For years, when disc golfers have thought about on the course clothing, rarely does the idea of an innovative belt come to mind. Disc golfers historically discuss and think about shoes, shirts, and pants. That has started to change thanks to GRIP6. Unlike any other belt before them, GRIP6 has started to become a household name within the sport of disc golf thanks to their recent sponsoring of players such as Paul McBeth, Nate Sexton, Jeremy Koling, Garret Gurthie, and even the Jomez Crew. They are making their mark within the sport and showing us that belts can be both comfortable and stylish as well as well as reliable in high performance situations. I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kevin Rogers, the CCO and Wholesale Sales Director for GRIP6 to learn about the start of the company and how it found its way into sport of disc golf. Enjoy!
When asked about the birth of GRIP6 belts, he began to tell me about how the idea started in the mind of BJ Minson. “the idea of GRIP6 came from a wallet.” BJ was a tinkerer, he always wanted to solve problems and fix products that bothered him in his daily life. He wanted to build a better wallet, a simple item that if done right could be beneficial. However, “the wallet design proved to be incredibly difficult to economically manufacture in the US so the focus was placed on other products BJ had ideas about.” Kevin went on to say that “BJ loved belts but hated how poorly they held up, or held tight”. He started toying with the buckle locking mechanism for webbing belts and come up with an innovative design that hadn’t been done before. He then built several prototypes, sending them off to friends and family and once the feedback was good, he put it on Kickstarter.” Kickstarter is a great platform for those who need start-up capital and want to get the ball rolling on a product. Their Kickstarter took off.
Kevin told me “organically it made $250,000 and it took the idea from concept to business almost overnight.” After the Kickstarter launch, BJ brought on a close friends Winslow and David Burton.” Winslow helped manufacture the product and David contributed additional capital for machinery. Surprisingly, it has taken less than 4 years for GRIP6 to transform itself from a simple idea, to being a very successful company that is now one of the biggest companies sponsoring competitive disc golf.
“A few years ago we were pushing our brand with the PGA fan base” says Kevin. “While both sports have fans who play and follow the sport, golf’s fan base is simply much larger than that of disc golf, and has much higher national recognition, so it made sense for that to be the first target market.” After a few years of attending trade shows and working in that industry Kevin felt a change was necessary. “Our heart wasn’t in it. Plain and simple. None of us really play golf so we never got comfortable.” It was at that point that Kevin began researching the disc golf market and how viable it would be as an advertising outlet.
GRIP6 entered the disc golf community as an experiment. “I was a disc golfer and so were my kids, but at that point I really didn’t consider the sport to be large enough to warrant a large-scale advertising campaign until I started reading an article on niche advertising that featured some stories of Subaru’s early days in the US market.” Kevin began to draw similarities between what Subaru had done, and what might be possible in the sport of disc golf. “Though it’s growing rapidly, disc golf is still definitely niche. One day I just decided we were going to take the risk and give it a try”. It wasn’t long before he started to realize that there was a large following of very loyal and enthusiastic fans. They put all their chips in and didn’t lose. They have gotten to the point of a title sponsorship for the biggest event in disc golf from not being involved in the sport just a few short years ago. “It was a long way from where I began in the sport, that’s for sure.”
Kevin recalls, “I was first exposed to disc golf 12 years ago as an executive for a chain of outdoor shops along the Wasatch Front here in Utah. We sold disc golf discs at a few of our stores and one day while reviewing the books I realized we were going through discs like hot cakes. I thought that people were stealing them. We were going through that many that fast.”
From that point forward, he slowly realized that disc golf had a bigger following than he had thought. But Kevin didn’t know too much about the culture of the sport apart from the fact that the discs sold well at his shops. He said that “I was an ultimate player and had played disc golf a couple times with a regular frisbee but I didn’t start really getting into it until my kids started playing ultimate too. We had a small local ball-golf course that was being switched over to disc golf and we saw the parking lot go from empty to nearly filling up each weekend. My family and I began to play a lot and enjoy the sport.” This is where the idea for GRIP6 to sponsor players and tournaments came from.” Kevin fell in love with the sport and realized after playing for a few years, that there was something special there. Something he could use to help grow GRIP6 and the sport of dsic golf. Kevin got to see the passion and love for the sport from its players first hand and he knew this was where GRIP6 needed to be.
As previously mentioned, GRIP6 does more than just sponsor events. GRIP6’s team of professional players includes some of the very best in the world. Players on the team are financially supported by GRIP6, which helps to allow many of them to be able to tour full time. Kevin explained to me that “we pay our athletes a stipend to help create a livable wage. We make up a percentage of their overall salaries.” They want their players to be taken care of. Kevin really emphasized the point that they want players to be able to earn a living while playing disc golf. He went on to say, “we don’t predicate their salaries based on their tournament performance.” They want their players to be comfortable. To get on this team there needs to be more than just your play that defines you. Kevin told me “we look for people that will talk to their fans and be able to have a level of professionalism. We are looking for people who are willing to maintain that both on and off the course.” Professionalism is very important to GRIP6. More so than any scorecard can show, professionalism is what they need. They have picked a great lineup of players and are always looking for more guys that fit the mold if the time comes for more sponsorships.
