During the 2016 PGA Merchandise Show, I was roaming the massive floor at the Orange County Convention Center when I started messaging back and forth Adam Iversen, who was a partner in a new apparel maker called Swannies. We were trying to figure out a place to meet up. They didn't have a booth, so we were looking for a common space. After a little bit of clumsy back and forth on my part, we finally flagged each other down.
Three young guys -- Iversen, Matt Stang and Sam Swanson -- were excited to be at their first PGA Show, and they wanted to show off their product: Swannies golf sandals.
I've long been a fan of golf sandals (or flip-flops), and I was excited to see what made them different than others I had tried in the past. From out of a backpack Adam was carrying, he produced a pair. They had a killer logo on them, and they had spikeless nubs that looked like webbed swan feet. It was pretty genius. I loved their spunk and their energy, in part because I was just as hungry as they were to do something different in golf. I told them I would help out however I could, and they told me they'd send me a pair to wear. They did, a few months later, and I had some Swannies swag to go along with it (that I still have today).
The Swannies boys don't make the sandals anymore. And they're not just a single-sex quartet anymore. Swannies has grown into a tremendous apparel company, and the Minnesota-based crew has found their mark with fun-but-refined apparel for everyone. They mix in great color schemes with patterned touches, making for a modern aesthetic most any golfer can love.
Every year I still pay the gang a visit at the PGA Show. This year, they even upgraded to a real, live booth for the first time! I still owe them a night out on International Drive.
The story of how Swannies became a seven-figure apparel business that's growing 70 percent year over year, however, starts long before I met them and has a lot of funny moments and stories from the last six years. In Orlando this year, I asked Adam if we could put together a timeline telling their story with words and pictures and video from their earliest days to where they are now. He happily obliged, sending me all kinds of stuff from the milestones in their journey.
This is the Swannies story.
June 2014: This is Your Life
Swannies started with an email, from eventual co-founder Matt to buddies Adam and Sam -- but it wasn't originally called Swannies. The working title in that first email was Your Name, and the email had a mock-up of the golf sandal.
August 2015: Kicks on Kickstarter
The boys launched their $22,000 Kickstarter fundraising campaign to get the sandals concept to market. Among the early backers is legendary ESPN SportsCenter anchor and avid golfer John Buccigross, who rocked the Swannies T-shirts that were for backers.
Early 2016: Filling orders and spreading their wings
On March 1, 2016, Swannies starts fulfilling orders from their Kickstarter and starting to take on new customers. The boys were working out of a "tiny dungeon," using a die-cutting machine they purchased to make the Swannies sandals themselves.
Naturally, some mistakes were made, including shipping friends two left sandals by accident on multiple occasions.
Before the boys were working out the kinks, they traveled to their first PGA Show. Instead of flying to Orlando, they rented an RV and drove down from Minnesota -- in January.
The apparel line goes live in six Minnesota pro shops that April.
2017-2019: Rapid growth, every which way
From that first time we met, Swannies grew dramatically, particularly starting in 2017. Swannies reaches 100 accounts in April of that year. They are one of five companies invited to join Gener8tor, a business accelerator group.
That growth wasn't without challenges, surprises and a lot of help along the way. A potential investor who was close to putting in money in 2017 wound up getting arrested on federal wire-fraud charges for embezzling millions of dollars. That was bad.
However, friends and family pitched in with investments, while others helped out with odd jobs here and there. Some volunteered to help run the Swannies party scrambles, which was a series of events in 2017 and 2018 throughout parts of the country where golfers could get together on public courses, have a good time and enjoy a more party-like atmosphere to the game. One volunteer in particular accidentally ran over a guy's foot during an event, kind of putting the kaibosh on those.
In June 2018, the guys moved out of Stang's parents' basement -- the dungeon -- to their current location, which is 3,000 square feet and has a pair of glass-pane loading-dock doors. It set the stage for their first seven-figure year in sales.
In the space of three years, the company went from having 30 SKUs (stock-keeping units, unique to apparel in each available size) and 10 golf-course accounts to 800 SKUs and 600 golf-course accounts. While the company is expanding rapidly, they're keeping their customers happy. Nearly 90 percent of their green-grass customers re-order each year -- and almost half order more the next year.
2020: Hiring out and getting on Tour
This year has already been a big year for Swannies. Now a team of 10, the company is looking to hire further, including sales reps. They're moving from the warehouse to what's the events center at Oak Glen Golf Course in Stillwater, Minn., giving them room to expand through 2021.
What's more, they now have two pros wearing their gear. PGA Tour winner Grayson Murray and 15 up-and-coming pros are donning the brand as ambassadors.
Getting to see the Swannies boys is a highlight for me every year at the PGA Show. They're gracious to spend a few minutes with me as they're working up orders, getting new customers and building their brand. I'm excited to hear about the new heights they're taking their business, and they're kind enough to let me talk about the direction GNN is going. It's inspiring to know and be reminded of their story, and I can't wait to see what they do next.