The New Look on the Greens

How one entrepreneur merged hip-hop with golf apparel

Ever since Tiger Woods entered the golf circuit, the sport hasn’t been the same. The “new face in golf” has attracted players of every ethnicity and has inspired Craig Tanner to change with the times.

As president of Urban Golf Gear (UGG), Tanner has given a fresh, sporty look to golfers’ mundane attire by combining technical fabrications with a taste of urban flair. The Oakland, California-based firm, launched in June 1997 as an “athleisure” apparel brand, offers windshirts; jackets; T-shirts; women’s baby T-shirts; spaghetti strap tanks; golf shirts; and hats made of fabrics like microfiber, drytech, and supplex. The apparel ranges in price from $13 for golf towels to $20 for T-shirts and up to $140 for jackets.

Tanner earned cash to start UGG, which now has six employees, by refurbishing and selling a used car. With the $1,500 he gained from the sale, he purchased T-shirts, hats, and prefabricated golf shirts. He then embroidered his logo on the items and sold his new line to a local golf troupe. To meet subsequent expenses, Tanner relied on over $50,000 in personal credit. Revenues reached $400,000 in 2003, nearly doubling 2002′s sales.

A graduate of San Jose State University, Tanner worked as a stock broker and a sales manager before he became his own boss. The 41-year-old was inspired to start the company after witnessing Woods win his third amateur golf title: “When Tiger won, I knew that people of color and kids would get into golf.”

Despite the $5 billion and $15 billion that consumers spend in the golf and urban apparel markets, respectively, Tanner found it difficult to find distribution. Tanner states, “Buyers are making it hard for the line to be picked up by retailers.” He continues, “In turn, retailers are showing resistance to the gear because they do not understand the UGG brand.”

After numerous unsuccessful attempts to secure financing, Tanner decided to operate as though an influx of cash would not be immediate. Instead of trying to tweak his business to accommodate investors, Tanner devoted himself to moving forward with UGG.

Despite the setbacks, the entrepreneur persevered. In an effort to reach the public, Tanner established independent distributorships where “distributors” would buy UGG’s apparel at predetermined prices and sell the line to customers. He’s also found success selling customized commemorative golf packages through charity golf tournaments under a profit-sharing plan.

The entrepreneur sells UGG at golf tournaments, fundraisers, and events such as Black Expo, African Marketplace, and the Congressional Black Caucus.

The turning point for UGG occurred when repeat customers sought out the apparel. Tanner relies on networking and word of mouth to help establish national recognition of his brand. Dedication has prompted his gear to be featured on TV shows such as The Tracy Morgan Show and The Bernie Mac Show and in movies such as Two Can Play That Game and S.W.A.T.

Tanner plans to establish flagship stores in major metropolitan cities. He is currently setting up a licensing deal with a Japanese trading company to handle process manufacturing, fabric cutting, assembling,

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