Gary was nice enough to give us a few minutes of his time to share a bit of history behind the development of the ClubGlider, his relationship with Sun Mountain as well as to provide some insight on some of the other products featured on the show. We hope you enjoy the interview.
TST: The ClubGlider struck a lot of people as those "Why didn't I think of that?!?!" types of things. How did you come up with the concept? We heard something about sketching it on a napkin in a diner?
Gary: Actually I was coming home from a long golf weekend in Las Vegas with my buddies, and if anyone has been to Vegas they know how horrific the lines are. It was the end of May, it was hot, and we had been playing 36 a day for four straight days. We were all standing in line waiting to check in. At the time I had an SKB hard case - it was really heavy. I looked to my buddy and said "There has got to be a better way!" So literally on the plane ride back I got out a pen and on an Alaska Airlines napkin drew up what would eventually become ClubGlider.
TST: For those golfers who have been living in a bubble, could you tell us how the ClubGlider works?
Gary: Sure, by integrating a set of retractable legs with in-line caster wheels into a golf travel bag, ClubGlider makes traveling with your golf clubs effortless. With the legs extended, ClubGlider supports 100% of the weight. No longer is the traveling golfer forced to constantly bend over and pick up the travel bag to move three feet in line or drag the awkwardly top-heavy bag from the baggage claim to the rental car.
With ClubGlider, the traveling golfer can now breeze through the airports and rental car counters; therefore saving his strength for his swing. When checking in at the counter, he simply retracts the legs into the travel bag and ClubGlider is secured for travel. ClubGlider can also support additional carry-on luggage thus removing the extra weight of a laptop bag or purse, making travel easy and pain free. ClubGlider also allows you to load and unload the travel bag without having to bend over.
If anyone is interested in watching the videos from Fore Inventors Only, we've got links to the videos on our website at clubglider.com.
TST: So you have the idea, now tell us about the process? How long did it take? What steps were involved? And what has been the cost - financially, personally, career-wise? Has it been worth it to this point?
Gary: Well, the weekend following my trip (I believe this was May of 2003) we went over to my wife's parents house for dinner and I showed the napkin to my father-in-law Bill Pangburn. He is a wonderful "old school" guy with his shop in the back garage with coffee cans full of nuts and bolts on the counter and every type of drill, grinder, saw, and welder imaginable.
Although he had never golfed a day in his life he understood the problem and what I was trying to do. I left him my SKB and the following Sunday I came back for dinner with my wife and family and he rolled this contraption out onto the kitchen floor. Basically, he had taken a folding mechanism from a rusty old picnic table and used some old brass caster wheels from a couch he once had and welded the thing together and bolted it to my brand new SKB.
At first I thought "What have you done to my brand new travel case?" but after just one try I was sold as it solved the exact problem I was trying to fix. I showed it to some buddies and asked their opinions. They were all supportive, so I began the patent process.
The following month I used it on another golf trip and although it survived it was really beat up by the baggage handlers since the legs at that time were exposed on the outside of the bag. We kept working with it and figured out a way to integrate the legs into the bag so that no parts would be exposed.
This version was much cleaner and I used that as our prototype for quite a while as I tried to find a golf travel bag company that would answer my calls and had interest in partnering. Unfortunately we did not get much traction. We had one company actually take a look at it and after a couple new prototypes they decided to pass on the opportunity.
So we were back to square one, it was then that I sat down and listed out all the things that would make up the "perfect partner." Things like innovative brand, quality manufacturing, solid sales channels in both green grass and retail. After listing all the companies and comparing them together there was one company that stood out, Sun Mountain.
My buddy, Mike Baum, is in the golf business and put me in contact with Ed Kowachek the CEO. I sent him a video link and from then on we have been working together as he "got it" right away. It is truly a perfect fit as they are innovating pioneers with products like the stand bag, speed cart, and rain flex, they had a travel bag; however we brought innovation to the table.
