Q&A with Kikkor Golf president James Lepp
“Are you still wearing your Dad’s shoes?”
Many men are guilty of what Kikkor Golf asks in its motto. Luckily, there are still some cool and fashionable guys like James Lepp left in this world. Lepp, a former All-American at Washington who won the individual title at the 2005 NCAA Championship, is now president of Kikkor Golf. He founded the company in September 2008 in his native British Columbia, Canada, and his products – shoes, shirts and hats – will be available in Spring 2010. Lepp plans to expand the line to pants, shorts, sweaters and belts, as well as add a women’s line, in the future. I caught up with Lepp to find out more about his business venture.
Why would an NCAA champ decide to leave competitive golf to run a clothing business?
A lot of people are wondering that. And to be honest, over the past five years, my golf sucked! I had some good tournaments in that span – like the NCAAs – but for the most part, I was getting worse, which is not a good feeling, especially when you’re putting in time and practice thinking that you’ll get better. When I recognized this pattern, I started practicing less and my passion for the game nosedived. So, it’s not like I’m leaving my passion, per se, to start this business venture. My passion is just in different places.
How did you begin with Kikkor Golf?
I know what young people wear, and how uncool golf shoes have been over the years. Companies are getting a little crazier with some of their designs, but none have fully attacked that West Coast style that so many younger players like. Clothing wise, things have definitely changed, as there are several brands now appealing to the younger demographic. But shoes wise, there really hasn’t been much. Early in the summer last year I started messing around with some ideas on my computer and before long, I had enough going for it that I decided to fully pursue it.
Where did you come up with the name Kikkor Golf?
“Hey man, sweet pair of kicks! Are those new?” That’s not an actual quote, but I know people call their shoes “kicks.” Also, the name for a jump in any board sport is called a kicker. I changed up the spelling a little bit to make it 100 percent unique, and there you have it. Kikkor.
Was it a long time in the making or a spur of the moment decision?
It was definitely a gradual process. I didn’t have to drop everything I was doing to fully develop the business. It started off being a very fun project, so pretty much any occasion I had some free time I would explore new ideas. Now, however, it’s a drag. (laughs) I’m kidding, I still love working on it, but rather than being a hobby, it’s more like my actual job.
What are the steps to starting a company like this?
If somebody knows the answer to that question, please email me. You know, I’m not sure I know all the correct steps, but I’ll tell you four key mindsets that definitely help:
• Be patient when starting something like this. I remember getting the first prototypes back from the factory and thinking, “What am I doing?” However, I stayed patient, took it one step at a time, and before long, the product was where I wanted it to be.
• Pay attention to what your competition is doing and try to differentiate yourselves from them. If I was to come out with a similar style golf shoe to what’s already out there, I think the consumer might choose the established brand. Just a hunch.
• Be willing to go against what is normal in the industry, so long as it makes sense. At Kikkor, we pride ourselves at being awesomely different.
• There are so many little details with any business venture, and no matter how small they are, they will require the needed attention in order to keep things running.
Is there anyone else involved in the business? Investors? Friends?
I definitely have a strong support group helping me out right now with ideas and feedback, however, I haven’t hit the point yet of fully needing investors, designers, managers, etc. I am very close to that point, though. To launch it the way I want to I’m going to need some more help.
How tough is it to start a company in an economy like this?
I really only know it one way, and that is in an economy like this, so I have nothing to compare it to. That being said, on the retailer’s side of things, I think it is a struggle, because they are all being very careful with their purchases. However, on the branding side of things, it presents a great opportunity. While other major brands are dealing with internal issues, trying to cutback, here I am with Kikkor, with no history, no cutbacks, no nothing. I feel as though I’m a lot more flexible to target new niche markets.
Where are your products made?
All overseas. And in my backyard.
How do you plan on reaching out to your audience/players?
Well I’ve heard the PGA Tour is looking for some title sponsors for some events. Kikkor Golf Invitational anybody? Maybe one day. With a start-up like this, really you have to do it at the grass roots level, visiting tournaments, handing out product, equipping colleges and high school, crazy YouTube videos and so forth.
I am sure you are very well connected to tour players. Have you had any verbal commitments for them to wear your stuff?
The only guys that have committed are Danny Noonan, Happy Gilmore, Shooter McGavin, and Roy McAvoy. More names to come later.
Is there any chance we are going to see James Lepp sporting his own gear on the PGA Tour one of these days?
I actually think there is a strong chance. When? I really have no time frame on that. But with this new-found style, maybe it’ll free my game up a little more? Hopefully.