Interview with Matt Ward
I truly believe in passion, no matter what you do, do it with passion. I started a business in 1994 with my wife and brother-in-law Tom Hunsucker called Extreme Custom Trailers. At the time, my passion was boating and watersports. My father always had a passion for racing speed boats and did so for many years until an opportunity arose for him to purchase a boat dealership in Corona, California. With that, an opportunity arose for me to supply him boat trailers. The business flourished for about 13 years and we sold the business in 2007. I have had a passion for golf and fashion since I was about 10-15 years old, however, I never got to play as much as I wanted to because it was too expensive and it took up so much time. After the sale of Extreme, I had the time and the money to play golf as much as I wanted. I should also mention that I am a “Gadget Guy”.
In 2009, I was on a family vacation in Vietnam and I came across a belt that didn’t have any holes on a souvenir table near a jungle, literally. I was intrigued by its design, so much so that when I got back to the USA, I immediately got on the internet to try and locate these belts in the USA. After several hours of searching, I wasn’t able to come up with anything I liked. The belt I had bought had several flaws and the quality was very poor. Tom and I knew we could make it better. I had a contact in China that helped me source a belt/buckle supplier and we got on a plane and flew to China to meet with the Buckle factory and that is when we designed Nexbelt.
Our first sale was in 2011 for a Member guest golf tournament at Red Hill Country Club in Rancho Cucamonga, Ca. called “The Champagne”. This is where we unveiled the now patented, Go-In golf Series belt with hidden ball marker. We knew immediately after this event that the belt was going to be a huge success. What we didn’t know is how hard it would be to pierce such a competitive marketplace within the broader golf industry.
We spoke to as many people as we could to try and gain knowledge about the industry and how to create new sales across the country. We were referred to Ron Noelting of The Luxe Group LLC and Ron suggested that we attend The PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando. We took the advice along with some other good suggestions and the rest is history. We currently have several patents pending on many designs for buckles and belts as well as guitar straps. Nexbelt started as golf belt and has quickly become a belt for all occasions. Our Essential line of belts offers a belt for everyone to wear every day and they can be found on line as well as quality retail stores. We are in more than 3000 golf clubs worldwide and have many distributors / wholesalers all over the world. The best part about it is that we travel for business to the beautiful clubs and play some golf along the way.
MATT WARD: Nexbelt is a relatively new company and has experienced tremendous growth. What’s been the main factor for such an explosive beginning?
EDDIE ROWLAND: The uniqueness and quality of the Nexbelt — including the packaging have been a major factor. The fact we can cut inventory by as much as 80% in the belt category with our patented cut-to-fit system, has made it an easy sale. It is very difficult to point to one thing. We see a few factors — for the consumers it is the adjustability with our Precise-Fit system — our innovative hidden ball marker in the buckle, the quality and diversity of designs of the belts. For the stores, the fact we can cut down on inventory of up to 80% with our unique cut to size system, and they do not take up the same amount of space by way of our packaging, it has really allowed the small shops to come on board.
MW: How has the accessory area evolved over the last few years?
ER: The accessory market has grown in the past few years. People are not just looking to buy a hat or a glove anymore; instead they are looking for a hat to match the belt or a glove to match the belt or the shoes. It has made it fun for us to create and design belts that fit the growing needs in the accessory market. In golf fashion on the men side, they have a lot more leeway in how they get to dress and Nexbelt is really helping with the fashion trends in allowing them feed their fashion sensibilities. We have brought out new materials like white carbon and designs that let people get creative in how they dress. We’re one of the few companies that have a very broad range of colors and not just the typical black, brown and white. We’re working on our 2016 line now and it will be amazing.
MW: Are there any generational differences say between baby boomers and millennials regarding accessories for what they wear?
ER: Yes, I think there are some differences in the style of the accessories that they buy, but let me point out what they do agree on – both generations love the Nexbelt because the comfort of being able to adjust the belt in a ¼” increment through out the day to find that perfect fit. They like that they don’t have to punch a hole to get a better fit. And they like that the face doesn’t have holes which will get distorted over time and that face of the strap will stay looking new longer. Where they diverge is style and colors.
MW: How about men and women when choosing your product — any real differences?
ER: Most of the belts we sell, a man or woman can wear. Women have been wearing men’s belts for ages so it’s not uncommon for us to see women with our belts on. We do offer some bling belts that are steered more towards women. Those belts have done well, and we have spent a lot of time and effort on these beautiful models. For the man with a strong sense for fashion, we designed the Reptile Series for that upscale look and it has done very well. In the end, we say let your style sense direct you.
MW: Does having someone on the PGA / LPGA Tour’s wearing products — belts or otherwise — still matter to consumers and is that connection cost prohibitive for many companies to even consider?
ER: We believe professionals who wear Nexbelt help give the belt and the company credibility. Those who wear the Nexbelt on tour, such as Kevin Na and Jim Furyk, truly love the belt and that is the reason for wearing it. To date, it’s had nothing to do with money, obviously both Kevin and Jim do very well and they are both at the top of the money list. We’re a family owned business and we don’t have the budget similar to large corporations to spend on getting players to wear our belt. It’s been the love of the product and the word of mouth among the players. They love the innovation, the comfort of the belt and the various styles that feed their fashion sense. The key is to offer a product that they love and “Must Have”.
MW: What’s the ballpark figure most people will spend when contemplating a NexBelt purchase?
ER: Our Canvas line starts at $40, The Go-In Series golf belts with the hidden ball markers are around $55 and the Classic styled belts which can be worn at the office, or casual or on the course are $50. The Reptiles are in the high $80s. We are a premium belt company but still insist on being able to give good value so you see the wide range.
MW: How do you ascertain customer feedback concerning the product line?
ER: We currently have a nice size company representative base (about 40 reps). The reps continually provide us feedback from the customers. We also attend several shows throughout the year and we listen with our ears wide open. There are also Website reviews keeping us well informed. We are our biggest critic and are continuously upgrading our products making it better mechanically and aesthetically. If you look at a buckle we did 4 years ago, it won’t look the same.
MW: Where are you selling the most product — major retailers, green grass shops, online?
ER: Most of our current sales are from Green Grass shops and retailers. We will be updating our Website here soon for a better customer experience. Our goal is to increase in each area over the coming year.
MW: Many companies that produce a specific product often try to diversify themselves into a range of areas. What’s the game plan for NexBelt with that in mind?
ER: Our team has had many discussions about diversification. Our goal has always been to focus on one thing and one thing only, “Belts”. We do not have any plans to stray away from this statigic business plan. We believe that with this in mind, we will become the best in the industry, because, it is all we do and all that we will focus on. Our desire is to be the best. That being said, we have designed and patented a strap for a Guitar and we are very excited to say that it will be out in the market place by the end of the year. Stay tuned.
MW: Starting a company is one thing — getting momentum going is often the next hurdle — what’s the biggest challenge still ahead and how do you plan on dealing with it?
ER: The future success of Nexbelt will heavily depend on people. Good people are the key to maintaining future success. From the top all the way down, getting the right people on board is our focus. Also, partnering with great vendors and retailers that have the same goals as we do will be very important as we grow. This leads me to our vision statement in which we live by.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?