A pair of recent University of Delaware graduates believe they've come up with the next big thing in golf.
Now they're turning to Kent-Sussex Industries (KSI) in Milford to help them manufacture their Rope-It Backyard Practice Range as they take their marketing efforts national.
"We've sold about 5,000 so far through dozens of online retailers, like eBay and Golfsmith.com," Rope It Golf co-founder Marc Reda said. "We knew we wanted to take the next big step before this year's the holiday season and to do that we needed someone who can mass produce our product, so we asked, 'Who are the best people to help us with that,' and everyone said KSI."
KSI Vice President Jayson Crouch said he's excited about the new partnership, which could mean more jobs for Delawareans with disabilities.
"It's all dependent on how successful these guys are in terms of sales, but we think this could be really important for the people we serve," said Crouch, whose 50-year-old the non-profit manufacturing company on North Rehoboth Avenue that almost exclusively employs workers with mental and physical disabilities.
Crouch said the company estimates every 10,000 units of the Rope-It Backyard Practice Range that are sold will equal about 700 work hours for employees.
"Starting new business isn't as simple as building a better mousetrap, which it looks like they've done," he said. "But it's our hope that they prove to be successful and we're able to grow with them and continue to be their manufacturing source."
The Rope-It Backyard Practice Range is a deceptively simple concept that involves a golf ball attached to two lengths of cord.
Golfers are able to drive the ball without resistance and have the ball return to within twenty feet of the tee.
The product is marketed as an ideal practice tool for golfers who want to perfect their game without the hassle of heading out to a driving range, as well as young golfers who might not have access to the wide open spaces otherwise needed to practice their long game.
The product was invented by Rope-It co-founder Louis Girifalco's father, John, more than 20 years ago.
"I wanted to practice and we had small kids at the time so [his wife Mary] didn't want me going off to the [driving] range all the time, and she didn't want an ugly net in her back yard," John Girigalco explained during a press event at KSI last week. "So I had to think of a way. I tried wiffle balls and foam balls, but it just wasn't the same … so I came up with a way to affix a golf ball to a rope."
After some trial and error, Girigalco came up a dual-cord system that would allow the golf ball to fly without the cords tangling, the apparatus falling apart or the ball recoiling back at him.
Girigalco had some modest success selling Rope-It system on his own, but said the business didn't really take off until after his son and Reda became involved in 2009, just a few weeks after they both received their college degrees.
Since then, the two 25-year-olds have expanded their distribution, filed patent applications for the Rope-It system and secured Small Business Administration-backed loans from Dover Federal Credit Union and the Delaware Economic Development Office's Small Business Credit Initiative loan program.
"They had a really rock-solid business plan and on paper it looks like it's going to be a successful venture," Dover Federal President and CEO David Clendaniel said. "There's a lot of confidence in it because, as you can see, this a product anyone can use in their backyard."
In addition to expanding their production capacity, Reda said he and the Girigalcos also plan to put those investments to use by expanding their marketing approach.
"We have national television ads ready to launch Oct. 15 on ESPN, ESPN Classic and the Golf Channel," he said. "We're hoping Rope-It becomes a big gift item this winter and just really takes off from there."