THE GBN INTERVIEW: David Cederholm, Sales Director EMEA at Toptracer – Golf Business News

David Cederholm, EMEA Sales Director at Toptracer, discusses driving range innovation, navigating a global pandemic, managing golf’s new wave of players, and looks at how the company plans to grow its market-leading range technology business in 2022 and beyond

GBN: David, you started your new role as EMEA Sales Director for Toptracer at the end of 2020, in what turns out to be the very middle, we hope, of a global pandemic. What has the last 12 months been like for you professionally and personally, and how are you enjoying the job?

It has been an interesting time to start a new role, especially a new role that was initially supposed to involve a lot of travel. It’s fair to say for the first few months in the job, especially having joined joining during a lockdown, meant that the travel part just wasn’t possible. 

Obviously, everyone got pretty used to video calls and remote working, which meant that everyone could still get the work done that they needed to. Interestingly, in the UK, the various lockdowns gave golf facilities that were closed an opportunity to get work done and Toptracer installations signed off ready for their eventual reopening. 

We supported our customers throughout that time and were also able to have a successful period of trading, making the most of what was a difficult time for everyone. As soon as the world began to open up again, things got pretty busy very quickly, and it was great to finally get out there and meet our existing and new customers across the EMEA region.

On a personal level, we welcomed a new daughter to the world just before Christmas, so it’s safe to say that I seem to like keeping myself as busy as possible!

GBN: This is your first role in golf after 15 years working in other sales roles across of variety of non-related industries, including the development and expansion of a popular online food delivery platform. What attracted you to switching to the golf industry and what skills do you bring that apply to this market?

I think the attraction to the golf industry realistically came from being a lifelong golfer. From an early age I was tempted to pursue a career in golf, but I lacked the ability to truly make it happen as a professional. 

At the time, I don’t think I fully understood that other opportunities could exist within the golf industry, and so never really gave it a second thought. I have, however, been able to work for most of my career in relatable fields such as technology. Since leaving university I’ve worked for companies that look for solutions to problems or find a better way of doing things. That ultimately relates closely to what Toptracer does and there are definite synergies with my background. 

What I see with Toptracer’s technology is something that solves a need for the golf industry. It instantly makes a range session more fun; it gives you reason to interact with that range, and reason to interact with the game of golf outside of playing 18 holes on a golf course. Ultimately, Toptracer is changing the face of golf and how it is consumed, and it’s doing that via technology, which, to me, was a thoroughly interesting prospect. I wasn’t necessarily looking directly to join the golf industry, rather the right company, and Toptracer fit the bill perfectly for me on that front.

GBN: For those who in the golf industry who haven’t seen or experienced Toptracer Range, can you explain what it is and how it works?

Funnily enough, for the first three of the last five years I think I must have been living under a rock, because I actually hadn’t experienced Toptracer Range up until around two years ago. When I did however experience the technology, it changed my perspective entirely. 

It completely evolves the range experience, and it gives you a genuine reason to finish that bucket of 100 balls that you bought at the start of your session. In the past you might have gone to the range, bought a bucket of 100 balls, run through irons and wedges, whacked a few drivers and then left 30 or 40 balls behind. With Toptracer, you suddenly have a completely different and interactive experience. You are given real-time information, visual ball tracing, in-depth data, all coupled with the ability to play a wide variety of target-based games or even virtual golf at some of the world’s best courses. It is a truly transformative experience and the variety and versatility that Toptracer provides golfers is utterly unrivalled across the market.

GBN: Toptracer hit some pretty impressive numbers last year, with installations at over 200 new ranges around the world in 2021 to take your total to over 550, and a global reach of 31 countries. How pleased are you with those figures and what targets have you set for 2022, and is now a good time to for golf clubs and ranges to invest?

Last year was pretty successful for Toptracer, however, we are never truly satisfied with our growth because we know we can impact the economics golf for everybody. We’re very proud of the growth we’ve achieved year on year and if it were not for global issues associated with the pandemic, we believe that last year could have been even more impressive. In 2022, we’ve set ourselves more ambitious targets for growth, and we are essentially aiming year-on-year to double-up.

It’s particularly pleasing to see the positive impact that installing our tech has on facilities, and hearing feedback from range operators, both quantitative and qualitative, is fantastic. We hear on a weekly basis how busy ranges are across the region, and how the turnover produced by Toptracer ranges everywhere are transforming businesses. 

