sbj.net - Springfield Business Journal Online

Monday, April 6, 2009

Black-light golf concept enters region
Kansas businessmen open courses in Springfield, Branson and Joplin

Jeremy Elwood
Web Editor

Monday, April 6, 2009

Lunar Mini Golf employee Crystal Brennan displays a phosphorescent golf ball used at the glow-in-the-dark miniature golf course in Battlefield Mall.
New clothier opening this fall
Lunar Mini Golf is not the only new tenant at Battlefield Mall.

Seattle-based action-sports apparel retailer Zumiez Inc. has announced plans to open this September. The Battlefield Mall location will be the second in Missouri for the company, which has 345 stores nationwide.

The store features brands for young men and women built around activities such as skateboarding, surfing, snowboarding and motocross. Products include apparel, footwear and related accessories by such brands as Vans, Burton and Quiksilver, according to www.zumiez.com.

Three Wichita, Kan., businessmen are bringing their bright ideas to Springfield, Branson and Joplin.

Lunar Mini Golf opened shop in late February in Battlefield Mall space formerly occupied by national clothier Steve & Barry's, which closed all its locations in 2008 after filing for bankruptcy.

The glow-in-the-golf venture is the brainchild of Reginald Boothe, John Wright and David Welch. They have two companies - Welch and partner Ed Kristofferson operate 19 Lunar Mini Golf courses, while Boothe and Wright operate 15 sites as Glowgolf. Boothe and Wright earlier this year opened Glowgolf courses on Range Line Road in Joplin and at Branson Landing.

But the Springfield Lunar Mini Golf course is the first opened as part of a joint venture under the banner of TSG LLC, organized in Missouri as MOTSG LLC.

A bright idea

The business efforts started with Welch's mid-1990s idea of a glow-in-the-dark golf ball.

Golf balls containing strands of phosphorus were the key to a golf game concept played in evening hours on driving ranges.

When that idea fell through, the three partners decided to use the glowing ball for indoor miniature golf that takes advantage of the ball's glowing properties in a setting lit by black lights. At that point, the three went in slightly different directions.

"We worked together for a few years, and then we decided we would split up the country - (Welch) would develop part of it and I would develop part of it," Boothe said, adding that the two share information with each other to ensure they don't impede on their progress.

The new joint agreement between the three partners allows Welch to use the Lunar Mini Golf name and Boothe to use the Glowgolf moniker across the country.

All the stores are owner-operated, and each costs between $70,000 and $200,000 to open, depending on the existing space and the number of holes - some as high as 54, Boothe said.

Rolling along

As for future expansion for the minigolf entrepreneurs, Wright said there are no geographic limits to where they could expand - current locations stretch from Pennsylvania to Washington. But, he added, the company is careful when selecting new locations, looking at everything from demographics to unemployment rates to lease prices.

"Our profit margins are very thin; we're not like a department store that can change its prices based on what they pay for the product," Wright said. "We have to compete with movie theaters and bowling alleys, so we're kind of stuck with what we can charge."

In their business model, customers pay $8 for up to 54 holes of golf, according to www.glowminigolf.com.

Kristofferson said Lunar Mini Golf will open a 20th location in early April and hopes to have a half-dozen more open by this summer.

Wright, however, is more cautious with his Glowgolf plans.

"March seems OK (financially) - with the recession the way it is, we were expecting much worse numbers than we got, but we are down a little," Wright said, declining to disclose specific revenues. "We're trying not to be too encouraged, because we don't know where the bottom is on this recession."

Entertainment options

Lunar Mini Golf competes in Springfield with indoor courses at Incredible Pizza Co., 2850 S. Campbell Ave., and King Putts Exotic Golf N Games, which opened in January at 319 E. Battlefield, Ste. F, in the Food 4 Less shopping center.

While there are other glow-in-the-dark golf companies around the country, Wright said the unique aspect of Glowgolf and Lunar Mini Golf is that all the locations are in shopping centers.

"We've not had too much success with standalone stores," said Wright, who declined to disclose the lease rate for the Battlefield Mall space.

"It's better to find a shopping center, find some space that's available, strike up a lease deal with the mall, and come in and build the systems and operate them from that point."

Battlefield Mall Manager Eric Fjeseth said the golf course's entertainment aspect was appealing.

"Shopping is entertainment, but the idea of having the movie theater or Lunar Mini Golf or the arcade, I think there is still attraction for that. It just seems natural to have those kinds of venues within a center," Fjeseth said. "(Lunar Mini Golf) is a bit out of the box, but we always try to push the bounds."

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