Up next in our Q & A Series is Alan Barker, President of Infinite Discs. Infinite Discs has been an integral partner of Ledgestone for the last several years and Infinite is the official vendor of the 2020 Ledgestone event.
1 - How did you get hooked up with working with Nate and Ledgestone?
I’m not sure I remember exactly how, but I believe Nate reached out to us in 2014 about being an Elite Sponsor for the 2015 Ledgestone Insurance Open. At that time we were a relatively new company and it was quite the financial risk for us to be investing so much in fundraiser discs, but we liked the sponsorship arrangement and thought it was a good opportunity to get our brand aligned with what was going to be the richest NT event in disc golf history.
Note from Nate: This is a funny story; after I signed on with Discraft and started thinking about how to raise funds, I came up with the Ledgestone disc fundraiser idea. I remember going to google and searching for various companies and one of the companies was Infinite Discs. I literally cold called them and Alan happened to answer and within a few minutes of our conversation he expressed interest.
2 - Infinite Discs clearly has been growing the last few years. We always enjoy seeing how many current discs are on the site. How many people work for Infinite Discs now?
At the moment Infinite Discs has 16 employees, about half of which are part time students who work shifts between college classes.
3 - What's the average day look like for Infinite Discs?
Our morning crew of warehouse workers arrives at 6:00 AM and starts pulling orders. At around 8:00 AM the office staff arrives, opens the retail store, and starts taking photos of discs to add to online inventory. Our marketing guys Todd and Dylan figure out what products are new and what we should promote through our various marketing outlets. Throughout the day additional workers arrive and leave performing the primary tasks of pulling/shipping orders and adding new inventory until about 9:00 PM each night. Nearly every day some sort of new shipment of discs arrive from one of the disc manufacturers and so while it’s always something new, the routine is mostly the same.
4 - The sport of disc golf has been growing at an exponential level. Can disc golf keep up this growth?
That’s hard to say. I do believe that disc golf will continue to grow, but growth levels will eventually plateau in many areas due to a lack of available land for disc golf courses. Disc golf can only grow so much as there are accessible courses to play, venues to hold tournaments, etc. In Utah, one of the problems that we have is finding good land for disc golf courses. While there is plenty of available land, it’s hard to find public open spaces with mature trees needed to make disc golf courses interesting. In big densely populated cities, it’s just not possible to have many accessible disc golf courses.
5 - Paul McBeth and Paige Pierce switching to Discraft shook up the disc golf world. What's been the reaction on the business side of Infinite Discs for those moves?
While the switches of Paul and Paige haven’t made too much of a difference for our business operations as a whole, it’s definitely shifted the amount of product we move among the different brands. In 2017 Discraft was our fifth or sixth most popular brand, and we rarely did custom stamps or special editions with Discraft because their discs just didn’t sell. Discraft is now our #2 selling brand, and our Discraft inventory has a lower average days on shelf than any other brand. The rise of Discraft has definitely shifted our marketing focus.
6 - Disc golf is still a young sport compared to other sports such as golf, tennis, etc. What will it take for disc golf to get its "big break" and land a national sponsor for an event or player or get on ESPN?
The big break could potentially happen right now if there was a big tournament during the COVID-19 pandemic. With no other live sporting events right now, people who otherwise wouldn’t be interested would watch disc golf on ESPN right now. In normal times, I think disc golf still has a long way to go before we can expect any serious ESPN coverage. There needs to be lots more demand for disc golf before it makes financial sense for ESPN to broadcast live events or even highlights of the major tournaments. The reality is that unless you actively play and “live” disc golf, you’re not going to watch it. As a spectator sport, the current disc golf format is really slow and doesn’t always have the built-in drama of mainstream sports.
7 - We recently saw some pictures of some expansion going on at Infinite Discs. What's going on with that?
The reality is that we just keep growing at a rapid pace every year. Building our initial warehouse took nearly two years to complete and by the time we moved in at the end of 2017, it was already almost full. We now finally have enough space that we can stock things like large bags and baskets and will be able to increase our inventory of apparel and accessories. We will be able to store discs from the Infinite Line ourselves and will soon be getting our own hot stamp machine.
8 - The COVID-19 pandemic has affected every corner of the world. How has that affected Infinite's business?
It’s been absolutely crazy around here. While we have closed our in-person retail store and lost out on a lot of our normal tournament business, online sales have been at all-time highs. When the stay at home orders first began we saw about a 50% increase in sales, but once the general public started receiving their stimulus checks, our normal sales volumes doubled. Trying to keep up with increased demand while maintaining a “safe” workplace has been a huge challenge. We have modified and staggered work schedules, are working some insane hours right now, and have hired three new employees in the last two weeks. The other big challenge has been trying to restock inventory that we so desperately need. With most of the manufacturers either closed or not at full capacity, we haven’t been able to keep high demand items in stock. Our current putter selection is especially depleted as demand for putters during the lockdown has been especially high.
9 - Infinite Discs has sponsored many events and now has started to sponsor players. How important is it to support events and players for the company?
As a company, figuring out the appropriate level for sponsorship is something I always struggle with because it is so hard to measure return on investment for tournaments and players. I’m just glad that as a company we are in a financial position where we are able to help support players and tournaments. In the end, as long as our efforts are helping to grow and improve disc golf we will benefit in the long run.
10 - We try to ask all of our interviewers this question: do you still get out and play disc golf, or is work too busy for that?
One of my New Years' resolutions at the beginning of the year was to play a round of disc golf every nice weather day. Unfortunately, our winter was long and cold and with COVID-19 happening as soon as the weather got nice, that hasn’t allowed much play to happen. Now that the weather is nice, I’m squeezing in a few solo nine hole rounds in each week where I usually run between holes.
Thank you to Alan for taking the time to answer our questions. Please stay tuned for the rest of our releases in our Q & A series!