So in January of 2007, I auditioned for Fore Inventors Only in LA and in March was called back to go in front of a panel of judges as they were making the cut from 104 to 36. I spoke with Ed about this opportunity and we shared concerns that if it was rejected by the judges we would have a tough time rallying support in the market, but after discussing the pros and cons I simply said "if it is not going to be received well wouldn't we rather know it now before we go full throttle?" and with that I went on the show with the goal of making the top five and hopefully gaining some exposure. Fortunately, we did pretty well, which resulted in a global launch of the ClubGlider courtesy of Golf Channel.
As for the costs, they have mainly been in two areas. The patent process is one, and it's run over $50,000. The engineering which was needed to make ClubGlider air travel worthy ran another $50,000. From a personal standpoint, the entire process has been an amazing education as my background is in the software business so I have been overwhelmed as to all the steps necessary to bring a product to market.
The amount of money I will pay the first time I see someone using a ClubGlider at the airport: PRICELESS.
TST: That's interesting - I think most people thought Sun Mountain courted you after your appearance on Fore Inventors Only… but you already had a deal with them beforehand, eh? Can you tell us more about that relationship? How's that partnership been?
Gary: Yes, I was actually already well into the process with Sun Mountain before we filmed the show. This in many ways I think led to my ability to really enjoy the ride that was the pressure cooker of the show. Baring a complete failure on the show, Sun Mountain was already moving to production so I really tried to just do the best job I could presenting the product and not worry about all the different challenges or obstacles thrown at us.
I think the other thing that helped was the fact that I still had a day job and had not quit everything to start ClubGlider. After it was all over, I figured I would return to my day job. Many of the contestants had not only quit their jobs and invested their hard earned money, but solicited other family members and friends for investment capital as well so their pressure was much greater. I don't think people understood just how tough it was for all of us on the show as this was our baby and when you didn't make the next cut it was like having someone tell you "your baby doesn't have pro potential" and that was really harsh.
I can tell you the "couch" sessions at the end of each days filming were long and very well lubricated as they typically occurred at the hotel bar where we were sequestered. Now if they would have had a camera rolling for those scenes you would have had some real drama and reality TV. LOL!
TST: As we understand it, Sun Mountain has made a few nice changes to the original design. What are they? Were you involved in the process? Is there anything left to improve?
Gary: Sun Mountain has blown me away with just how strong an engineering and product development company they truly are. From the beginning they had their engineers, sales, customer support/QA, and designers all over ClubGlider. In the first real meeting they put my existing prototype up on the middle of their war-room table and started taking it apart piece by piece looking at ways to make the bag and mechanism stronger and more bullet proof. Things I would have never thought of came out of those sessions and I was so excited to just be in the room and a part of the team.
Improvements such as extra thick padding that extend well beyond the structure of the bag inside so the most vulnerable part of the shafts are well protected. They also took the padding down the entire back of the bag right to the hard plastic shell, and incorporated thinner padding on the rest of the bag, their goal is to protect the contents "inside" the bag is well. They also engineered the bag through piping, quilting, and cross stitching such that you don't need to buy an extra pole to give your clubs the protection at the top, it is literally built into the bag.
The list of features goes on and on as to how they elevated my little prototype but in the end I am truly excited as to just how high quality this product is and believe there is not a better bag on the market… and that's before you add the obvious leg system!
TST: Some of the early feedback from our readers on the Bag Drop article we wrote about the ClubGlider indicates surprise at the price. Frankly, having tried it out, I think anything under $300 is a steal and that these people are missing out - but what can you say to those people who seem perfectly content to pay $150 for a standard travel bag?
Gary: I appreciate your feedback and perhaps some people will just have to touch it and try it before understanding the quality carried throughout the bag and just how much easier it really is to use. Truth is, when the Sun Mountain team first started out we discussed a lower end bag, but felt that was like putting a Yugo engine in a Porsche.
