One of the questions I get most often is why I started making Geau Sport tennis bags. To answer this properly, I need to answer two questions separately. Those questions are (1) why did I start my own business (2) why tennis bags?
I previously wrote about why I wanted to start my own business in part 1. You can read that blog post here.
In part 2, I’ll share with you why I chose to design and develop the best tennis bag possible and how Geau Sport wasn’t my first attempt at starting a business.
For most of my life, I’ve chosen to live a healthy lifestyle. I stayed fit in my adult years through mountain biking, hiking, and running. Exercise allowed me to decompress in a way that I couldn’t get anywhere else.
I found myself running more often and became more particular of the running shoes that I would wear. The more particular I became, the more expensive those shoes became. The old saying of “you get what you pay for” seems to hold true for most products, and it certainly held true for running shoes.
At that time, the idea of creating a new, digitally native brand, and launching that brand without the help of traditional retailers, was becoming mainstream. Think Warby Parker and Dollar Shave Club. The promise of these D2C brands at that time was often to provide products that are as good as the leading products in the market but offering them at a lower price because of the removed layers of distribution.
It occurred to me that most of the dollars that are going into my running shoes were going to distributors, retailers, and overpaid executives. The idea of creating a new direct to consumer running shoe brand consumed me. I’ve had other business ideas before, but this one made sense for me to act on because it leveraged many of the skills that I crafted during my professional career in product management and tapped into a category that I was fairly knowledgeable about.
The brand name of this new venture was Soulstice. A lot of work went into building the business plan. I met with running shoe designers, sourcing agents, factories, marketing agencies, and investors.
Thankfully, Soulstice never launched. The deeper I delved into the business, the more I realized that this was a bad venture. It turns out there are a lot of reasons why we don’t see new running shoe brands enter the market very often – high performing competitors, immense upfront costs to develop the product, large number of sizes and colors, huge minimum order quantities from factories, high return rates from customers, the list goes on. Just getting off the ground would require a 7-figure investment, and it would take many years just to break even.
I decided to run away from the running shoe business and target a different product category that wouldn’t require a colossal investment to start and was ripe for disruption.
I started playing tennis when I was 8 years old. By the time that I was 12 years old, I focused all of my free time on tennis, and I was traveling throughout the Southeast playing in tournaments every other weekend. It was a grind to practice every day, all year, and to travel so much. I loved it for many years but, eventually, it felt like a job, and I lost the motivation to continue. I burned out. I graduated high school in 1995 and stopped playing tennis for a very long time.
For most of my adult life, I focused my spare time running, mountain biking, and hiking. In addition, I spent a good chunk of my career as the Director of Product Management for an outdoor brand that makes kayaks, canoes, SUP boards, and all the related gear you would need for those activities. Tennis wasn’t really on my radar, but I did think about it every now and then.
In 2013, I heard about a new tennis facility with some clay courts that had opened just 5 minutes from my house here in Greenville, SC. I checked it out in person without much of a plan in mind. I situated myself on a balcony, overlooking the courts and players. My senses became attuned to the sound of the ball popping off the racket and the feet sliding along the clay. I was drawn into those familiar sights and sounds that I had not heard for so long. Before I knew it, my heartbeat began to increase a little, as memories of the epic court battles from my junior days awakened in my mind. And then it dawned on me – I want to play tennis again.
I rummaged through my basement to see if I still had my old tennis equipment. I found a few Prince Synergy 28 Oversize rackets from the early 90s, a couple packets of string, and a bright, salmon-colored tennis bag with an obnoxiously large neon blue Prince logo. It was probably the best tennis bag available back in those days. I thought to myself “good enough, let’s get to it.”
I brought a couple rackets to the tennis club that I had visited earlier that day and asked them to string it to 74 pounds with Kevlar and synthetic gut. The guy across the counter looked at me like I was crazy and wouldn’t let me go through with it. He introduced me to some new racket models to demo, explained the new string technology, and educated me on what makes a good tennis shoe these days.
I hammered away at the ball machine for weeks to get my timing back. Throughout the process, I would demo various racket/string combinations. I was genuinely blown away by how much better tennis gear had advanced during my 18-year hiatus, and emphatically chose my new racket, string, and shoes. All that was left was a new tennis bag, and that’s where things took a turn.
When looking at my tennis bag options, I was completely underwhelmed. Tennis bags literally did not change for 18 years. I compared them to my old tennis bag from the basement, and couldn’t find any differences. Same huge logo, same loud design, same lack of organization, same cheap materials. Then, when I considered the level of bag innovation that I was used to seeing in the outdoor industry, I was even more disappointed. I thought about it and assumed that the tennis racket brands that were making these tennis bags must have deprioritized the category and viewed them as walking billboards for their racket brand. I begrudgingly bought the best tennis bag from the array of options, which all looked the same, and went on my way.
As my tennis game slowly came back into form over time, I continued in my profession and developed hundreds of products within the outdoor industry – technical apparel, paddles, coolers, bags, dry bags, storage solutions – the list is long. In parallel, I was working on my running shoe business, Soulstice, at night and on the weekends.
As I wrote earlier, I realized that Soulstice wasn’t going to be a smart business, but my dreams of entrepreneurship didn’t die with it. I outlined the various lessons that I’ve learned throughout my professional career and my failed attempt at starting a running shoe brand. I came up with some guard rails for me to consider when choosing a new product category to go after.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that tennis bags were the perfect fit. My personal experience with that awful tennis bag finally became worth it because it became the catalyst for Geau Sport tennis bags. I saw an opportunity to change the paradigm and make the tennis bag a coveted piece of gear. That is the foundation of Geau Sport, but our journey is just beginning.
Since then, Geau Sport has sold through what I consider the best tennis bags in the market at a rate 4x faster than my most optimistic projections. I currently have 6 new tennis bags in development and am looking to expand distribution to other countries.
We remain an independent, family-owned business headquartered in the beautiful community of Greenville, SC. We are not VC funded or part of a larger corporate conglomerate and I intend to keep it that way. This freedom allows us to design the products that we are most passionate about, take risks, and prioritize product excellence over shareholders.
Thanks for reading part 2 of Why I Started Geau Sport. If you think that my story motivates you to chase your dreams and forge your own path in life, feel free to share this post to your friends.