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Cary entrepreneur puts his mark on golf

Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT
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(Kyle Grillot)
Golfdotz creator David Poole discusses the product in his Transfer Studio office in Cary. Since 2008, Poole has introduced Golfdotz to players all around the world.
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(Kyle Grillot - kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
Golfdotz are transferable ink "tattoos" that bond with the skin of the ball in seconds when firm pressure is applied.
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(Kyle Grillot - kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
A ball with a Golfdotz kiss design.
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(Kyle Grillot - kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
David Poole, owner of Golfdotz, demonstrates how Golfdotz are applied on a ball.

CARY – After stints in the corporate world and professional motor racing, a Cary entrepreneur is betting he can make his mark on your golf ball.

David Poole, 50, created transferable ink tattoos, called Golfdotz, that allow golfers to quickly mark balls with more than 100 different designs – from shamrocks to scorpions to American flags.

Though the business is profitable, Poole has struggled to get retail space for the product. Poole’s company, Transfer Studios, is making a big push into the European market next month by distributing 96,000 packs of Golfdotz through United Kingdom-based magazine Golf Monthly.

Poole, a native of England, also wants to find wider distribution here. He recently auditioned for ABC’s “Shark Tank,” but didn’t make the cut to pitch his product to potential investors on the TV program.

The idea for Golfdotz came about six years ago while Poole was trying to make a similar product to customize soccer cleats.

“I was actually quite a long way down that road when I had a flash of inspiration,” he said. “I put it on a golf ball and took it out to the garden and beat it around. Then I took it to a golfer – because I’m not exactly the best person to test it because I lose too many golf balls.”

The golfer was impressed and asked what other designs Poole could make. So instead of taking his product to a soccer convention in Los Angeles, he decided at the last minute to pitch it to golfers at a PGA show in Orlando, Fla.

“I had 13 or 14 weeks until the show and I had nothing,” he said. “I had no product name, no market research, no approval from [golf’s governing body].”

Poole and his wife, Sonia, decided to wing it. Walking past displays from Nike and TaylorMade at what’s billed as golf’s biggest product showcase, they realized how much competition they faced.

“I got to our little booth and just figured ‘I’m soon going to know if the people think what I do is totally rubbish or not,’” he said. “The first 15 minutes it was really quiet ... and then suddenly it just all went completely crazy. People really loved the idea.”

Since 2008, Poole has introduced Golfdotz to players all around the world through conventions and by handing out samples to professionals. Rory Sabbatini, who has six PGA Tour victories, called Golfdotz “the most unique and interesting method of identifying a golf ball I’ve seen.”

It has won over other players, as well. Mark Murphy, a full-time player on the PGA Latino American tour, has been using Golfdotz custom-made Irish shamrocks on his clubs and balls for the last three years.

“Everyone that comes in contact with the product automatically falls in love with it,” Murphy wrote in an email to the Northwest Herald. “As far as I’m concerned, this is the most fun product on the golf market as we speak.”

Golfdotz sell for $5.99 for a pack of 32. They aren’t stickers. The ink designs form to the skin of the ball and don’t affect the flight or roll of the ball. They can be purchased online and in some pro shops and other golf retailers around the world. A quarter of sales come through the company’s website, www.golfdotz.com. 

Poole has refined the product and its packaging in a small manufacturing facility he set up in an industrial park in Cary. Both Poole and his wife, who is from Portugal, became U.S. citizens last year and proudly advertise Golfdotz as American-made. They live in Cary with their two children.

At first Golfdotz was a side project. Poole worked as a manager in IndyCar with driver Hideki Mutoh (Danica Patrick’s partner) from 2008-10 while the business was growing. In 2011, he turned to Golfdotz full time.

“Our product was picking up enough, so I said ‘I’m just going to make a commitment and go all-in on this,’” Poole said. “I went from pit lane to the putting green.”

He got a representative on the LPGA tour and athletes started his using the ball markers and sharing them with colleagues.

“More and more players are using Golfdotz on tour,” Poole said. “We’ve had a winner on almost every tour.”

Even so, Poole said he’d like to get Michael Jordan or another big-name celebrity to use and promote Golfdotz.

Though they got a bank loan to purchase some of the equipment used to make Golfdotz, the Pooles have largely funded the venture on their own. They declined to say how much they had personally invested.

“I’ve always taken risks,” he said. “I look at this as an opportunity.”

Though sales continue to grow, the company remains “a total minnow” in the golf industry’s $25 billion consumer market.

“We’re at the start of what we could be,” Poole said. “We don’t have the money to buy the eyeballs of the people who need to see this product. Our sales grow, people love it, we get fantastic comments, testimonials are great, more and more players are using it, but until people can walk into a major department store and ask for Golfdotz because they know what it is, we’re somewhat limited.”

Poole thought he had a deal with a national sporting goods store, but when the company’s buyer changed, the order was canceled. Poole was stuck with boxes of Golfdotz and no buyer. Even so, he hasn’t given up on big retail chains.

His next step is to start pushing the product into smaller outlets, such as pro shops in McHenry County and throughout Illinois. A new website, already in the works, should help boost online sales.

Poole said he hopes to eventually crack into the national retail market or partner with a larger manufacturer.

In the meantime, he’s already working on ideas for another new product.

* * *

Golfdotz:

What: Transfer Studio makes Golfdotz and other products. Golfdotz are transferable ink “tattoos” that bond with the skin of the ball in seconds when firm pressure is applied. It’s an alternative to ball marking methods such as pens, stencils, and ball stampers. It has been approved by the USGA and R&A and is in use on all major professional tours.

Where: 176 Detroit St., Unit 18, Cary

Information: Call 847-829-4238 or visit www.golfdotz.com

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