Wenatchee man turns bartering into business
photo by Ryan Bentley/Wenatchee Business Journal
More than 600 golf carts putt along the area greens in the Wenatchee area, according to Gary Harlow. And that means business for Harlow, the owner of Zero Handicap, a golf cart service and repair business.
Harlow used to repair golf carts in exchange for tee times at Rock Island Golf Course. Now, it is his full-time job.
Harlow was injured on the job a few years ago and had to look for something a little less strenuous than logging or working on big rigs.
“I thought, ‘Why not take a hobby and turn it into my own business,’” he said. “That’s what I did and this will be our third year now.”
Work cuts into his golf game a bit, but he carries his clubs in his truck and still fits in a few games a week.
Harlow invested $10,000 in a custom trailer and implements that he could haul with his truck. He also spent more than $1,000 for computerized diagnostic machinery for gas and electric carts to stay current with all makes and models.
Harlow services golf cart fleets at Kahler Glen Golf Course at Lake Wenatchee, Leavenworth Golf Course in Leavenworth, Mount Cashmere Golf Course in Cashmere and Three Lakes Golf Club in Malaga. He also works on carts owned by individuals.
Zero Handicap is a mobile operation. He makes weekly rounds to area golf courses, starting in Cashmere and Three Lakes on Tuesday and working his way through the upper valley and Lake Wenatchee on Wednesday and Thursday, covering the Quincy and Crescent Bar area on Friday, and ending up at Lake Chelan on Saturday.
For $95 Harlow provides a 28-point inspection and replacement process, covering the entire vehicle. The repair business picks up at the beginning of February as courses begin to tune up their operations.
Zero Handicap has seen steady growth for the past three years, and if business demands so far this year serve as an indicator, Harlow said 2009 looks like a good year. He said the repair business is up because fewer people are buying new golf carts.
“Some people are hanging onto their carts and want them to run like a top,” he said.
Half of his business is work for the golf courses and other commercial clients such as assisted living communities, orchards and mini storage facilities. The other half is for private golf cart owners. Of his private work, 60 percent is for die-hard golfers who will need more than an economic downturn to keep them off the fairways.
He and his father-in-law, who helps him in the venture, can tune up and repair around 15 carts a day.
“That’s working dark-to-dark though,” he said. “Usually we get to talking with people and get less than that done.”
Golfers usually don’t want to wait weeks for parts to come in, Harlow said, so he equipped his trailer with just about everything he needs to get a cart back on the fairways.
“A golf cart out of commission can really put a kink into a schedule,” he said.
Because most carts use the same or similar parts, Harlow is able to work on a variety of makes and models with the parts he keeps stocked in his trailer. If he doesn’t have a part with him, he can order it and get it installed in a couple days.
Harlow worked as a certified automotive mechanic for 25 years before starting his company.
“Golf carts are just a little smaller,” he said. “The basic principles are about the same. With both, you’ve got to do a good job, or they’ll just break again.”
Most of Harlow’s work is based on a handshake. He did put up flyers on the message boards at local courses, but said he has not had to do any other advertising.
“A good job speaks for itself,” he said. “And a poor job can just about break you.”