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Fore the love of the game: Building a better golf experience with Brian Hilko

Episode #: 276
Fore the love of the game: Building a better golf experience with Brian Hilko

Guest: Brian Hilko
Topics: Golf Factory, Randhurst Village, SBA financing, Entrepreneurial journey

In this weeks episode, Chris sits down with Brian Hilko, PGA professional and founder of The Golf Factory in Mt Prospect Illinois, as they discuss Brian’s entrepreneurial journey.

What You’ll Learn

  1. What is Brian’s background, how did his love for golf manifest in his professional life?
  2. What inspired Brian to pursue opening an indoor golf concept?
  3. What was Brian’s first step in starting the entrepreneurial journey?
  4. How did Brian finance his business?
  5. What was the cost to buildout the space?
  6. How did Brian land on Randhurst Village as the place to start his entrepreneurial journey?

About Retail Retold

The Retail Retold Podcast highlights community retailer stories from across the country and gives a behind-the-scenes perspective from business leaders in both retail and real estate industries. The show’s episodes contain valuable insights that help solve the needs of entrepreneurs and real estate pros. Join host Chris Ressa and new guests weekly for amazing insights and thought-provoking stories.


Chris Ressa  00:00

This is Retail Retold, the story of how that store ended up in your neighborhood. I’m your host, Chris Ressa. And I invite you to join my conversation with some of the retail industry’s biggest influencers. This podcast is brought to you by DLC Management.

Chris Ressa  00:06

Welcome to retail retold everyone. Today I am joined by Brian Hilko. Brian is the owner of Golf Factory in Mount Prospect Illinois. He’s a DLC tenant at Randhurst Village. I’m excited for him to be here. Welcome to the show, Brian.

Brian Hilko  00:21

Hey, thanks for having me, Chris. I really appreciate it.

Chris Ressa  00:25

Brian, why don’t you tell the audience a little bit more about who you are and your background?

Brian Hilko  00:31

Yeah, I’ve been a PGA professional for about 20 years, I’ve run golf courses, worked at private clubs, taught run golf operations, merchandising operations. You know, I just love golf, I love being around golf. And, you know, it’s as my things change, you have a family, and you kind of look at what’s important in life and kind of what you want to accomplish and working in the golf business is just a grind in the summers.

And you know, I looked at the indoor environment as something that, you know, it’s like, alright, I can turn that grind into a grind in the winter, really kind of show off my love for golf, and kind of find that balance between my family and, you know, and work and really have something that I’m proud of.

And, yeah, it just, and that’s just how this came to be was, you know, it’s I wanted everything I love about golf, you know, the laid back feel, fun, you know, engaging golf experience I love, but in a very low key environment, you know, it’s kind of takes the edge off of, you know, it’s when you’re going to the golf course, it can be a little intimidating. Here, it’s just very laid back. And, you know, that’s what I really love about this place. And, you know, really kind of showing off what I love about golf.

Chris Ressa  01:45

So, that’s an awesome story. So I picked up golf, it’s a COVID hobby, I love it, I got the bug.

Brian Hilko  01:56

There’s a lot of you who picked it up during COVID.

Chris Ressa  01:58

You know, my whole family, my friends, business, everyone had golfed, and I was just like, I’m never going to get into this, it’s going to take too long for me to learn. And then it’s going to take, I’m going to go out,  it’s such a long endeavor. And then I started and I’m like, I can’t believe I hadn’t done this before. I grew up playing sports, this is crazy.

And then I went, you know, the last two years, I went all in trying to improve my game and get better at golf. And just like a lot of us out there through the COVID time period.

Brian Hilko  02:31

It’s hooks you in man. It’s like you think about in this world, like, there’s not a lot of things that are like, drag you off your phone, you know, and golf is like one of those things that I think, going forth, I think there’s a real appreciation for things that like, you know, especially when you can come together as a family, like how hard is it to go out with your, like teenage kids, and like, have fun together and put down the phones and like,

that’s something that golf does and I think that’s something and like when you look towards the longevity of the game. Like, I think that’s something that’s really going to stand out and resonate where people may not even realize it. It’s just something that kind of really brings you into the present, which is hard to find nowadays.

