Growing up, Travis Petschl remembers being allowed to look at – but not touch – his stepfather’s prized set of golf clubs.
Then, a horrific incident occurred that ended up softening his stepfather’s stance.
“Our house burned down and his golf clubs were inside and they melted a little bit,” Petschl recalls. “He told me I could have them and those were the clubs I used for my first five-plus years of learning how to play golf.”
Armed with his new clubs, Petschl dove into golf and every summer, he and his friends would split their time between the baseball field and the golf course. And when the golf-themed comedy Happy Gilmore with Adam Sandler came out – well, it simply cemented his love for the game even more.
Though Petschl didn’t have time to join his high school golf team due to commitments from other sports, he continued to enjoy playing when he got the chance. After he graduated, he did a semester of college, decided it was too expensive and joined the Army instead. But that wasn’t the end of his passion for golf.
“I was sent over to Iraq on my first tour in 2003 and we found some golf clubs right before we left,” he said. “We were able to hit golf balls toward the fence line before we got out of there 15 months later.”
Petschl spent eight years in the Army and once his service was complete, he stayed busy. He got a couple of two-year degrees and then a four-year degree. He worked for the Minnesota Vikings, got a job at the state capital and then joined the staff of a nonprofit. And after moving with his family to Chisago City, fate intervened in an unexpected way.
“I kept driving by a miniature golf course that had closed and it was about five minutes from my house,” Petschl said. “I tried to figure out who owned it to see what the deal was because I’d always wanted to own my own business – and this one looked fun.”
Like many people trying to find answers to their burning questions, Petschl turned to the internet and found a blog that featured a post about the abandoned golf course. The blogger had written a review of it back in 2013, noting “the course was completely rundown and overgrown but we could still see the charm it once had.” In subsequent years, the course got an overhaul by its new owners but ended up closing in 2016.
Petschl recognized the abandoned course’s potential and reached out to the blogger to see if he could get the contact information for course’s owners. A connection was made, Petschl decided to purchase the business and in 2018, he opened Green Lagoon Golf. But because the 10-acre facility had sat dormant for more than a year, he had a lot of work to do before he could welcome his first guests.
“Everything was in shambles,” he said. “The weeds in the mini golf area were six-plus feet tall, you couldn’t see a single obstacle or anything out there and the driving range was like a hay field. I had to mow it 12 times before it turned into something you could hit golf balls into.”
Aside from the maintenance and upkeep, Petschl also had to get his arms around the behind-the-scenes aspects of running a business and making it profitable. That meant making some changes to the facility’s original format and offerings.
“When this place opened, it was just an 18-hole course and a driving range. They had a pro shop inside but it’s pretty hard to compete with the golf shops on the internet,” Petschl said. “I added an ice cream shop with 30-plus flavors and I also built a nine-hole mini golf challenge course just to see what the profitability would be. Now it’s 30 percent of our sales.”
Fast forward five years and today Green Lagoon attracts everyone from serious golfers working on their swings on the driving range to kids who just want to eat ice cream and play around on the mini golf course. Running the operation takes up a lot of Petschl’s time and doesn’t leave him with many opportunities to play golf but he couldn’t be happier with his decision to take a risk and start his own business.
“I really like being able to sell fun,” he said. “It’s not like I sell roofs or vacuums or anything like that. People come here to have a good time and get ice cream and it’s been great for the community. Plus, we’ve been growing every single year hand over fist and everyone seems to be happy that we’re here.”
Like many Minnesota businesses, Green Lagoon is a seasonal operation that opens “as soon as the snow melts enough to hit balls off the mats” and shuts down at the end of October. During the months when it’s closed, Petschl goes into full on evaluation and planning mode.
“We’ll talk about what worked over the past year, what the pros and cons were and what was and wasn’t successful,” he said. “Then we’ll start preparing for next year.”
If you’re thinking about launching a new business but aren’t quite sure where to get started, here are a few of Petschl’s tips and suggestions to ensure you hit a hole in one right out of the gate:
- Recognize that starting a business is a learning experience: “Before I got started, it seemed like everyone who owned a business was the smartest person alive and they knew everything,” Petschl said. In actuality, he’s discovered that couldn’t be further from the truth. “Most business owners are literally taking a leap of faith and they’re doing the best they can,” he said. In other words, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and start following your dream. After all, you’ll never know what you can achieve unless you try. “Really, anyone can start a business,” he said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of education you have because most of what you learn happens on the job anyway.”
- Love what you do: While a business degree isn’t a requirement for starting your own company, there’s one thing that’s non-negotiable in Petschl’s opinion. “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing,” he said. “If you don’t have that passion, you’re not going to be able to work all those hours for what may be very little money at first and you’re probably going to fail.” And if you’re only in business to chase after the almighty dollar, “you should probably do some investments or something like that,” he said. But if you do have a burning passion for your idea, Petschl encourages you to go for it. “If you want to have something that’s yours and you’re happy about and you want everyone else to see, you should definitely take a chance,” he said.
- Educate yourself: These days, there are tons of resources available to entrepreneurs and most of them don’t cost a penny! Petschl recommends checking out the educational offerings from the Small Business Association and getting connected with SCORE, which links business owners with mentor volunteers. Whether you’re looking to learn about finance, marketing or hiring, there’s a treasure trove of information out there just waiting to be discovered. Additionally, you can join your local Chamber of Commerce to network with your fellow local business owners and even reach out to other people in your field. Chances are, they’ll be more than willing to share their knowledge with you. Petschl, for example, has connected with the owner of another mini golf course in a nearby area to pick his brain about what has worked – and what hasn’t worked – at his facility. In turn, Petschl told the owner how adding ice cream has been very successful for him and based on his recommendation, that business now sells ice cream as well. “At first people have their guard up, but really, we’re not competing with each other,” he said. “There are so many people out there and there aren’t a lot of markets that are oversaturated.”
- Try doing things on your own at first: Hiring a bookkeeper and an accountant can be hugely beneficial for business owners, but Petschl suggests learning how to do your finances on your own, at least in the beginning. “It’s not as difficult as everyone makes it out to be and you can save yourself a lot of money,” Petschl said. (And yes, there are plenty of online courses that can help you increase your financial IQ.) By having a deep understanding of your finances early on, you’ll gain a true sense of the inner workings of your business without having to rely on someone else to explain them to you. Then, once you’ve at the point where you can afford to hire a professional to handle your books, you’ll have enough knowledge to double check his or her work and make sure no mistakes have been made. The same goes for your marketing and social media efforts. You may not be perfect at first, but by giving it a try, you’ll be able to see firsthand how effective your messaging is and how well it connects with your audience. “You’re the one who knows your company best,” he said. “And your customers want to hear from you, not a marketing person.”
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