In the mid-1990s, emerging technologies such as personal computers, e-mail and cell phones were changing the way people accessed and shared information, opening the door to a new world of business opportunities. Joe Assell found his opportunity by figuring out a way to utilize new technology to do something that had not been done before.
"We were the first people to ever standardize and brand a golf lesson," says Assell, the founder and CEO of Centennial, Colo.-based GolfTEC.
At a time when the internet was just starting to catch on (and the methods for giving golf lessons were very fragmented), Assell decided to bring cutting-edge technology to golf instruction, providing clients with lesson programs that integrated video, motion analysis, impact analysis and biofeedback technology to provide an immediate connection between player motion and effective swing mechanics.
The first GolfTEC location was launched in Denver in 1995, and its immediate success led to the opening of a second location in Chicago the following year.
Fast-forward to 2003, when GolfTEC was up to 18 corporate-owned locations in five markets around the U.S. "We were having some nice success, but we wanted to grow at a faster pace," Assell says.
That's when the idea of franchising really started to make sense--and for a couple of reasons. For one, Assell says he knew having local franchise owners who were well-connected in their communities would be important. The second reason was the opportunity to minimize competition.
"We had a lot of people who were interested in knocking us off," Assell says. "We took potential competitors and made them partners."
As of February 2009, GolfTEC boasts 142 locations, with 111 franchises and 31 company-owned stores. Even given the troubled economy, Assell predicts there will be just over 150 locations by the end of the year.
The company has provided more than 1.5 million lessons with 150,000-plus clients, making it the world leader in golf improvement. GolfTEC's database now includes swing data and video footage of more than 150 PGA, LPGA and Senior Tour players. Each client's swing is synched with Tour averages to spot game-changing opportunities during every lesson.
Assell says GolfTEC has two types of ideal franchisees. One is a golf professional who would serve as owner or operator. About 25 percent of GolfTEC's current franchisees are golf pros. "It's a great opportunity for a golf pro to own his own business," Assell says. The second ideal candidate is "a locally established business person who is a passionate golfer and would like the opportunity to own a golf business in his community." That person would then hire golf pros to give the lessons, as every GolfTEC lesson is taught by a certified golf pro.
Before becoming a GolfTEC instructor, golf pros come to Denver for 11 days of training and certification in the GolfTEC system. The company also provides continuing education and online training for instructors, and a teaching team travels to individual franchises to ensure proper standards are being met. Beyond the golf lesson technology, Assell says the company has the marketing support, customer relationship management technology and infrastructure to make sure the business plan works.
"It is not just a mom-and-pop business. We've been very successful because we've standardized a golf lesson around the U.S."
Brian Anderson is a Denver-based freelance writer and editor.