In an exclusive interview with GBN, Mark Stewart, CEO and owner of premium trolley brand Stewart Golf, discusses the company’s 20-year history, the impact of Brexit and the pandemic on business, and what lies ahead in an exclusive interview.
I remember feeling that when it launched in 2004 no one wanted to pay over £1,000 for a trolley. Was there a market for such premium products?
I’m still getting those comments! When we first saw the electric trolley market, we felt strongly that two things were missing: a focused remote control trolley designed for superior stability and a sports car rather than a trolley. Something that looks like. These two design ideas inevitably made the product more expensive, but we figured there was room for premium options on the market.
How many employees does the company currently employ worldwide? How many countries do you export to? How many units did you sell in 2022?
We currently have 35 staff at our Gloucester headquarters in the UK. In the last two years he has sold to 40 countries, with a mix of retailers and distributors. The number of units sold is confidential, but has increased dramatically throughout the pandemic and has remained that number through 2022.
As a UK based company all components are assembled in the UK, how has Brexit impacted Stewart Golf’s ability to do business with EU countries from 2019 onwards?
Brexit has had a big impact from a sales perspective. This is mainly due to the logistics of cargo being delivered to end users and retailers. This forced us to change the way we operate, so now we only ship to retailers and distributors, not consumers. We were lucky and were able to actually maintain the sales levels we had seen before.
COVID-19 has clearly had a huge impact on the golf industry, both negatively and positively. How will Stewart Golf be impacted between 2020 and 2021? Have you had any lingering problems with your chain and are you still feeling it?
It was a roller coaster! Sales nearly tripled due to the pandemic. This meant that we had to increase our workforce and production space to meet that demand. At the same time, the supply chain issues we had to deal with were well known and the golfer at one point had him on hold for as long as 12 weeks, which was less than ideal.
Of course we have gone from the end of COVID to the beginning of the war in Ukraine which has brought with it a range of problems. Just be agile so you can act quickly when a crisis arises.
What are your sales projections for 2023 in the face of an impending recession and rising cost of living?
I’m always an optimist, so I always think I can grow. One of the reasons we prefer exporting is because it means we are not dependent on the UK market for growth. For example, “walking golf” has skyrocketed in popularity in the United States since COVID-19. This is great news for all trolley brands doing business in the US. Almost every export market also has growth opportunities. For example, we just signed a new partner in Australia. This can be important for overall business growth.
The company recently rebranded with a new logo. What was the thinking behind it? And what does it say about the company and its direction?
I’ve found that our product development is heavily focused on the latest technology, but our branding made us look and feel more “heritage” and we want to fix that. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use the Union Jack in your branding. It remains part of our identity as we are very proud to manufacture our machines here in the UK.
The new logo is more dynamic, modern, and feels more appropriate to what we know we have in our current product range and future pipeline.
Who would you say your “average” customer is in the marketplace today, and has the consumer profile changed at all in the last 20 years?
Our buyers are, first and foremost, avid golfers who play 2-3 times a week. There is a misconception that Stewart’s customers are millionaires who drive Bentleys, but that is not true. Ours is perfectly premium, but cheaper than a decent road bike these days.
In the UK about 97% of people walk golf courses and about two-thirds of them have electric carts, compared to only about 5% of ours. Plenty of room to grow at home.
What are the best-selling models in the current range, and what future developments can we see from Stewart Golf, both in terms of product and technology?
The Q series was a huge success for us and quickly became our biggest seller. We never discuss future development before launch, but rest assured that we are not satisfied with our success so far!
You founded the American branch of Stewart Golf in 2015. How have your performances been over the past seven years and how difficult has it been to break into a market where buggies and carts still dominate the golf world?
The United States is a very important market for us and we see a lot of growth potential there. After a very cautious start to 2015, he doubled his sales every year until 2020 before the pandemic knocked him off the charts.
Yes, the US is still an equestrian market, but walking is more acceptable and a trolley (or electric caddy ) are now recognized as categories. Our goal is not to compete with buggy manufacturers, but to give golfers the choice of riding on one end or carrying/pushing on the other.
Given that you are primarily in the lithium battery business, do you have a sustainability program in your business and what steps are you taking to reduce the company’s impact on the environment?
We take our role seriously and do what we can to mitigate the impact. We own our own factory, so a massive solar panel system on the roof generates a huge amount of clean energy. These can be used in-house or returned to the national grid. To date, this has prevented more than 50 tons of CO2 from being released into the atmosphere. This equates to planting about 3,000 trees. All of our company vehicles are now 100% EV and none of our waste goes to landfills.
Looking back at your 20 years in the golf industry, and with all the hindsight it has to offer, do you think you would have done something different when you started and more recently as your business has grown?
First of all, it has been a real honor to work in the golf industry for so long. It was a lot of fun!
I think we have been more bold in our approach, not just in terms of products, but in terms of our business as a whole. You always seem to do your best when you follow your instincts.
As our business has grown, we have invested heavily in transformative leadership training. Stewart Golf has a very strong culture that makes your daily commute a pleasure.
You recently attended the PGA Show in the USA. Speaking with retailers and other golf brand owners, what are your impressions of the health of the global golf industry in 2023?
I feel like golf is full of great entrepreneurs. So we are usually optimistic. The great thing about our industry is that we serve passionate consumers who always appreciate something that makes a difference to their golf experience. The great thing about golf is that nothing beats going out and playing 18 holes with your friends. It’s something the Internet struggles to replace, no matter how hard it tries. In fact, the more you immerse yourself in screens and technology, the more likely you’ll want to get out and take a walk, and maybe even play a round of golf.
Have you been spending a lot of time playing golf yourself lately? If so, where do you prefer to play?
I don’t have a lot of free time between business and having a young family, but golf has the advantage of being a ‘work’ for me as there are always new prototypes to test. A member of the Brook Golf Club, he seems to have played more golf on his trips to the US than at his home course. My resolution for this year is to play more golf, and I think that applies to all golfers in the world, right?
For more information on Stewart Golf’s full range of golf trolleys and accessories, please visit www.stewartgolf.com. www.stewartgolf.com