Chris Ressa  03:08

For sure. So tell me before Golf Factory, what was the day job, you had mentioned the things you had done, what was your day job, right before Golf Factory.

Brian Hilko  03:19

So I was doing a couple of things. I was running a public golf course in Aurora. I had I also ran golf events for a place called New Club Golf Society, where I was planning trips, and you know, just like kind of monthly get togethers and setting up tee times for the group. And then I’d also work at another indoor golf spot in the winter.

So I was all over the place. But, I was constantly consuming golf. And so it was fun. And I got you know, even though all three of those jobs were in the golf space, they all brought totally different things with, you know, the New Club Golf Society was fun, because like I love to travel for golf. And I really got to plan some cool trips and you know, create some really unique experiences for people and take them to places they may not have been.

And with the indoor golf experience, you know, I got to play like honestly, like in the summer, like when I’m working at the golf course it’s a grind. And it’s just, it’s hard to get out there. And when I would work at these places in the winter, I loved it because it was like I can lock the doors up after everyone’s left and just rip through 36 holes in like, two hours and then go home and get my fix. So it’s like that’s where indoor golf really resonates with me is like when you got a busy life and you have kids and it’s hard to fit golf in and this just, you know just made you know, fit, you know, really filled that bucket for me.

Chris Ressa  04:38

Got it. Okay. So what was the point? Bring me back in time to the point when you said you know what, I’m going to do this on my own. I’m going to do something I’m gonna open up my own business. I’m gonna open up my own golf business. Bring me back there.

Brian Hilko  04:54

Yeah, I was, you know, it’s obviously like the rest of us during COVID I was like you know it, you could see the golf boom happening, you know, you could see things turning around. And you know, and I just didn’t like, I worked for a golf management company for my main job. And, you know, it’s, they’re great, you know, they do a great job.

But you know, at the end of the day, like, I just felt like, we were given the most bare bones golf experience possible, you know, it was basically hand your money over, here’s a card, go have fun, you know, it’s very little, you know, attention paid to the customer experience. And I just, it just, you know, for how much I love golf, it killed me inside to know that, like, you know, we’re giving a mediocre golf experience, and I really thought I could do something cool.

You know, something that really just shows my love of the game, and something that truly is just, you know, something that honors the game, and you know, and with this, you know, indoor golf is such a new, you know, kind of world in the golf space. But I was able to highlight a lot of things I love about outdoor golf, and bring it indoors and just create a, you know, I wanted to create something that, you know, that actually like resonated with people, you know, and was truly trying to give back to the game and be a part of the game. And, you know, it’s obviously, it’s important that we all make money, I want to keep the doors open.

But I didn’t want every decision I did here to be about the bottom line, I wanted it to be about creating a really cool golf space, you know, something that people are proud, really enjoy being, you know, a part of.

Chris Ressa  06:30

Okay, I like that answer. And then it comes time that you need to put like a business plan and like, you need to find the money to do this and walk me through how well first, bring me back. Tell everybody what golf factory is. And then bring us back of how did you like, what was what was the first thing you did to like start like to decide, like to start the process of opening the location? Like where did you have to start? Like, was it? Did you have to find the money? Did you have to find the real estate? Did you have to make a business plan? Bring bring me back.

Brian Hilko  07:09

So it was a, it was a lot of things kind of falling in place. Like the first part was, god bless my father in law, he like he’s the most handy person on earth. He’s just a jack of all trades. He literally built his own house, he GC’d his own build, like, he’s a fireman, but he owns a bunch of rental spaces. And he’s just very talented, and willing to take on anything. And we gutted my first house and did a bunch of work to it. And that kind of opened my eyes to kind of like what I could do.

