NCtrend: Heady ambition
Burgwyn liked a leather golf club head cover made by Carlsbad, Calif.-based iliac Golf, but balked at its $80 price tag. One day in 2011, he packed a bag at his home in Cary and drove to High Point and then to Hickory, telling his wife, “I am going to go figure out how to make leather head covers affordable.”
He found a sewing shop in Hickory that also imported leather, and he had some prototypes made — simple designs in red, black, white, navy and khaki adorned with a racing stripe and a circle, modeled after a 1958 Porsche. He dispatched them to contacts at two famous golf clubs, Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., and Shinnecock Hills in Southampton, N.Y., and immediately landed orders. Taking his wife’s suggestion for a company name, Stitch Golf Inc. set up a display at the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando, Fla., in January 2012. He left two days later with orders for 11,000 head covers. “I immediately knew I had a problem,” he says. “That shop in Hickory had two ladies on sewing machines. There was no way they could produce 11,000 head covers.”
Within a year, Burgwyn had his own operation in Cary, which he and his wife paid for out of personal savings. “My goal was to sell $300,000 in head covers the first year; I thought that would be a huge success,” he says. “We did three times that.” While he won’t disclose current revenue, he says Stitch Golf is now the largest producer of leather head covers in the U.S., producing more than 100,000 a year. Shops at 90 of the 100 highest-rated U.S. golf courses carry the product, while almost a third of sales occur in Japan and Korea. The 2,000-square-foot Cary plant has 24 employees who operate seven sewing machines during peak times. Stitch goes through 300,000 square feet of leather a year — about 6,000 cow hides. The company is moving this month to a site with more than double the space.
“We did not invent the club cover, we just set out to make the best one ever,” says Burgwyn, whose dad ran a television store and his mom managed a children’s apparel shop. “I firmly believe we build the best leather head cover in the world, or else I wouldn’t do it. You can take every vendor that makes them, add up their production and you will not reach our volume.”
Head covers are like socks — “Everyone needs them,” he says. If golfers view head covers as stylish and part of their attire, the market offers big opportunity as less-durable knit covers are replaced. About 70 PGA Tour pros use Stitch products for their drivers and fairway metals, including one pro who congratulated Burgwyn for “starting a head-cover revolution.” Burgwyn, 38, delights that his son Will, now 6 years old, suggested smaller covers to fit juniors’ clubs and had the savvy to ask for a $3 commission for each “Little Stitch” sold. A single buyer ordered 1,000 junior models earlier this year, and Will’s college fund is $3,000 richer.
“This is a neat product,” Burgwyn says. “I can make a leather head cover and pass it on to my son, and he can pass it on one day just like a leather jacket. And the older it gets, the better it looks. That’s cool.”