We have this amazing leg system, let's give the traveling golfer a superior bag to match. That obviously costs more. I guess down the road Sun Mountain might look to come out with a lower cost bag that doesn't have all the bells and whistles of the current model. We felt if you are going to pay all this money for a driver, let alone the clubs, and then invest all this other money on a golf trip to some resort destination, don't you want to show up refreshed without all the aches and pains as well as have your clubs in good shape for the round?
TST: Any plans for a hard-case ClubGlider?
Gary: Yes, as a matter of fact Sun Mountain made that part of our agreement that they get the first right of refusal to the hard case as well as the "Strap-On" or new name "Retro" models. I believe at this time all energy is focused on a successful product launch and once we have accomplished that goal we will look to expand the product offering to other areas.
TST: What do you see your role being once ClubGlider is in the stores will you still be involved with Sun Mountain?
Gary: Fortunately they have been very supportive and allowed me to participate in the product launch. They are true professionals so I don't know what additional value I can add; however I am more than happy to continue to provide feedback on future models incorporating the ClubGlider system.
My focus will be to take my technology background and apply it to our own web store at clubglider.com. I think it would be really cool to offer a customer the ability to dynamically personalize a ClubGlider on the fly. To do this, we have written a piece of software that allows the customer to select the color of bag, type in their personalized name or saying, change the font from block to script and change the color of the embroidery, then show them how it would look on the bag in real time.
This is some really cool stuff using cutting edge web technology. Try it out and you will find yourself bouncing between bag colors, embroidery colors, fonts and messages on either one line or two. I know I already have one for a buddy picked out "Have Clubs Will Travel" on two lines. LOL!
TST: Do you have any other golf-related ideas that you're working on? To paraphrase a series of commercials, "what will Gary do next?"
Gary: LOL! Not a chance, I don't think I could ever match the ride I am on!
TST: Even though you didn't win, what did you take out of being involved with Fore Inventors Only?
Gary: With so much reality TV on the air these days, you can't help but notice just how much "drama" and "cat fighting" goes on. It was completely different during the filming of FIO and at all levels. The judges - Stina, Bill, and Fulton - were absolutely fantastic as they were supportive and encouraging throughout the process. But the biggest takeaway was just how bonded all the contestants became throughout the show. Obviously we were in competition with each other; however we felt for each person eliminated. We all shared that common bond and we wanted them to be successful with what ever their product might be.
TST: Give us some dirt on the show - what's something viewers might not know but that you're allowed to tell us? We understand that a lot of you guys felt you were edited unfairly? What else can you tell us?
Gary: As to the editing, I personally have no complaints; the Golf Channel was really gracious to me. There was one point during my field test that Moose the Big Breaker actually busted my prototype. I did not know it at the time and discovered it later that evening, but if you watched that episode closely you will see the last half of the scene my bag is actually barely off the ground. That evening I was up until 3:00 A.M. fixing it. That ordeal turned out to be a good thing as it forced us to re-engineer the leg mechanism which has been huge in solidifying the product.
As far as "behind the scenes" stuff, two items come to mind that I think should be told. The first one would be how well spoken and sharp Tina Kamaj of Strike-n-Swipe, really is. If you recall the Strike-n-Swipe couple Victor and Tina, they never really showed Tina speaking and I don't know if she spoke much while on camera, as I was never really on set with them.
In the numerous "detox" session that followed each days filming, I found her to be very articulate and intuitive which did not come across on the show. Victor also had a tough scene where he was pitching to the Golfsmith customers and they showed him going on and on. Well the funny part about that is the fact that he had the producer jumping up and down behind the cameras giving him the "circling hand" signal and Victor thought that meant "keep it going"- so he did. When he got back to the room he was laughing saying "if he would have just given me the hand across the throat signal, I would have stopped". Of course when it aired they showed him talking non-stop I didn't think that was very fair to Victor.