And you know, and it was I had worked at these indoor spaces. And I remember one day he was over there. And I was giving him a golf lesson. And I was just like, do you think we can build this? We can build their own version of it? And he’s flat out said, yeah, I’d be totally into do something like this, I’ve always wanted to build, you know, he had this dream of building a bar, he never did. And you know, this was his chance. So when I got that, that just kind of like opened the floodgates, you know, when I got the blessing from him, and my wife. And from there, you know, it was like leaning on, I had a lot of private club experience.

And I worked at a club called Hinsdale Golf Club in the western suburbs of Chicago. And you don’t realize how big your network is until you like put it to use, even like my neighbor during COVID, a guy that didn’t even know pre COVID, he would come over and we would have a beer in my garage and social distance and just talk when everything was locked down. And I told him about the idea. And he’s like hey, man, I’m an architect, like, I can help you get there, you know, and then it’s like, so all these pieces began to kind of fall in place, you know, but then still, it’s like, you go into alright, like, I’ve never built one of these places out, how am I going to raise the money for this?

You know, and, you know, once I started approaching banks and talking, you know, I was found out about know, the SBA program, and you know, and how its a viable option, and I was able to bring on a partner. And it all just kind of fell into place, you know, and then from there, you know, it’s obviously that included putting together a business plan and approaching the banks. I was lucky in that, like, I would work at these places in the winter. And once I knew I was kind of, you know, that I wanted to do this. I would literally like look, I’d close the register, look at the receipts, I’d write down all the notes I could trying to give projections, you know, I took the projections that I you know, I had the numbers that I had at the golf course.

But then for the indoor golf, I was able to kind of take those numbers and figure out like, alright, is this a profitable business? And the more as I ran the numbers, I was like, I think I can make this work, you know, and, you know, and the whole theme of the place changed a couple of times. I mean, like early on, I wanted to find industrial space and just build a big practice facility. That’s kind of where the golf factory name originally started. But as you know, as I started, like, looking around and seeing these places start to succeed, at like high end retail and with my experience and my creativity I was like, I can do something really cool and create like a really unique golf space, something that’s like, different than what’s out there because a lot of these indoor golf spaces are more they feel like bars.

And I was like, I want to do something that’s more that’s bright and fun and definitely like, even though we’re a bar, like we’re family friendly, and you know, it’s just, I just wanted a place that truly was like our tagline unified in golf. And I really believe in that because it’s like, I wanted a space where like, anyone could come and play. And we you know, what’s great about we’re using Trackman. And for those who don’t understand golf sims or have never played in one Trackman is, like, if you’ve ever watched pro golf, or you’ve watched baseball and seen Statcast, where they’re showing like the flight of the ball, and all the spin numbers, and the ball speed, that Trackman is tracking that, and putting that on your television screen, and giving you that information.

And, but, you know, Trackman I love at its core, it’s very, you know, it’s very accurate. I’d say 90% of tour pros are using a Trackman for their practice sessions. But where Trackman’s evolved is they have fun games, they got Top Golf style games, there’s golf courses that are accommodating to everyone. I mean, I have probably 20 par three courses, you know, we have 350 courses, and we’re constantly adding new stuff, but I love that I can accommodate all levels of golfers, you know that come in here. And that’s what I wanted for the space. I just wanted it to be. Golf can be standoffish at times. And feel intimidating.

And I really wanted this place to just feel like a warm blanket when you came in, you know, and just feel comfortable, takes that edge off. Nobody’s watching, you get your own bay. If you hit a top shot, who cares? You know, you don’t have to have that like walk of shame, where you’re going to chase it. You know, here you can just get up, you hit it in the sim, ball comes right back to you. It just takes that edge off, you know.

Chris Ressa  11:50

Do you have to tuck in your shirt?

Brian Hilko  11:51

No, not now, I used to but I built this place so I basically built this place so I could wear a hoodie to work. Yeah, like that was the other thing it’s like, I like that you know, this is about as dressed up as I get right here. So it’s, I just wanted a whole different vibe than what a typical golf experience is. And I think that’s what makes Golf Factory special, is that it’s just different.

