Talking shop with Rick Hetzel, developer of Insta Golf Shoes

Monday, August 1, 2011
Rick Hetzel is the creator of Insta Golf Shoes, a product that transforms regular tennis shoes into golf shoes. (Kristin Eberts)

After a 30-year law enforcement career and his development of a successful property management business, entrepreneur Rick Hetzel is shifting his focus to a sport he's loved since childhood -- golf. He's developed Insta Golf Shoes and is now marketing the product to golfers and sporting goods retailers across the nation.

Q: Since retiring as Cape Girardeau police chief, you've been involved with a number of businesses. How did these develop?

A: I started dabbling in different businesses. I have a background in construction, so I bought a construction firm, then sold it and started my own company, R. Hetzel Properties. We own quite a few homes, apartment buildings and commercial properties, mostly around SEMO. Because I've been a lifelong golfer, I've had a passion for golf since I was a little boy; my interest has always been in having some kind of business interest in the golf world. About two years ago I met a young man in the U.K., and we started a business called Irish Golf Vacations. We do golf travel for clients to Ireland. It's the type of business that is web-driven. It's allowed me to travel and have a lot of fun meeting people who want to play golf in Ireland and at the same time play golf myself.

Q: How did you get the idea for the Insta Golf Shoe?

A: I sat down to write a book called "The Traveling Golfer." I was going to publish it as e-book, and essentially we thought we'd just give it away to clients that want a proposal to go to Ireland. Every travel book's got to have a section on how to pack, so I'm hammering away at the computer and it dons on me that when you travel and play golf, one of the most difficult things to do is get everything in one suitcase. Everybody wants to avoid luggage fees when we travel. We live in a carry-on luggage world. I've even taken old golf shoes on trips and just thrown them away or donated them. I thought there's got to be someone who's invented something. I got on Google, Yahoo, Bing -- nothing was on the market. So I told my wife, Cheryl, this may be one of those ideas that's so simple nobody's ever thought of it.

Q: Describe the creation of the Insta Golf Shoe.

A: I always believe that good business people don't reinvent the wheel; they find a good wheel and make it better. So I started looking for the wheel, a product I could modify and make just a little bit better. I couldn't find anything. Then it dawned on me -- my stepfather, who is a very practical guy, for Christmas sent me a pair of Arctic ice spikes that slip over your tennis shoes. I never used them. When I was chief of police, I gave them to an officer one night during an ice storm. He said they worked pretty good, but they broke. They were pretty cheap, made in China. So I called a guy in the Arctic spike industry and asked who makes the best Arctic spikes in the nation. He told me a company in Maine, 32 North, makes them. So I called the president up and I told him I've got an idea. I just want to bounce it off of you; you might think I'm crazy. He said, no, we've been thinking about this for years. We just don't want to pursue it because in Maine your golf season is minimal. He said if you want to pursue it, we'll modify the patent and let you do it. So working with him, we came up with the Insta Golf Shoe. 32 North is our manufacturer now. You pull it on over your shoe. They roll up pretty small. They're extremely durable.

Q: What kind of response have you been getting to this new product?

A: In March we took a group of six to Ireland and tested them. The guys that wore them were surprised at the traction and how well they held up. It's not for the serious, serious, serious golfer. It's for the casual golfer, the person who wants to wear their tennis shoes but needs that traction and stability. We know this is not for everyone. It's so simple, we wonder why didn't anyone think of this before. But the golf world has certain traditions and mores, and hundreds and hundreds of new products come on all the time. The reception we've gotten is there is a real niche for this. It fills a real void there.

Q: How are you marketing Insta Golf Shoes?

A: Right now they're just online, www.instagolfshoes.com. We launched it about 30 days ago. We also have a Facebook page. It's been up about two weeks, and so far we have about 200 people who have added it to their page. We've already had 900 hits on our website without any marketing. That tells us this may be a pretty good idea. We shot a video last week at Bent Creek for the website and YouTube. We leave Aug. 21 for the PGA Expo in Las Vegas. It's one of the largest golf apparel shows in the country. This will be the first introduction of the Insta Golf Shoe to the world. We are in the process of hiring a national accounts manager to handle all the major retail accounts for this product. We really think some of the large retailers will pick it up. We really don't intend to be in the retail business, we want to wholesale the product to retailers. Once we reach a certain level where we can do that, we will bring those jobs to Cape Girardeau. We'll do our warehousing and shipping right here in Cape Girardeau.

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