2006: On the road to better fitting equipment

By James Achenbach

Scottsdale, Ariz.

Hot Stix Golf may represent the future of the game, but founder Mark Timms laughs about the first time he heard the name Hot Stix.

The name was suggested by one of the company’s early investors. “I thought it sounded like the name of a strip club or something like that,” said Timms, 42, who started the business in 2000.

But the name captivated golfers. They easily remembered it. Soon they were flocking to Scottsdale from all over the world. In less than six years, Hot Stix has developed an international reputation for providing what may be the most comprehensive golf equipment fitting experience that money can buy.

Depending on what a golfer wants, a fitting at Hot Stix can routinely take three to four hours. The whole package – fitting for woods, irons, ball, wedges and putter – might take all day.

What is so unusual about a fitting at Hot Stix? Plenty, but let’s look into the future before discussing what is happening now.

Even though the world has beaten a path to the Hot Stix door, there are many golfers who never will visit Scottsdale. To serve these players, Hot Stix has decided to launch a fleet of mobile trailers to travel the country.

Currently there are two Hot Stix trailers, each slightly larger than the biggest equipment service van on the PGA Tour. By this summer, Hot Stix will own six trailers. By next year, the plan is to have 20.

“This way, we can take Hot Stix anywhere in the country,” Timms said. “The trailers contain everything we need to test and fit golfers and to build clubs.”

A trailer typically will visit a club (most of them private) for a week or so. Golfers will be fit for clubs, which will be assembled on site or at Hot Stix headquarters.

Changing shafts in clubs often is done in the trailer. Orders for new sets of clubs generally are transmitted to Hot Stix in Scottsdale, where they are built within 48 hours.

To receive access to a club, Hot Stix pays the club or the golf professional a percentage of the sales (usually about 10 percent, although it varies depending on several factors).

Will the popularity of Hot Stix result in another permanent store? No. The mobile units will enable Hot Stix to visit other cities and states.

This word comes from Tom Graunke, CEO and chairman of Hot Stix, who said big changes have occurred at Hot Stix in recent months.

“We have put in $6 million already,” Graunke said of himself and partner Tim Crown of Storm Wind Ventures. “Another $4 million will come soon. I think Hot Stix can be a $100 million company, although it may take 10 years.”

Graunke and Crown, who made their fortunes in technology and computers, are now majority owners of Hot Stix. They bought some of the stock owned by Timms and almost all of the stock owned by smaller investors.

“Hot Stix needed our technical expertise,” Graunke said. “This has allowed Mark to do what he does so brilliantly, which is R&D. We want him to stay here for a long time.”

In 2005, Hot Stix generated about $5 million in revenue. Graunke’s intermediate goal is to get to $50 million, “then to $100 million.”

Employees, who totaled four when Timms started the business, now number about 50.

With the arrival of Graunke, Hot Stix was divided into three separate companies. The first is the Hot Stix retail store, where pre-made clubs are sold along with custom clubs. The second is Hot Stix Technologies and its proprietary software. The third is Hot Stix Mobile, supported by the traveling trailers.

The Hot Stix retail store has a unique relationship with golf equipment manufacturers. In essence, Hot Stix can purchase components as well as finished clubs. The components are used to make custom clubs.

The software story at Hot Stix is one of details, details and more details. Designing and building much of his own testing equipment, Timms began to test every single shaft model. He compared flexes, frequencies and torsional properties for the entire length of every shaft. He compared load profiles.

He ended up with a consistent method of measurement for all shafts.

This is as good as it gets in the golf business, where there never have been any industrywide technical or measurement standards. Frequency readings, torque readings, shaft flexes and general shaft profiles often are measured in different ways by different manufacturers.

Before Hot Stix, there was no accurate means of comparing them. Now all this shaft information goes into a database, and computers spit out shaft recommendations based on a golfer’s swing characteristics.

The bottom line: Golfers are compared with other golfers who possess similar swing dynamics. They are told which shafts worked best for these swing-alike golfers.

This helps simplify the fitting process. Hot Stix might recommend three shafts, and the golfer can try all three in demo clubs.

This software is so valuable that about 70 stores are licensing its use, and Hot Stix is shooting for 250 licensees by the end of 2006.

Golfer testing at Hot Stix is conducted indoors and outdoors, using Vector swing analyzers. Seven hitting bays have been constructed at the Scottsdale headquarters, and the goal is to add a dozen.

A wood fitting session at Hot Stix costs $150 (club purchase is additional) and includes a ball fitting as well. Allowing a golfer to match his driver to an appropriate ball is particularly valuable. This is done through the measurement of ball speed, launch angle and spin.

An iron fitting session also costs $150. It includes a wedge fitting, which is important because of the huge variety of wedges available today. A putter fitting session costs $75. Any golfer can learn the intricacies of his or her stroke and see what the ball is doing as it comes off the putter face.

Normally there is a wait of three to four weeks for a fitting appointment, because fitting is hot at Hot Stix.

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