I think it’s golf changing in a lot of good ways. And, you know, I go on my Instagram feed and just seeing you know, just the average guy out there having a great time and really highlighting, you know, there’s so many channels that are highlighting just the average man out there having fun, and that’s what I want this place to be. It’s just the you know, it’s a place for everyone to just kick back and enjoy. You know, be it what I consider the greatest game ever created.

Chris Ressa  12:39

I love your passion. It’s amazing. It’s infectious. So going back to the business for a second. So you told us what it is now. So you capitalized it through an SBA loan and a partner is that fair?

Chris Ressa  12:57

Yeah, and my own money

Chris Ressa  13:02

Yeah, so and the space you took you know, I’m looking, this equipment is not inexpensive that you had, what was the total investment that you had to make into this space?

Brian Hilko  13:15

So we’re lucky like I said, we were able to build out we were able to do a lot of work ourselves within reason obviously, there’s certain things you got to bring people in for. It definitely cost me some time, but the total buildout, I was able to keep under a million dollars, which was big for this model. You know, it’s like if I were to, if I would had someone come in this is probably a $2 million dollar build out right about there from what I priced out.

So I was lucky in that we kind of rolled up our sleeves, because financially at that point that you know, raising a whole another million dollars it just didn’t seem viable, you know, and to do what I wanted to do and make this place truly cool instead of like someplace that just feels like some popup sims thrown in, a few tables.

I wanted this place to really be cool that like if we got a country club down the road I want those members to come here. And so that’s where you know, we were really able to save a lot of money is just rolling up our sleeves and doing it ourselves.

Chris Ressa  14:10

Love that, I love the scrappiness man, to save a million dollars is huge obviously. So that’s the capitalization, when you when you were drawing up the business plan and projections, what did you project the annual revenue of a place like this could be?

Brian Hilko  14:29

So realistically we get to like full like I’m hoping next winter like we can get close to a million dollars in total revenue.

Chris Ressa  14:36

And how long have you been open now?

Brian Hilko  14:39

We’ve been open for like about six months.

Chris Ressa  14:42

And are you ahead? You behind? Where are you?

Brian Hilko  14:46

We’re definitely we’re behind, like not horrible, like we had the warmest winter ever, usually see about a 20% bump in year two is what typically like most of the X golf’s see. I’m lucky with. I have a lot of friends who own X Golf’s I helped a guy in Geneva open an X golf, so I do have some insider info there. You know as far as the numbers go, you know, and it’s across kind of industry wide, we all saw about a 20% decrease for the places that have been open here in Chicagoland because it was just such a warm winter, you know, but we still did well, like we’re gonna have enough money to survive the summer.

Because obviously, we’re, it’s where even though we’re indoors, and the weather doesn’t affect us, it does. Like once it’s nice out, everyone’s going back outside, I have to compete against golf courses, I mainly focus on people who would go to the driving range just coming to use our technology, we have video, analysis, the data in it, you can see what’s going on and really work on your swing.

And then I focus on families in the summer and doing clinics and that sort of thing to drive people in here. But the winter is where we make our money, so it’s so it could have been a better first winter, but I’m still happy with where we at we’re hit, you know, we hit the number that I needed to hit to get you know that we can survive this first summer, and hopefully onward and upward. Amazing.

Chris Ressa  15:58

And so bring us. So how did you land on Randhurst Village, it’s a property near and dear to my heart. So how did you land? Tell me the story of how you ended up there.

Brian Hilko  16:08

So I was looking to I’ve looked everywhere, obviously, I looked at so many spaces, it’s no, there’s a lot of things, but I knew I was going to build something special, something that could really fit into a higher-end development. I just didn’t want to go into like any a lot of these places are in little like dinky strip malls. And I was like, I just didn’t want to do that for the first location, I wanted to find something a little bit nicer. And obviously, as a first time business owner, it’s hard.

