What can we say about 2020? Between the pandemic, aliens, mystery drones, COVID-sample-stealing monkeys, and plague squirrels, we’re ready to declare 2020 #complicated and move on to something a little more 2019. Please, and thank you.
With all of the excitement has come a lot of adjustments.
When you stop to think about it, it’s pretty amazing how people have significantly changed behavior in the interest of slowing down the virus. This has meant a lot of personal sacrifices, particularly for small businesses. We know IGC owners who have adapted their business models and thought up creative ways to minimize contact in this new world, and admire their resiliency.
When we spoke to Sara and Dwayne Robinson, owners of Precision Sports Simulators, about an unusual business model they were testing out last winter, we could see the appeal but weren’t sure if it would catch on. Now we’re wondering if they stumbled onto a sustainable business model during the age of COVID.
“We developed this business model more than a year before COVID. We’ve always figured one of the hardest parts of any business is managing employees,” said Dwayne Robinson. “Do people really need someone to let them in, take their money, and have personal interaction?”
"We use streaming subscriptions for our entertainment. We even have fitness apps that connect us to gyms, yoga studios, and dance studios by appointment or subscription. Why not do the same for golf?” asked Sara Robinson.
The Robinsons decided to capitalize on this generation’s subscription-based mindset with a new business model for indoor golf.
Dwayne and Sara had a small industrial location that was perfect for a couple of indoor golf simulators, a vending machine, and some comfortable furniture. They decided to use aboutGOLF simulators and automate the indoor golf experience from start to finish.
“People go online, they book a simulator, they get an automatic email, and it gives them a code to get in the door,” Sara said. “We’ve made it so we can remotely turn on the projectors and computers. We can even turn on the TVs and the lights. No one needs to be there. People go in and out all day long, and the only thing we need to do now and then is send someone in to change the garbage and vacuum.
“We went to the PGA show [in January 2020], and we were gone all week. Everything was smooth sailing.”
After COVID, there is a greater appeal to minimizing the number of people gathering in a given location. However, there are additional things to consider than when the Robinsons first tested this model.
Do you hire a cleaner to sanitize the space between appointments, or do you rely on customers to use the provided sanitizer?
Do you upgrade your HVAC filters to hospital-grade filters or install UV light systems?
These come with additional costs but may be balanced out by minimal staff, affordable rent, and less worry over governor’s restrictions.
They admit the model doesn’t work for every potential customer.
“You have to train your customers,” Sara stated. "They want to call you, and they want you to book their tee time for them. They want the employee there to show them how to use it. We tell them, ‘If that’s what you want, we’re not the best place. There’s a place down the street that has employees, and that might be a better fit.’ But then they do end up still coming, and they figure out how to use the aG simulator even though it’s new to them.”
Why It Works
This is an attractive business model for many reasons. The reduction in overhead compared to a facility with multiple PGA instructors or restaurant service is dramatic. It also fits the on-demand/subscription models we’re seeing adopted across multiple business segments.
The keys to making this automated public venue model work are low rent, clear communication, and either online marketing know-how or an established network. Additional tips:
Industrial or former retail spaces are ideal for simulator bays with their high ceilings and open floor plans.
Potential customers need to understand low prices are only possible because of a lack of staff, but as Sara pointed out, most people are happy to accept this trade-off.
Social media and booking apps will need to be used to offset your lack of storefront traffic until you establish a customer base.
While this model is nearly touch-free, some consideration will need to go into providing sanitation stations, limiting group sizes, and upgraded ventilation.
Contact aG to connect with our experts for advice and questions about setup.