Dubai entrepreneur serves up affordable golfing equipment in the Gulf

by Glen Dalakian II, May 27, 2013

“I’m an avid golfer, a scratch golfer,” says Dubai-based entrepreneur Dean Cheesley. "But I also have an entrepreneurial streak." To bring his two passions together, Cheesley launched e-commerce golf equipment site eGolf Outlet in 2011 to offer more affordable golf equipment to players in the region.

He launched a similar idea in Australia, his country of origin; in 2005, after practicing law there for 10 years, he set up an online golf retailing business that allowed golfers to buy equipment or trade used items.

Once he and his wife moved to Dubai in 2008 to practice law, a friend recommended that he sell the somewhat successful company instead of just letting it die.

“That was my first opportunity to learn from an experience where I grew a business to the point that it became sellable,” he says. He sold the business and has stayed in the Middle East ever since.

Yet Cheesley couldn't escape the entrepreneurial urge. After practicing law during his first few years in Dubai, he began looking at the golf market in the region. With major international golfing competitions like the Dubai Desert Classic, the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship, the Qatar Masters, and the Race to Dubai, golf equipment is a growing market, he says. 

It was also ripe for the taking; there aren’t any major golf e-commerce stores in the regional market, so most golfers were simply purchasing clubs from the U.S. While some warned him that the market was heavily protected by key participants, clubs and brands, he quickly learned that this wasn't true. “The law is there to protect you,” he says. “Locals won’t push you out of the market and competition is actually welcome.”

So in 2011, while continuing his legal career, he jumped back into starting a similar business with eGolf Outlet, investing his own capital, building a team of four, and bootstrapping.

Making golf more accessible

“One of the issues with the game of golf, it’s a perception and a reality, is that it’s an expensive game,” says Cheesley.

To fight this perception and make golf more open for new players, eGolf Outlet offers a “Shop by Condition” function where customers can buy and trade in used products online. For example, if a customer wants to buy a new club and trade in an old one, they can go to the PGA.com (Professional Golfers' Association) value guide and enter in the piece of equipment they wish to trade. Here equipment is listed with a low, average, and high value; eGolf Outlet automatically pays the high value for a trade-in.

When the customer places an order for a new club and receives the delivery, they can place the old club they want to trade in the same box and send it back to eGolf Outlet. The value of the club is then refunded to the customer’s credit card. If they purchased via cash-on-delivery (COD), the customers receives a check for the value via courier and, if they paid via PayPal, the value is refunded directly to their account.

The company also offers trade-in days at golf courses across the UAE where players can come and trade in their clubs and get money on the spot. “Sometimes people come down with 4-5 bags of golf clubs,” notes Cheesley. “It allows us to meet potential customers and demonstrates to them that our business is real and not just up on the website.”

Customers can also simply buy new clubs, which Cheesley offers for prices less than local malls and comparable to U.S. prices. He offers over 1,200 products, including major brands Callaway, Mizuno, Cobra, Puma, and Cleveland, under exclusive GCC online supplier contracts, and promises next-day delivery to customers in the UAE for orders placed before 2 pm.

Encouraging credit card use in the Gulf

Although the golfing community in the region is full of expats, the number of local Arab golfers is picking up. eGolf Outlet’s biggest market is the UAE, which has over 25,000 golfers registered with the Emirates Golf Foundation, and perhaps an equal number of casual players, says Cheesley.

The company's next largest market is Saudi Arabia, where a lack of local equipment also pushes players to buy abroad. eGolf Outlet is hoping to fill this gap and dominate the Gulf market.

One interesting aspect of operating in the golfing niche is that eGolf Outlet is seeing 90% of its transactions completed via credit card, through payment solution CashU, a very positive sign for e-commerce use in the region.

Previously, the company had tried using PayPal and COD via Aramex Shop & Ship as their only payment methods. Yet because PayPal transactions are only listed in U.S. dollars, customers would see a price that seemed higher than the AED price listed, and would abandon their shopping carts before purchasing, says Cheesley. “Now that we work with CashU, people see they are directed to the national bank of Abu Dhabi and are more comfortable."

It's an issue that PayPal, which just launched in Egypt has pledged to fix. That would be useful, he says; “I don’t want question marks in my customer’s mind when they’re going through checkout.” 

The issue isn't holding eGolf Outlet back, however; the site has over 8,000 newsletter subscribers and is close to breaking even, says Cheesley.

Yet, he says, “I don’t focus on profits now. What I focus on is being in this business for the long term; it’s about setting up the business for 10-15 years from now and becoming the leading online retailer of golf in the region.”

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Glen is Features Editor at Wamda. You can follow him on Twitter @glenjd2, connect with him on LinkedIn and Google+, or reach him at glen[at]wamda[dot]com.