. I have to look into it.
There's no silver bullet and it's not an overnight success. It's an accumulation of people using it and there are multiple pieces. First of all it has to be a good product. Second, consumers have to feel that it's a good product and there's a good buzz about the product in the industry. The tour player getting a win on top of it with the proper amount of marketing or advertising plays a role, but it's not the end all or the one thing that's going to launch a company.
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