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Gator Golf: Do you love Golf, the way I do?


In the spring of 2007, a London based entrepreneur – Roman Dubov – was servicing his car in a small garage in the capital’s outskirts. The garage was closed, so to check its opening hours he went into a nearby building. Here he met a young man who was rearranging numerous boxes, whilst checking his computer and taking two phone calls at the same time. This put a smile on Roman’s face, as he admired the young man’s multitasking but could still not understand what he was doing, so he inquired.

This sparked a lively conversation.

“I sell golf balls collected in the fields or in the bottom of golf lakes. Business is not bad, but I do not have enough working capital to build the required team that will collect balls all over England. If I had the money I could be making around £50,000 a year”, the young man said. His name was David Marshall and he just graduated from the Kingston University.

Today, these two men – Roman Dubov and David Marshall – run a group of companies with a multimillion-pound turnover and are the industry leaders in the UK and Europe. It is estimated they control (according to various estimates) between 40% and 70% of the lake ball market in Europe.

“Initially, I did not believe in the idea and if it’s feasible to sell these balls on an industrial scale. My love of sport, over my business knowledge made me excited to see if this would work.

According to market experts, over one billion golf balls are lost annually. On average a player will lose 4 balls per round. Every year 350m balls are recovered and re-sold.

“For me it was very interesting to bring the business to a new level, optimise cash flows, hire more people and buy more balls. Roman quickly grasped the business but I could still feel he didn’t think it could be a large-scale business. I have since had long enough to prove how valuable this business can be”, adds David.

Reports show that golf is the only sport where the number of players is growing from year to year. The average price of a new ball is in the range of $ 0.5 for the poor quality ball to 7 dollars for a premium category.

“During the first six months, I was watching how the business worked. The model was very simple: high margins, long shelf life, ability to store large quantity of goods in a confined space. The global competition was low, and nearly non-existent in UK and Europe. The market leaders are not willing to invest into second hand balls and small businesses don’t have enough turnover to compete with a multimillion industry-scale business like us. The only downside I saw was that it required a lot of manual labour and so we would need to automate our processes. After six months, we decided to further invest to grow quicker. We rented a warehouse and factory, hired a professional team, launched online shops and developed the design and brand name. Initially we focused on online and only a few golf club accounts, but naturally we wanted to enter the supermarket and sport goods chains. At this time many supermarkets were not ready for these products”, added Roman.

Today, practically all large UK retail chains – including Tesco, Argos, Asda and Aldi – sell sporting goods. Lake balls are sold under different brands and different packaging. Spain, France, Ireland and Germany and currently entering this segment. Two out of three balls sold by those chains are supplied by Gator Golf, which is owned by Roman and David.

Of course the recession helped us, as more people were looking for cost effective golf balls. On average our lake balls are sold at 50% discount to their new equivalent. We keep our cost to a minimum and often golf clubs pay us for recycling, which helps maintain reasonable prices and high margins.

“Over time, we added a line of our own new balls, under the “G Range” brand which we make in China. Also we have added accessories, golf bags and merchandise to satisfy demand from supermarkets”, said David Marshall.

Since I started working in this business, I also run other projects with different business models and ideas, but I never came across a business like Gator Golf. Naturally at some point the business will be sold – this is why any business is created. However, this time with sad feelings as it will be hard to say goodbye to such an interesting and original idea”, says Dubov with a hint of irony.

In 2011, the partners sold a 25% stake to an independent silent investor. In 2013, they plan expansion into the US and Australia. In Roman Dubov’s words, “By 2017, we want to be top 3 lake ball producer in the world, which will require us to move up by only one position”.

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