A Very Affluent Audience

The continued growth of golf defies drops in consumer spending, which is good news for low-cost club cleaning franchise Sonic Golf. FDS South East Regional Director Malcolm Porter interviews the company founder Joel Bissitt

Malcolm Porter:'How long has Sonic Golf been trading?
Joel Bissitt: The machine has been made for around eight years but we started trading as a franchise in January 2007 and are now the largest ultrasonic golf club cleaning business in the world operating in the UK, Europe and Australia.

MP:'How would you describe your service?
JB: Most golfers hate cleaning their clubs ( I speak from personal experience!) so the ability to drop their clubs off with one of our operators and have them professionally cleaned while they enjoy a drink at the 19th is very attractive.

MP:'What is the investment requirement from franchisees and how much can be borrowed?
JB: Initial fees start from as little as £8,500 + VAT, some finance is also available subject to status.

MP:'What is the earning potential of the business?
JB: A single machine up to around £20,000 per annum, five machines up to around £36,000, 10 machines up to around £56,000 per annum. As with any service business the key to success is ensuring the highest levels of service are delivered to the golfers.

MP:'How has your business and franchisees been affected by the 'credit crunch'?
JB: We have not had any feedback of reducing sales from any of our franchisees. Fortunately, we offer a low value service to a very affluent audience and anyone that plays golf, or knows someone that does, knows golfers will play the same amount of golf regardless of the economic environment.

MP:'How does your business respond to increasing demands to be more 'environmentally friendly'?
JB: Our machine uses just 20 litres of water and can clean up to 50 sets in a single fill so is very environmentally friendly.

MP:'How has your franchise proposition changed since you first launched?
JB: We have reduced the initial number of machines from 10 to five and have also empowered franchisees to be able to run machines either on a permanent sited basis or mobile to maximise returns. We have also had to increase the initial packages available to clubs based on their individual requirements and believe we now have a package to suit any club.

One other area we are working on is to diversify with new products including Ecobuggy and our new range of shoe cleaning machines to further increase our franchisees' earnings potential as the decision makers for these products are of course existing clients.

MP:'What are the key geographical areas that you are looking to expand into?
JB: With 3,000 golf courses in the UK and Ireland we are still looking at expanding in most areas but there are some great opportunities in the North and Midlands of England, Scotland and Wales

MP:'What are the most important characteristics you look for in potential franchisees?
JB: We are a practical hands-on business and, therefore, potential franchisees must be prepared for hard work and must possess good communication and time management skills.

MP:'What are the biggest changes in your marketplace and what is Sonic Golf doing to stay in front of the competition?
JB: Golf is the fastest growing sport in the world but the trend is that golf memberships are reducing and golfers tend to play golf at multiple courses on a 'pay and play' basis. This represents a great opportunity as our sales conversion to this type of golfer in higher than membership players and we have several specific marketing schemes to target this type of golfer directly.

MP:'How does your franchise opportunity differ to your competitors?
JB: We don't really have any competition in our industry and are the market leader but if you consider other franchises in different or similar fields to be competitors then I would have to say the biggest advantage of dealing with our company is the lack of corporate hierarchy. We are a small dedicated team that are passionate about what we do, we have changed many aspects of our business as a direct result of feedback from our franchisees and any of our franchisees can call me directly with any concerns or suggestions they may have. I think this is one of the main reasons we have been able to adapt and grow as quickly as we have because feedback has come quicker and has been able to be acted upon immediately.

MP:'Where would you like to see the Sonic Golf business in the future?
JB: It is always difficult to forecast in business but my main goal is to continue to increase the quality of the service to golfers. We have some great clients already including De Vere, Marriott, The Club Company, Crown Golf, The Belfry and many other prestigious venues. We have spent a lot of time promoting the brand within the golf market via advertising, exhibitions and presentations to golf course managers and this is something we will continue over the coming years to support our franchisees. We already operate in Spain, Ireland and Australia and I am keen to further develop our overseas business over the next two years with the USA being our main target.