An in-home hobby that grew into a thriving Main Street store front business in downtown Cherokee has run its course for two Cherokee men, who are retiring at the end of this month and either selling or closing their business.
Jim Hein and Karl Beals, owners and operators of Golf Etc. in downtown Cherokee, have announced they are retiring and closing the popular business, unless a buyer can be found to keep it running.
The 9.45-acre Golf Driving Range on East Maple Street in Cherokee also will be closed unless a buyer is found. Hein and Beals said "a few" people are interested in taking over the businesses, but no final decision has been made to date.
Hein, a retired Iowa State Trooper, and Beals, a retired small engine repairman, started custom-making golf clubs in Hein's home in 1990. As the business grew during the golf boom of the 1990s, the men relocated the business in 1992 to the basement of the former Cherokee Stationery Store (now American Theater complex)) on East Main.
After out-growing that facility and desiring a street-level store front, the men moved Golf Etc. to 206 W. Main Street in March of 1997, where it remains today.
Besides making custom clubs, as it grew the business added full lines of golfing equipment, including balls, new and used clubs, bags, footwear, gloves, shirts, jackets, sweaters, and many various accessories for golfers.
Hein and Beals also sold leading lines of clubs before tiring of the "politics" involved when dealing with the major manufacturers, eventually switiching to private label brands, in addition to their own custom clubs.
"There's been a lot of changes in the 17 years we've been in the business," noted Hein, age 65. "The custom stuff (business) is still out there, but all the other merchandising business has changed for the worse. The manufacturers would sell the same stuff we were at tremendous discounts in the catalogues and at volume wholesalers, discounts not available to us. We couldn't compete. And then came the Internet and eBay and you could get any type of club at tremendous prices."
Hein also said that Cherokee's Main Street renovation project a few years ago, although wonderful for the City and fully supported by he and Beals, crippled their downtown business.
"That new street changed people's buying habits," said the former Trooper. "It was closed 7-8 months during our time of the year (spring, summer), so people went elsewhere for their golf stuff and never came back. Our volume waned after that and we kept getting older. It was a double whammy."
Both men have wives, children and grandchildren, and traveling, fishing and golfing to do, factors which also weighed heavily in their decisions to retire.
"We have other things in life to do," added Beals, age 68. "There's been some interest expressed in the business and it would be great if we could sell it, but regardless, we're getting out. It's time to retire."
Hein, a trooper for 31 years, said the driving range also for sale covers 9.45 acres and includes the mowers, ball machines, balls, and an elevated berm for tee boxes containing more than 4,000 cubic yards of dirt. Plus, the site is watered. Golf. Etc. rents its Main Street location.
The men bought the land from the Cherokee School District with the stipulation that Cherokee students could use it free for golf teams, P.E. classes, etc.
The men say they have made custom clubs for 'thousands' of golfers near and far in the 17 years. They have clubs now in use in every state in the country, Canada, Germany, England, Venezuela, and other places unknown.
When asked about their own golf games, the men say their games suffered because of a lack of playing time when their business was thriving. Besides, Hein had heart surgery in 1999, and Beals had shoulder surgery a few years ago, which has hampered them developing their own games.
There's also been a downturn in golf's popularity after the "Tiger Woods mania" cooled. "It's (golf) evolving. Stuff evolves," said Hein.
The men say they will stay on and help any buyer transition into the business. They also will train buyer(s) in custom club making.
"We worked hard to get pretty cotton-pickin' good at what we do," said Hein. "We went to school, read everything we could, watched videos, trained diligently, and were both mechanically inclined to begin with. It was fun and prosperous, but we earned it."
"We were a one-stop golf shop," said Beals, who worked 55 years at Beals Small Engine Repair before retiring. "We sold everything but morotized carts and were competitively priced. We had regular customers from Iowa, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and Missouri. We're certainly going to miss it."
Of everything involved in the business, Hein recalls the many people he and Beals met while serving the public so well through the years.
"We made a lot of good friends who we'll cherish for years," said Hein. "We met a lot of beautiful people and had many fantastic, loyal customers. It always was all about the people and our desire to do the best we could for them. We're really going to miss the people."