I recently met with a range operator in Scotland who asked what numbers they should expect on returns if they were to install Toptracer. We always try to provide realistic growth targets for new customers, but we have seen profits skyrocket in some instances too. Earlier this year we had feedback from a new customer that the profit form operating their range had gone up from £5,000 a month to £18,000. This obviously doesn’t happen in every instance, but it’s feedback and data like this that truly proves that this is the time to invest in Toptracer, especially considering the upward curve that the game of golf is following. 

GBN: How challenging was it to undertake all those installations during a pandemic? What were the main issues the company has faced in terms of completing orders?

Let’s face it, the entire world was a challenging place! There were different testing requirements at every corner, quarantine in some places and not in others, and, of course, simple safety concerns across the globe during what was a pretty unsafe time. Trying to balance that and work around it in an industry that was extremely busy wasn’t easy, but it has proved very rewarding in the long run. 

I think the main issues were around travel restrictions and, to a lesser extent, Brexit. Our regional team is predominantly based in the UK, but cover the whole EMEA region. We have some guys based across the continent and it was certainly difficult with so many different rules in different countries, and some countries having lockdowns while others didn’t, which produced a variety of challenges for us. 

There were also issues with supply chains of certain materials, especially things like microchips; however, despite all of that, we delivered on our 6-8 week install lead time at 100% of our installs. This was an utterly brilliant effort from everyone involved in the supply of Toptracer, and we’re hugely proud of the whole team, which led to us having a highly successful period.

GBN: Where do you see the most potential for future growth in terms of countries and venues?

I don’t know if there are certain countries that have bigger opportunities than others, to be honest, in that everywhere where there is an interest in golf is an interest to us. There is a certain seasonality to golf across the region, some have longer winters than others, for example, but golf has seen huge growth everywhere. 

Regarding venues where you will find greater opportunities, I see the biggest potential to be the golf club market. That is where the most golfers can actually be found, and golf clubs have always striven for a reason to keep golfers coming back. That goes beyond just the golf course itself, that goes to how they sustain food and beverage, how they keep themselves relevant, how they retain new members. I believe that is where golf clubs and their golfers will be keen to see investment in their own practice facilities, and that will be a key to retention.

Whilst we are in this boom period, clubs should be looking to make the right investments in the right things in order to set themselves up for continued success going forward.

GBN: With so many driving ranges and practice facilities closed during parts of 2020 and 2021, do you think it gave golf venues the time to assess their facilities and look to see where they could make improvements to the customer experience, such as provided by Toptracer?

Certainly, as I mentioned, when I first joined the business during lockdown, we had a great and immediate demand for these facilities to get themselves ready for reopening. These facilities were able to do construction work and as such we were able to complete our installations. As we know, golf clubs were looking for a point of difference when they reopened to give people a reason to come down and spend time there. Golf benefited from being an outdoor and naturally socially distanced pursuit, and I think that those facilities that did make the investment and made the choice to invest have more than justified their decision to improve their facilities.

GBN: What type of facilities can take Toptracer Range and are there various levels of installation to suit different budgets?

We have three different solutions for ranges. The first, and most popular, is the traditional covered bay driving range that comes with our Toptracer monitors. The bigger the installation the more efficient the cost is per bay, but in reality we work with facilities from as few as eight bays to as many as 400. It’s a totally scalable solution.

We also have a product for grass tees and for ranges that are uncovered. Here, a customer uses their smartphone to connect to the system and they can then hit and play games and see traces on their mobile device, just as they would on a Toptracer monitor. As such we can cover any shape or size driving range with these two solutions.

In addition, Toptracer is now rolling out an uncovered, open-air facility that comes with an all-weather monitor. This provides all the bells and whistles of the fully-fledged Toptracer system on an uncovered range.

Toptracer Range has been installed at over 550 venues

GBN: What kind of audience demographic does Toptracer most appeal to?

This is an interesting side to the business, and the question has many answers. Overall, it’s golfers! I was lucky enough to attend the opening night of a Toptracer install last week and watched two guys in their seventies playing match play at Torrey Pines. Toptracer truly transcends generations and age, and what is interesting is it’s making golf more attractive to people that perhaps aren’t or haven’t been golfers in the past. 

