At a time when more and more born-and-raised twenty-somethings are flying free from Long Island in no hurry to return, Marc Reda went out and came back. And when he returned, he brought with him a golf business founded on the same principle -- go out and come back. All that differs between Reda and the training product at the center of his growing company is that the 26-year-old entrepreneur is not tethered to his Long Island starting point by rope.
Reda, a Kings Park High School graduate, is the co-founder of Rope It Golf, which manufactures a product that gives beginners, experienced players and just about anyone with a golf club and some open space the opportunity to work on their golf swing without paying for a bucket of range balls or rigging up a net. "The Rope It" is a real two-piece golf ball that allows full-swing contact and 20 yards of ball-flight feedback before it's yanked to the ground by a pair of attached cords. It's a simple tool that Reda intends to make a fixture at Long Island golf courses and shops by the end of this season.
Nearly four years since Reda launched Rope It Golf with a University of Delaware classmate, his plan to get the product out Islandwide through face-to-face demonstrations and marketing is off to an encouraging start. A few practice shots at a Timber Point Golf Course demo day last month were enough to land The Rope It, which sells for $19.95, in the Timber Point pro shop and its sister retail outlet, South Shore Golf in Oakdale.
"One guy saw me hit one ball and handed me $20," says Reda, who demoed The Rope It for a dozen players at Timber Point and sold to half of them.
Results like that support his claim that as soon as players see The Rope It in action, they love it. That's why Reda will show it off this year to as many course pros and attend as many demo days as possible, either selling directly to golfers or handing out coupons for purchase on his company website.
"I'm just looking to promote The Rope It any way I can," Reda says. "It's a great product."
It took years of trial and error with different types of attachments before The Rope It's simple design was finally perfected. John Girifalco, father of Reda's business partner Louis Girifalco, developed the practice tool over 15 years, the ultimate goal being the creation of a tethered golf ball that won't detach from its constraints or boomerang back toward the golfer. The ropes are anchored to a small weight (or staked into the ground) and are long enough to allow shot feedback before dropping the ball to the turf. Setup is so quick that the company website includes a video -- set to Benny Hill theme music -- contrasting the ease of The Rope It against the hassle of a backyard practice net.
In 2009, the elder Girifalco gave the green light for his son and Reda, who both attended Delaware's business school, to create a company selling the product.
"We were seniors talking about what to do after graduating," Reda says. "I tried the product and thought it might be a good idea. We focused on taking what we learned at school and applying it to our own company."
Funding from government organizations helped the two founders get Rope It Golf off the ground and into the hands of golfers, either through eBay or the company website at first, and eventually at Rockbottom, their first major retail partner. Later, a small business loan plus a $30,000 grant from the Delaware Economic Development Organization enabled Reda and Girifalco to grow the company without help from investors. The Rope It is now sold online by Golfsmith, with a breakthrough into their brick-and-mortar stores possible in time for the 2013 holiday season.
While Reda travels across Long Island to demo the product, students at Delaware are working to develop The Rope It Pro, an advanced version that includes a built-in accelerometer to measure ball speed. The university's engineering program is spearheading a project that would create both the device and a related app to convert each shot into charts and graphics showing expected ball flight and other data. A prototype is expected as soon as next month.
Rope It is also hoping to finalize a partnership with another equipment company that would pair the product with a golf mat, meaning less wear and tear on the backyard lawn.
It's clear Reda isn't standing pat, neither in business nor on the course. He hits 50 to 100 shots a day with The Rope It, keeping his swing fresh between rounds at nearby Sunken Meadow or Smithtown Landing. An inherent bonus of his particular business is that the harder he works on the demo trail, the more practice swings he logs. This month he's scheduled to head back to Delaware for a demonstration before returning to the Long Island circuit.
For Reda, that's a familiar route.