In a 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Markham, Ont., 28 graders pore over recovered golf balls like jewellers inspecting diamonds. Some 80,000 balls roll into Knetgolf.com‘s warehouses here and in Nevada every day, primarily from courses in Arizona, Nevada and California—most in pristine condition, thanks to their desert provenance. “The only difference between new balls and ours is that theirs come in the original packaging,” says Knetgolf co-founder and president Shaun Shienfield, who hires local people to search the links for lost balls. “Buying new doesn’t make much sense.” Through strategic use of the Internet, strong customer service and a price point up to 80% less than retail, Shienfield, recently named eBay Canada‘s Entrepreneur of the Year, has turned Knetgolf into a multimillion-dollar business, selling 20 million used golf balls a year.
The company started in 1995, when a 15-year-old Shienfield and his brother began scavenging balls from local courses and selling them from their basement via fax until they established an online store in 1998. Shienfield adopted eBay as a sales and marketing channel in 2001, when he noticed that the top Google search results for used golf balls pointed to eBay links. Within two years, Knetgolf was the top seller in its category; today, the company sells about five million balls per year on eBay.
“There are a billion golf balls lost every year and we’re selling 20 million of them,” says Shienfield. “We’re No. 1, but we still have so much room to grow.”