There has been a huge uptake in participants on Toptracer who haven’t ever played before. We’ve even heard of ranges saying that they’ve become regular hotspots for couples coming on date nights and enjoying some F&B whilst they do so. It really does cover all demographics, from the keen golfer to the non-golfer, which is great to see.

GBN: What is the typical uptake in range usage and customer expenditure in the months following a Toptracer Range installation?

I think we see that there are two opportunities here, one being a genuine increase in golf balls hit and the second being an increase in yield, or how much each golf ball is worth. Right now, in the UK, the average price of a golf ball with Toptracer is around 12p per ball, which is up year-on-year. In many places it is up by as much as 50% on previous iterations. That is because customers are willing to pay the additional price, because they get far better value for money. We see ranges increase their consumption by 30%-250% each year, which is obviously fantastic.

So many ranges are seeing brilliant increases in profit, and I would love to promise that every range could do the same, but in reality, the technology speaks for itself.

Toptracer Range and it variety of fun game play formats helps introduce a wider demographic to the game

GBN: What are some of the other benefits to range owners and golf clubs of installing Toptracer?

More people, more balls, more often. Not only does range turnover increase, but this has far-reaching effects on the rest of their business. For clubs that may be increase in food and beverage sales, as more people are spending time at the club, that may be an increase in membership as more people take up golf thanks to a Toptracer range. 

Outside of that we must look at the closer interaction with customers. Range operators have an immediate ability to get data on how their facility is used. Ranges always knew how many balls were being hit, dispensed and collected. Now though, they are given in-depth data and reporting on what time the range is busy, which bays are the busiest, what interaction people have with the range, how many different individuals are hitting balls and what type of games they are interacting with. 

Additionally, range operators can see more information around safety, such as the monitoring of any balls that go out of bounds or over nets. The benefits are far reaching and ultimately, I think that giving any business owner any deeper understanding on how their facility is used is absolutely critical.

GBN: There are some other shot-monitoring systems on the market that have an element of game play, so what sets Toptracer apart from your competition?

Competition is a very healthy thing in any market and it certainly keeps people honest. What sets Toptracer apart is a number of things: we were the first to bring our product to market in a scalable way and we continue to invest on that growth. We know that we truly lead when it comes to innovation and quality of user experience. This is shown when we see competing products trying to follow us, and it certainly is the case here where imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. We are the first to do things properly and do things right.

On top of that, we are 100% a range company, we don’t have any other facets to our business and we make sure that the range is our complete focus. This allows us to create a refined, robust and impressive product that, quite frankly, is far superior to any other product on the market.

We do appreciate competition, however, we are the biggest range technology worldwide for a reason. We are proud of our domination and the numbers certainly speak for themselves, at the close of 2021 we sat at over 500 worldwide installations, which is five times more than our nearest competitor, and is a number that we are constantly aiming to make bigger. 

Toptracer Range can be installed at any outdoor golf facility

GBN: As a relative newcomer to the industry, is there anything about the way golf industry operates that has surprised you – in a good or a bad way – or perhaps even enlightened you?

It’s fair to say that I am a newcomer to the golf industry, however I have always been a golfer, which has made me very aware of the industry itself. I am pleasantly surprised right now by the willingness for golf to evolve and innovate and look for ways to make the most of the circumstantial boom that has happened. Understanding that development is needed in order to change.

Historically, golf has been a source of frustration for many. It’s been a bit stale and stagnant for a long time, and was going through a period of losing participation and seeing a golf club in the UK close on average once a week. What has now pleasantly surprised me is that golf is at last learning from that and is now investing and innovating in a way that means it can positively change.

GBN: Have you had much time to get out on the golf course in the last 12 months, and, if so, where have you played and what are your favourite tracks in the UK?

I try to get some weekend golf in at my home club, but having been so busy with the job and with the new baby, I haven’t played as much as I expected or hoped. I have, however, managed to play some fantastic golf courses over the last couple of years, including the Brabazon course at the The Belfry and getting back to play the Hotchkin Course at Woodhall Spa was incredible, as its always been one of my personal favourites. Both venues have Toptracer Range installed, of course!
The cream of the crop was a trip to Royal St George’s in October. Having visited for The Open in July, I was incredibly excited to play the course and I’m delighted to say that it met and probably exceeded my expectations, even though we played in 30mph winds!

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