You know, it’s like, some of these places you approach them and they look at you like nah we’re you know, unless you’ve got 500 locations, we don’t even want to talk to you, and which I understand, you know, it’s a risk on their part also, you know, and as I looked around, you know, I had family that grew up right here in Park Ridge, my uncle still lives here in Mount Prospect.

It’s a great golf area, there’s four golf courses within I could probably hit a driver to from this, you know, and Randhurst. You know, it’s definitely, you know, I know they’ve struggled a little bit to fill it up

Chris Ressa  17:06

How far can you hit the ball if you’re hitting..?

Brian Hilko  17:09

Pretty close to 300 I can get it out there. So we’ve got a lot of courses close by. And so it’s great. So I already knew that it had a great golf base. You know, there wasn’t any competition in this because this space is getting very competitive. You know, it’s it’s just there’s a lot of people who love golf, and they see that there’s money to be made by you know, offering something they love.

And you know, they want to create their, you know, just like myself, want to create their own thing. So these are popping up everywhere. And I love that I had no competition here and there was no indoor place nearby. And that it was a nicer development that was willing to hear me out. And you know, because we are such a unique model compared to say, a restaurant or a bar, like, you know, we got we have that seasonality tied to it, you know, it’s also the price of a lease is a big deal.

You know, I want to be in a nice mall, but I can’t afford to pay $30 a square foot. So I knew like, you know, I knew there was some leverage on my part, you know, that I knew you guys would kill to have something like this here. So it was it was just a win win. You know, it’s like, I knew I could elevate this mall by creating something fun, different, you know, that, like, you know, it’s like, and I’m not competition, say like a restaurant bar opens up across the way from me.

You know, it’s like, they can come here play golf, and they can go there to eat, or have a drink. You know, it’s like, how many people ask me about Mr. Kimchi’s, who opened up just right down from me asked me you know, how’s the food? You know, and it’s that, you know, it’s, I think this just really indoor golf when it’s done on the level that we did it. I think it just adds something really cool and unique to spaces like this, you know, that, you know, can help you guys sell the property.

You know, it’s like, here’s the because I think it’s hard to find entertainment options to put into these, you know, retail developments. You know, there’s obviously movie theaters and tried and true, you know, there but pinstripes and things like that. But there’s only so many of those kinds of places that can go around you know, and it’s so I think it’s something that it definitely was a win win for the both of us. Yeah,

Chris Ressa  19:07

Yeah so Mr. Kimchi is a new tenant for us. Do you eat there?

Brian Hilko  19:10

I do. You did a great job with it. It’s all you can eat though. So you know, you leave that place like I leave that place having the meat sweats. So good. I can’t stop eating. I have to be careful.

Chris Ressa  19:22

Well, listen, Brian, this has been great. Where can people find you?

Brian Hilko  19:28

So I’m right in the heart of Randhurst Mall or Village, you know, it’s we’re right. We’re right under the Hampton Inn Suites, which I love we get lots of hotel guests in here. But we’re right on that center boulevard right here in Mount Prospect.

Chris Ressa  19:42

And how about online, how can someone find you online?

Brian Hilko  19:44

Golf Factory dot golf.

Chris Ressa  19:47

All right, everybody, check it out. If you get to Chicago, get to Randhurst Village, get some swings in with Brian at Golf Factory and pop in to get some Mr. Kimchi.

Brian Hilko  19:58

Yeah, exactly.

Chris Ressa  20:01

Brian this has been great I really appreciate it

Brian Hilko  20:03

Thanks for having me Chris I really appreciate it

Chris Ressa  20:05

Thank you so much

Brian Hilko  20:06

All right

Thank you for listening to retail retold. If you want to share a story about a retail real estate deal that you were a part of on our show. Please reach out to us at retail retold at DLC This show highlights the stories behind the deals from all perspectives. So it doesn’t matter if you are a retailer, broker, entrepreneur, architect or an attorney. Also, don’t forget to subscribe to retail retold so you don’t miss out on next Thursday’s episode

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