You wouldn’t expect a pair of German lawyers who met surfing the Eisbach River in Munich to have launched a top-shelf, direct-to-consumer golf-ball brand, but that is the unlikely origin story of Vice Golf, which was founded in 2011 but didn’t enter the U.S. market until 2015. Ranging from multilayer, urethane-covered Tour balls to two-piece Surlyn distance balls, Vice’s models are designed and engineered in Germany to provide what company reps say is comparable performance offered by bigger brands but at about half the price. In an interview with GOLF.com, Vice Golf CEO and company co-founder Ingo Dullmann explained why he saw an opportunity in the ball market, the advantages of selling direct to consumers, and why colored balls are here to stay.
GOLF: You’re from Germany, where golf isn’t nearly as popular as it is in the U.S. How did you get into the golf-ball business?
Dullman: My co-founder Rainer Stockl and myself met while surfing the Eisbach Wave in the middle of Munich and became friends; both of us were eager to start our own business in order to be our own bosses and shape a company the way we wanted. We always heard fellow golfers complaining about the high prices of golf balls and when we investigated the market more closely we were surprised by the steep mark-ups by all the middlemen involved in the process. The direct-to-consumer business models like Warby Parker [eyeglasses] were up and coming and we thought that this model could work for golf balls, too.
What are the advantages and disadvantages to consumers when buying balls direct?
The advantages to the consumers are clear: They save a lot of money compared to buying products in traditional ways. They are in direct communication with us if they need help. We customize balls starting from one dozen with text, logo or image of the customer’s choice and ship them to their doorstep within three to five business days. As we offer a volume-discount model where consumers get the best ball price when ordering five dozen of a ball model, we feel that our customers have understood the model as the average order quantity on our website is about five dozen, where they can get the best price.
In regard to challenges, many golfers are skeptical about ordering five dozen golf balls of a brand they have not heard of before, which is why we came up with the Vice Selected package which includes a sleeve of each of our models for only $17.95 — many golfers go down that avenue and test all Vice ball models first and then buy five dozen of their favorite model. On the other hand, we have a golf ball recommender tool that helps the golfer identify his or her best matching Vice Golf ball model based on the answers given. Another challenge is the topic of trust as golfers are very loyal to brands the trust and rely on, especially among the single-handicappers and scratch golfers.
Give us your 30-second elevator pitch for your balls.
Vice Golf balls offer elite-level performance for half the price and can be bought online. We ship your order to your doorstep within 3-5 business days, make the shopping process very easy, offer the customization options on golf balls with logos, text or image starting from just one dozen. The complete image and style of the company is based on a young, fresh and dynamic design, which stands out in the rather old-fashioned golf industry. And last but not least, we come out with new products when they are ready and not because of a sales cycle. We make sure all our products are at the highest level and if this means we go through two, three, or even more additional sample stages and postpone a launch of a product we will do so. We never compromise for anything.
You have five models. How can consumers best find the right ball for their game?
We have a fairly slim portfolio of balls in order to keep the overhead costs low. As our prices are very low, we specifically focus on our premium cast urethane cover line Vice Pro Soft, Pro and Pro Plus (all three models range from $24.95-$34.95/case, depending upon how many cases you buy), which are all cast-urethane cover balls for golfers who aim to get the best out of their game.
These three premium models are targeted toward slow to medium clubhead speed swingers (75-90 mph with driver, Pro Soft, 3-piece ball), medium to high swing speeds (90-110 mph with driver, Pro, 3-piece ball) and high swing speeds (110+ mph with driver, Pro Plus, 4-piece ball). The Vice Drive ($10.95-$14.95) is a Surlyn cover 2-piece ball and targeted toward beginners who primarily seek for distance off the tee paired with low spin. The Vice Tour ($15.95-$21.95) is a surlyn cover three-piece ball targeted at the average golfer who is seeking for distance off the tee and a nice feel around the green.
Vice balls are notable for their eye-popping colors. Is this a growing reality in golf balls or just a trend?
It is a growing reality as we observe it; I don’t see a reason why this trend should stop. Our neon colors in lime and red have become very popular and it was something completely new for golfers to see premium balls in color as colored balls in the past were normally associated with rather low-quality products. We have put an end to this and only offer our premium series in these neon lime and neon red colors.
Do you think direct-to-consumer model will grow or will traditional big brands continue to dominate?
I believe that the D2C model will continue to grow with more and more people becoming familiar with online shopping, this major barrier begins to decline and since people are price-sensitive they will buy online at better rates, especially once they become familiar with and trust the product. The growth of smaller players in the market will challenge the big brands in a positive way. Yet the brick and mortar business will always be relevant and play a strong part in the game of golf, which will remain very relevant in the next decades. But we try to create an attractive alternative and I believe we are doing a good job so far.