The other scene that I found to be a good lesson for anyone who has to give a presentation, was in that same episode where Martin with Shaft Skinz lost focus and blanked for a little bit. As we prepared to go out and give our sales pitch, I noticed him working over his speech word for word. I think when he got out there with all the commotion and input from the professional presenters, he simply lost his place on the card and struggled to regain composure. From experience, and if anyone has ever tried to give a presentation, they have learned the hard way that word for word will kill you every time. I felt really bad for him as he is a wonderful guy with a very cool product. I could go on and on but those two were top of my list.
TST: What was your favorite part about being on the show? Your least favorite?
Gary: Most favorite: Meeting all the other inventors and feeling their passion for their products.
Least favorite: Not being able to tell anyone how the filming went as we were under NDA so I couldn't even tell my wife. She finally found out that I had made the top five about the sixth week into the show when someone from Golf Channel left a voicemail on our home answering machine regarding the Finale logistics. LOL! She called me that afternoon and said "I know your secret!"
TST: What is your honest assessment of the other four "Final Five" contestants? Were you surprised some of the products made it as far as they did? If you were a judge and not the inventor, who would you have voted to win?
Gary: Wow, good question. In all honesty, going into that night of the live finale I thought my toughest competition was Marcus and Tim with ProPlay GPS and Dean with Z-Factor. So when they were the first two out, I was feeling pretty good about my chances to win. But as soon as Rich Lerner said "This might come as a surprise!" I knew my 15 minutes had come to an end.
My reasons behind ProPlay and Z-Factor is simply that they both are amazing products that I thought had very strong consumer potential. Being able to see your swing on the course is something I would like as I am a scratch golfer on the range and a 6 on the course (LOL). As for Dean and Z-Factor, that is a no-brainer. We all need to improve our putting stroke and his machine really helps the muscle memory.
In regards to Larry and Brandi and Hillshot Golf, I think their product should be on every club range and driving range across America. I now have one in my backyard and practice the various shots by hitting into a net. I think it is a fantastic product! I just did not see the general consumer buying it at Golfsmith like I would expect with the others. Obviously I underestimated their chances right into third place.
Gary: In regards to David Jones and The Club Caddy, we have all left a club behind at some point. Everyone can relate to that. As the only product with a cost point under $20, I wonder how much that was a factor. I think David is finding post-show success much more difficult as I could not imagine the time or money it would take to successfully bring a product to market on my own. David has a wonderful family and I would like to see him succeed for everyone close to him.
TST: Has this whole Fore Inventors Only experience opened doors that might not have occurred without the show?
Gary: Absolutely, without a doubt the coolest thing was having ClubGlider selected as the main gift to all the students attending the Harmon Brothers Golf School in California. Bill Harmon, who was one of the judges during the show, also invited me to attend. Going in I must admit I was looking forward to simply focusing on the game for a few days and picking up some tips. Leaving the program I had an entirely new appreciation for their knowledge of the golf swing and just how much Bill, Craig, and Butch truly love the game.
The entire experience was one I will never forget! I listened to so many great stories from golf legends like Bob Goalby and Frank Beard. Just being in the presence of such passion and respect for the game is indescribable.
TST: We understand you're a software guy, right? What was your career path prior to inventing the ClubGlider? Does your software and computer background help you in golf?
Gary: The key to the answer to this question is the operative word "prior" as this whole thing is not going to change my career path. It has provided me a glimpse into another world that I would never had been exposed too. I am thankful for the opportunity but doubt I will be going out to buy my personal jet any time soon.
As far as how my software background helps my golf game; well I have yet to make Q-School so I guess it hasn't done much for my game. Kind of like programming just when you get that last change ready to implement, something else breaks.
TST: What hobbies or interests outside of golf do you enjoy? Family?
Gary: My wife Sheri and I have two boys (Colt and Luke) ages 5 and 8 so our time is pretty much consumed with baseball, basketball, fishing, and some golf when the Seattle weather cooperates. We recently took a vacation to Canada where the boys started snowboarding. It is safe to say our winters will now be pretty busy as well. It is all good as this is such a fun age and we are trying to enjoy it while we can.