Engineering a plan to work full time in the industry of the sport he loved allowed Anthony Shareef to break ground as the founder and CEO of the first Black-owned golf apparel company, Sweet Spot Apparel. A PGA Diversity Partner and African-American Golfer’s Digest Golf Apparel Company of the Year, the Atlanta-based company has established a unique presence in the multibillion-dollar global golf industry.
Over the past decade, Sweet Spot Apparel has grown from a reseller to a highly regarded manufacturer of fine golf apparel. The company also offers custom embroidery and logo development for sales meetings,Â corporate events and tournaments, as well as a wide variety of products including sweaters; performance knit golf and polo shirts; tailored slacks; skorts, shorts and capris for women; and outerwear and accessories.
After having attended the Black Enterprise Golf & Tennis Challenge for the past eleven years, Shareef tells Black Enterprise more about his company, why he’s coming back Miami’s Doral Golf Resort & Spa this Labor Day Weekend for the 2012 competition and how he feels the event can benefit other entrepreneurs.
BE: How did you launch Sweet Spot Apparel?
I am an engineer by trade, but I have been an avid golfer for 17 years and I wanted to work in the golf industry. I started thinking of different ideas of how to get in the industry and in 2001, I started a line of golf apparel and called it Sweet Spot.
The name came when I was sitting with a professional golfer for one of our localÂ tournaments and I saw an advertisement on television and it said something about a ‘sweet spot.’ I thought that would be a pretty catchy name! We then came up with the slogan, “Can you hit it?â€ because whether you are holding a golf club, baseball bat or tennis racquet, you aspire to hit the sweet spot. When you hit the sweet spot the ball takes off and goes far and straight and that’s the question: Can you hit it?
Five years ago, when we started to manufacture, we were the only African-American manufacturer of golf apparel in the country. If you could imagine, this is a $76 billion industry of which African Americans make up less than 1 percent–from the business perspective. People like Tiger Woods are the driving force of the golf industry but when it comes to providing products and services, we are not having the gains we should. These statistics are additional motivation and confirmation that we are in the right space at the right time. We love the game and are consumers of the products and services but when you look at the business owners and service providers, it becomes a different story. Growing this business has had its challenges, but what’s worthwhile is never easy. Sweet Spot is an international business and we have seen consistent growth every year since we started manufacturing our own apparel. Sweet Spot is committed to demonstrating how you can make your passion your work.Â Sweet Spot wants to provide a platform for golfers that deserve much needed supported but have a difficult time finding sponsors.
BE: How did you put things in place to actually launch your products?
We started as a reseller. We would buy other companies’ products, put our name on it and started branding the Sweet Spot name. About three and a half to four years after that, we realized we could not compete because we were going to sell to stores and resellers, but our prices were $4 to $5 dollars higher than what they were buying it for because we were trying to add in our profit margin. At that point I realized that we had to start manufacturing our own products.
We then started traveling throughout several parts of South America to produce our goods–a turning point for Sweet Spot.Â It has allowed us to continue to engage in this business and be competitive because now that we make our own wares, we can be flexible with pricing and our styles, including custom orders and more.
BE: Can you explain Sweet Spot’s products and services?
Sweet Spot offers fine golf, corporate and lifestyle apparel. We offer a wide variety of accessories as well for men, women and children. We will eventually come out with shoes and equipment. Sweet Spot specializes in tournament and custom apparel as well as uniforms.
I was just looking at a Black Enterprise story on Daymond John, [co-founder] of FUBU. They had a targeted market that was untapped and they experienced great success. I look at their success and it has given me great inspiration to continue this path.
BE: What are the benefits of attending the Golf and Tennis Challenge for entrepreneurs?
The Golf and Tennis Challenge is a great avenue and opportunity to get to meet people you would not ordinarily get the chance to meet.Â A round of golf usually takes about four and a half to five hours to complete. Within that time frame you have the opportunity to get to know your playing partners. You can watch how they handle adversity and their integrity, plus they also get to see you and learn about you as well. It is a great tool for business.
In the 11 times that I have attended the Challenge I have met some wonderful people and created new friends and business contacts. It is a wonderful tool for African Americans to get together during Labor Day weekend, enjoy stellar entertainment in the evenings and great golf, tennis, spa, and other activities during the day. I have been very pleased and will continue to support the great events that B.E. hosts.
BE: What are the most important things entrepreneurs should be doing to get the most out of their Challenge experience, particularly as relates to the game of golf?
The Challenge experience allows you the opportunity and platform of getting in front close to one thousand people that affords great potential business and personal connections. Attendees should be prepared for full days of fun and networking. It is a unique opportunity to share your business idea or your business with people that you would not be able to speak with otherwise.
As it relates to golf, beginners should be prepared to take Rodney Green‘s clinic while they are at the event. Advanced golfers should start preparing for a great tournament and some great competition. Make sure you are prepared for that South Florida heat and some high rough at the Doral. The courses are no pushover but I guarantee attendees will have a great time.
BE: What do you feel has been your greatest success since starting Sweet Spot Apparel?
One of the major highlights for me has been becoming an internationally recognized brand and being able to legimately compete with quality and prices. We have also inspired others to pursue their dreams regardless of the challenges that they face.
I’ve had a chance to travel, meet different people, and be introduced to other cultures as well as expose them to the African American culture, since many of them have never done business with us before. When I go to some of our factories, they have never seen an African American come in and do business. It has been refreshing for me and for them because most of the larger companies do not have or send Black representatives to make these transactions. Growing this brand beyond the United States has been a great accomplishment.
The other highlight, and what I enjoy the most, is being able to give inspiration to others. We have a lot of youth that are starting to become more aware of golf. Similar to in the seventies and eighties when we wanted to be the next Michael Jordan or the next greatest basketball player, now we have that in golf where we want to be the next Tiger Woods. Though I love the game of golf, I have no desire to become a professional golfer. But I do get to work in the industry that I love and do what I love every day. This allows me to let children and our youth know that if they put their mind to it, they can do what they like. If you can imagine all of the larger companies in the sports industry, we are just a small company trying to carve out a piece of the market for ourselves and when you don’t have the resources that the big companies have, then that challenge takes a little longer. Nevertheless, it will be much sweeter once that victory is here.
Be sure to join us at the 2016 Black Enterprise Golf & Tennis Challenge, September 1-4, PGA National Resort & Spa, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida.Â Register now.