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Smart Ideas 11/04

Golf course advertising, air from paradise and more

What: A company that prints advertising used in and around golf courses nationwide
Who: Andy Yocom of Invision Golf Group Inc.
Where: Peachtree City, Georgia
When: Started in June 2003

While golfing with his brother one day, Andy Yocom saw prime advertising space on the flags on the course. He and his brother Timmy reasoned that any marketing messages would get prominent attention if they were placed on the flags, since golfers focus on them when they take their shots.

Convinced the idea would work, Yocom set out to persuade golf course owners to warm up to the concept of brand advertising on their greens. "With golf as traditional as it is, finding people in the industry that can think [outside] of the box [was a challenge] because they're so protective of the golf course image," Yocom, 37, explains. "I get the comment a lot that they don't want to 'NASCAR' their courses."

Yocom fought the skepticism by persistently visiting golf courses in the Atlanta area. Finally, he was able to hook up with some golf course management companies-they had several courses under their umbrella and could see the benefits of the idea. Once some well-established courses signed on, Yocom presented the concept to corporations that might be eager to market to the golf crowd. "[The fact] that we [advertise] 365 days a year and are a one-stop shop on and off the course-it's a very unique situation," says Yocom.

Today, Invision Golf Group has expanded its advertising and marketing services beyond just flags to include whole golf course sponsorship-from banners in locker rooms to advertising on golf carts. The strategy is working: At press time, projected 2004 sales were $300,000, and the company now has a presence on 142 golf courses in 26 states.

Heaven Scent

What: A company that bottles pure, fragrant Hawaiian air to sell to tourists
Who: Jon P. Farmer of Kolopua Hawaii LLC
Where: Kahului, Hawaii
When: Started in 2002

Think you can't sell air? you'll think again when you meet Jon P. Farmer, founder of Kolopua Hawaii LLC and creator of Pure Hawaiian Air. Marketed as "Heaven in a Bottle," Pure Hawaiian Air is packaged to appeal to tourists who long for the scent of Hawaii-the floral bouquet that greets them when they get off the plane.

Scents such as ginger and plumeria hang in the air, says Farmer, a resident of Hawaii. When he read Chicken Soup From the Soul of Hawaii, he was struck by how many of the stories mentioned the scent of the islands. So Farmer created bottles filled with Hawaiian air and some scented essence beads. When customers shake the bottles up and open the lids, they're transported back to paradise.

Farmer, 57, likens the product to bottled water for its purity and even to bags of authentic Hawaiian sand and seashells for its tourist appeal. Retailing for about $5 to $6 apiece, the bottles are sold at gift shops in Hawaii, as well as to travel agents nationwide who give them to clients. With half a million in sales projected for 2004, that's one sweet scent.

On a Shoestring

What: An e-tailer that sells fraternity and sorority clothing and accessories
Who: Joseph Tantillo of GreekGear.com
Where: Freeburg, Illinois
When: Started in 1999
How Much: $79.95

Reading a business magazine in the doctor's office inspired Joseph Tantillo to try his hand at online retailing. At the time, he and his wife were expecting their first child and wanted to work from home. An article about starting an online store jumped out at him, he recalls-and, as a member of a fraternity in college, he decided to sell personalized Greek apparel to that market.

After setting up shop for just $79.95-the cost of a merchant account with Yahoo!- he began researching what kind of products his former fraternity brothers might like. Tantillo then located suppliers who would work with him on a drop-ship basis and began selling. He opened his online doors in May of 1999 and had his first three sales by June.

He and his wife moved into a farmhouse owned by their family so they didn't have to worry about a mortgage. That gave Tantillo the freedom to go full time and research the market. "I spent a lot of time online-hours, all through the night-e-mailing people about linking to our website, e-mailing people about our products, asking friends for criticism and suggestions," says Tantillo, 36.

His persistence helped him become the preferred vendor for a few national Greek organizations. Tantillo then secured partnerships that would allow him to advertise on their websites in exchange for a sales commission to the organizations for every click-through purchase.

Using the strong Greek network worked, as he's built GreekGear.com's yearly sales to $1.9 million. In addition, the company recently moved into its own 5,000-square-foot facility, complete with its own screening, embroidery and printing equipment. With success like this, Tantillo's frat brothers should be proud.

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This article was originally published in the November 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Smart Ideas 11/04.

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