How Snatching Lost Golf Balls From Alligators is Turning Bad Luck Into a $1 Million Business Success

July 20, 2021
minute read

Picking fights with angry alligators is a tough way to make a living…

Even tougher though is trying to survive in a retail world seemingly hell-bent on slashing prices so severely that few, if any, survive with even a shred of profit margin left.

But for Shaun Shienfield, the founder of Found Golf Balls, which has recovered and sold more than five million previously lost golf balls from some of the top courses in the United States, a tidal wave of recent pricing pressure jeopardized the future of the business.

“We had competitors busting our chops on price,” Shienfield says. “It was brutal and we had no competitive advantage against people who routinely undercut us.”

It’s a business—at least in a way—that’s built on failure…

The failure of golfers to keep their golf balls out of the hazards and traps that foil so many. When a golfer slices or hooks a ball into the water or rough and the golfer moves on believing his or her ball is lost forever, it’s Shienfield who magically finds, refurbishes, and resells the name brand balls for a fraction of the price of new ones.

“My divers jump into the water traps at Florida courses and recover lost balls,” Shienfield says. “It’s extremely dangerous because to get the golf balls they have often to swim past alligators in those swamps.”

Pick your poison here; agitated gators that see anything that moves as dinner or hungry competitors willing to kill margins to gain share…

Which bite is likely to kill your business first?

It’s actually a moot question if you know exactly what it is the world is craving but can’t find anywhere else…

HINT: Shienfield does!

It’s Not You We Hate [It’s Your Advertisement]

No one really liked Shienfield at first…

While that’s not exactly true, it’s not a stretch though to say that people seeing Shienfield’s first stab at digital marketing weren’t impressed enough to part with their cash. It was 2014 and Shienfield had just launched a modern day version of the business his father had sold; refurbishing golf balls and selling them at flea markets and via direct mail and fax machine orders in the 1990s.

Initially though, the digital transition was a disaster; $5,000 spent on PPC ads resulted in just $50 in sales.

“It was really discouraging to start out that poorly,” Shienfield says. “I felt like a failure.”

Remember though, this is a guy who regularly outwits angry alligators…

So after a buckling down on the finer points of PPC advertising- for instance Shienfield started using negative keywords which kept him from bidding on and having to pay for irrelevant search traffic that was never going to convert– the business abruptly took off. In just two years, Found Golf Balls has become a premier destination for golfers seeking top tier recycled balls once lost on some of the most renowned courses in the world.

“The growth has been exponential,” Shienfield says.

The company also expanded internationally by custom coding its site to detect whether a user’s IP address is located in Canada or the U.S.and automatically redirects users to their home country’s site. This helped the company accelerate growth by allowing customers to:

  • Check out in their local currency
  • Avoid additional credit card and transaction fees
  • Receive orders much more rapidly and avoid border fees as products ship from U.S. and Canadian fulfillment centers

Despite fewer people participating in golf, Shienfield believes the upgrades and expansion have given the company ample room to accelerate top line growth.

“I think we can do $3-$5 million in sales in the next 5-7 years even with golf in decline,” he says.

But what about that price pressure biting just as hard- if not harder– than the alligators?

The secret antidote Shienfield discovered just might be something you can add to your offering and incorporate into your next email campaign.

“It saved our business,” Shienfield says.

The Differentiator Customers Crave

They can be two of the most frustrating things on the planet…

Golf and receiving email.

The first takes patience and skill the majority lack and the second is often characterized by impersonal or irrelevant messages we’d rather not receive. Fortunately for everyone involved, Shienfield is on a mission to make each activity more pleasant in his own unique way.

While name brand golf balls that look and play like new that sell for approximately half the price of new might make losing a ball a bit less painful, Shienfield has taken the idea a step farther by allowing customers to personalize their golf balls. You simply upload a custom photo, your name, or even your favorite saying and Found Golf Balls will print it on the premium balls you order:

personalized golf balls
“People crave customization,” Shienfield says. “Personalization gives people a reason to buy from us and has really differentiated us from our competitors who compete only on price.”

In fact, two thirds of Shienfield’s sales now come from custom orders.

But remember his second mission to make receiving email more enjoyable as well? Shienfield regularly experiments with and split tests his email to deliver the right offer at the right time to the right person but also to lift the company’s bottom line.

It’s working when you consider that email generates approximately half of all sales.

Importantly, Shienfield melds personalization with some seemingly counterintuitive email marketing learnings and is generously sharing so you might replicate his success and regularly earn thousands of dollars with a single email.

Head to Head: Image vs. TEXT Email Campaign

For instance, take a look at the image-heavy HTML email below. It is beautifully designed and contains several offers including a deal on novelty balls that may be personalized:

Found Golf Balls Image Email Campaign One

The results are strong but not earth shattering:

  • 15% Open Rate
  • 3.5% Conversion Rate
“Our graphics are really heavy and some email service providers block them so they never have a chance to perform or make us any money,” Shienfield says.

It’s why Shienfield recently experimented with a text-only email that was also a bit simpler in that it touted only the company’s free personalization service:

Found Golf Balls Text Email Campaign Two

The results from the text-only email are much more impressive:

  • 20% Open Rate [a 33% increase vs. HTML]
  • 7.4% Conversion Rate [a 111% increase vs. HTML]
  • Tens of thousands of dollars in sales
“It’s unbelievable how well it performs,” Shienfield says. “It’s such a simple email but it’s relevant and connects with people. It has been huge for us.”

Notice the email also assures customers the free personalization will automatically be included in the price at checkout. No coupons or discount codes are necessary. Shienfield credits the automatic discount with expediting the checkout process and lifting conversions.

“Each step you strip away from the checkout process increases conversions 3X-4X,” Shienfield asserts. “We just want to make it as quick and easy to checkout from one of our emails as possible.”

With all of this success though…

Why is Shienfield moving on?

Triple That, Please!

The machine that personalizes golf balls hustles hard…

In fact, during the peak holiday season Shienfield says the text-only email was so successful he had to call in additional machine operators to keep up with demand. Even Shienfield himself dropped the reigns of the company and began picking and packing to ensure orders arrived on time.

“We all chipped in,” Shienfield says. “We were packing hundreds of shipments a day.”

It’s growth like this that has Shienfield moving on…

To a new warehouse.

The state-of-the-art facility is triple the size of the original and houses a second machine Shienfield recently purchased to keep up with the demand for personalization.

“The customization and simple but hyper-relevant email have been huge growth drivers,” Shienfield says. “Email marketing is certainly not dead. You just have know your audience and deliver a message they want to receive in the format that generates the greatest ROI.”

Simple text-only email may not be sexy or earn you headlines…

But it can earn you money when business—or even the alligators—bite.

What to Do Now

Our email team can run Image vs Text A/B split tests for your email campaigns.

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