Now GRIP6 as a whole can’t have a favorite disc and course. That would be complicated and difficult. So instead I wanted to know what Kevin’s favorite disc and course were. When talking about discs he had a tie, as some do. He told me, “my favorite disc at the moment is a tie between a slightly beat up 160g Star Destroyer for backhand throws or a 178g G-Star Destroyer for my forehand and I throw both ways about 50/50” Interesting choice deciding between two similar discs with only the weight and plastic being the difference. But people like what they like. He also mentioned, “I carry a few Truths, I like the Lucid EMac Truth a lot. I have tried to get off it two or three times, but I can throw it dead straight or on a hyzer line with control and accuracy so it is hard to let it go. It was one of the first discs that I ever threw so it feels like I should grow out of it but I haven’t yet.” The Truth is a fantastic mid-range disc regardless of whether it is an Emac Truth or a tradition Truth. It has become a true staple in many peoples bags nowadays. Because of that, Kevin’s choice of the Truth hardly comes as a surprise. His favorite courses were not what I may have expected, but given what I know about their reputations, make total sense. “I would say my favorite course is Pier Park in Oregon” Answered Kevin. “I would also say that I like Turkey Lake in Orlando (I travel to Orlando a lot for work), but the baskets need to be replaced there. I like to learn the courses around me, and I have played both of those courses quite a bit.” Learning a new course is something Kevin really seems to enjoy. The ability to know each hole like the back of your hand is something he strives for. He continued by talking about Utah, he told me “Southern Utah is becoming a hot bed for disc golf in Utah. Some notable courses are the Parowan Canyon Complex, the Three Peaks Complex and the all-new Thunderbird Gardens.” Utah is building a strong reputation for disc golf and Kevin is enjoying every minute of it.
The 2019 season has just started and we’ve already seen several great events. Plans have already begun for being the World’s title sponsor in 2020, but the focus is squarely on 2019 at the moment. Kevin told me that “GRIP^ will be developing new product lines that are disc golf specific. We also spent about $750,000 to bring more machinery to keep more processes in house.” It is exciting to hear that a company is focusing on releasing disc golf specific products. And the machinery they are bringing in will make future product development that much easier. Kevin said, “in order to produce more attractive products we decided to purchase a laser engraving machine for in house purposes and prototyping. This will soon give us the ability to engrave things with some depth on belts rather than just the face.” Having that ability is sure to lead to cooler, more interesting products, but the changes don’t stop there. There are changes coming to the straps as well. Kevin explained that “strap wise we are trying to make things better and more efficient. Patterns and two-color straps are a possibility.” It’s looking to be a very interesting year for the gear coming from GRIP6. The many options they have brewing at their new facilities and with their new technology is something to watch out for as the year continues.
Usually, I want to get advice about the game of disc golf and how others can improve that aspect of the sport. But, since GRIP6 is building a better brand, I thought it would be better to get some advice on how to build a brand. Kevin started off by saying “the brand itself has to be based on something legitimate. You have to ask, ‘How am I improving someone’s life?’ If you aren’t doing that, you are just talking, and if you look around, talk never lasts very long.” The main idea at GRIP6 is to build products that work well, last long, and improve lives. Now, you don’t necessarily have to build the next big thing, but something to help improve peoples lives is where your thought process needs to be. Kevin continued, “If all you focus on is advertising, you’ll eventually be the proud owner of a failed company. You should first focus on making a product that works really well.” Kevin adds that “You also need to be okay with slow growth. We live in a world of instant gratification but the best brands are built over time and they often do so without sacrificing quality in the name of speed. Tempering your timeline and focusing on quality allows room for word of mouth advertising, which is by far the most powerful, and that takes time.” He finished with “Don’t ever neglect your customer service.” Quality customer service is so incredibly important in the brand building business he says. “Any business can sit back and look smart when customers are praising you, that’s not hard, it’s how you handle yourself when you make a mistake that matters – and trust me, you will.” Kevin has shared his wealth of knowledge and paved a beginner’s path to build a brand and I think the advice is great for anyone looking to build something of their own.
There are many things the world may not yet know about GRIP6. So, I asked Kevin to tell me one thing I didn’t know about GRIP6. “So far, we have donated about 100,000 dollars towards conservation causes. We work with three non-profit organizations that focus on pollinator health and habitat, bison habitat and restoration, and wild salmon habitat. We donate 10% of gross sales each year from our Conservation Series.” As a final note, Kevin added, “we try to take very good care of our employees and their families.”
I would like to thank Kevin for taking the time out of his day to let me ask him so many questions, and for providing so many thoughtful answers. If you want to see what GRIP6 is all about you can find them on Instagram @grip6belt. You can find them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/gripsixbelt/ and on their website https://grip6.com/. Look out for more coming from me soon!
Picture Credit to Kevin Rogers