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As golf experiences unprecedented demand, third-generation Austad’s evolves with new offerings

Posted in ,   |  November 22, 2021

The way Dave and Ryan Austad see it, the game of golf has stuck.

“In 2020, everyone golfed because it was safe. After a dicey March, April and May, the sport just saw an explosion,” Ryan Austad said.

“But you have to golf with someone. So, generally, people invited friends. And in 2021, we started hearing from the people who had been invited, loved it and now want to get shoes, clubs and everything else. So you have this exponential build I don’t think will go away. I think the game is in a very strong place right now.”

So does his father, Dave, who has seen the game evolve over decades as he has led Austad’s Golf, a Sioux Falls-based retailer with nine locations in five states.

“We’ve seen some booms in the past. The last one was driven by Tiger Woods in the late 1990s. But then, golfers got frustrated. They thought it was too expensive and took too long to play. So when the recession hit in 2008, millions quit,” Dave said.

“This feels different. This is people picking it up as a lifestyle change, and we believe that, the social aspect and the emphasis on more flexible work arrangements is all beneficial. We think golf is set for some very good years going forward.”

Austad’s is used to thinking long term. The family business founded in 1963 by Dave’s father, Oscar, is successfully transitioning to its third generation of leadership. Ryan now oversees day-to-day operations, and his sister, Sara, runs the company’s e-commerce operation.

Dave continues to be involved at a high level while enjoying the flexibility to spend more time outside the office.

“Personally, I think it’s gone significantly smoother than I anticipated,” Dave said.

The family credits its longtime membership in the Prairie Family Business Association for helping them navigate from generation to generation. Austad’s Golf was one of fewer than 10 original members of the association and has evolved along with it for the past 30 years.

“The original core was eight to 10 business owners, and we called ourselves the SOBs – the sons of bosses,” Dave said. “It started out just getting together socially and debating whose dad was worse.”

While they came from industries as diverse as retail, manufacturing and energy, the business leaders realized that as next-generation family owners, they had a lot in common.

“So we elected a program chair, and over time it grew to 180 businesses, and then the University of South Dakota came in and helped us take it to the next level,” Dave said.

“We didn’t even realize what we were doing. We just fell into it, and when we started reaching out to speakers, they would ask us if we realized what we had here. We had 180 businesses in the middle of the country talking to each other about how you can succeed. And I think it’s one of the things that makes Sioux Falls and our surrounding area so successful for family businesses. We have resources, and we’re willing to share.”

That mentality continues as the association marks 30 years and 225 members, said Stephanie Larscheid, the association’s executive director.

“The Austad family is absolutely right about the uniqueness and the value that this group of businesses enjoys,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to be able to look at a family business like Austad’s Golf, think back on where they were when they helped form this association three decades ago and see how they’ve evolved today, knowing we played a role in helping them get there.”

Both Dave and Ryan are members of affinity peer groups, connecting them with counterparts from their generations at other family businesses.

“My group has been together five years, and it’s a valuable thing,” Ryan said.

“We know each others’ businesses well and don’t feel like we need to hold back in conversation. For me, it was an avenue to discuss everything from workforce challenges to COVID protocols. And you can talk long-term strategy, get insight and get pushback from people who understand that as a family business you’re thinking about planning from generation to generation, not quarter to quarter like some in the corporate world. You’re looking at 50 years, not the next three months.”

Dave’s seven-member peer group “has been wonderful because everyone is in the same boat trying to figure out how to pass it on,” he said.

“We challenge each other. We have a list of things we need to do, and we hold each other accountable, which is really beneficial. We had a meeting two weeks ago and went around the table to each person; they all said it’s helpful, and they want to stay in it.”

When working through their transition, the association’s resources were especially helpful, Ryan added.

“It’s a really complicated thing, which is where we saw a huge value-add for Prairie Family Business because they have the expertise and people to bounce ideas off as you transfer ownership. It’s gone well for us, but we’ve leaned heavily into Prairie Family Business for advice.”

For Austad’s, it has been a year of evolution within the business too. The company has expanded to offer golf simulators both for businesses and individuals – an outgrowth of so many staying at home – and it has expanded in-house customization options.

Austad’s now offers custom-branded golf balls, golf tees, cups and other products.

“We took a step back and looked at how we can bring production in-house and create products we know thousands of loyal customers might want,” Ryan said. “We saw incredible growth as a Golf Digest Top 100 fitter, but we took a step back to say how can we be valuable beyond custom fitting, and there have been some really fun things that have come out of the necessary innovations that COVID brought.”

The company also continues to deal with global supply chain challenges, while experiencing more interest than ever from customers.

“We’ve never experienced demand this high,” Ryan said. “Any inventory we can get our hands on, we’ll be ready to offer.”