By P.J. Harmer — Rattling Chains staff
It seems like a marketing ploy.
Get a bunch of guys playing a round of disc golf and walking along and one guy has a small satchel-style bag and says “It’s much more fun playing with your NutSac.”
Founded in 2008, NutSac LLC is a one-man company (besides sewing contrators) who handles the aspects of the business, from marketing to shipping to everything in between.
The business was originally founded by two friends, but when it became evident that business was not going to be able to support two people for at least two years, Greg Kise took control of the business as the second partner (who still has a minor stake in the business) wanted to move on to other projects.
Kise said he had plenty of experience “bootstrapping small businesses,” so he was able to build.
And just like that NutSac, based in Corvallis, Oregon, started its journey.
One needs to back up a little before getting a grip on NutSac.
“Start with what you know,” said Kise, who also serves as a stay-at-home Dad. “I was playing a lot of disc golf and thought the trend toward larger and larger bags was kind of silly. Especially since most of the guys I played with used about three discs.”
Still, not everybody just jumps into creating a business, especially something as competitive as disc golf bags. Especially when your line is basically going to be one bag — an American-made canvas bag that holds six discs.
“I’ve been a serial entrepreneur for most of my life — I’ve buried many businesses,” Kise said. “I like starting small, bootstrapped companies. NutSac has definitely been the best one so far. It is the first business of mine that produced products rather than services. What’s cool is that it is much easier to scale up with a product. It’s also much easier to understand and manage the costs and cash flow with this type of business.”
But the idea of making the bags is one thing. Coming up with the name is another as it has to have some marketability, especially for a small startup.
Initially, Kise said, they thought it would be a nice ‘Sac for the nuts out playing disc golf. And, he said, they thought the name was really funny.
Alas, it didn’t seem like NutSac was going to work as the original duo opted to go with the name Wingnut and the bag the “Wingnut disc golf bag.” From that, they figured the nickname for the bag could be NutSac.
In early 2009, however, Kise said he learned a bit about trademark infringement as another company out there had called their bag the Wingnut.
It seemed like destiny.
“It worked out great,” Kise said. “I was never really attached to Wingnut and always knew it was a copout because we were afraid dealers wouldn’t get our sense of humor. By then I was running the business on my own and I changed the name to NutSac and never looked back.”
Currently, there are two versions of the NutSac — the single and the double. The depth of the single holds about six or seven discs and the diameter of the bag is a little bigger than a standard disc. The double holds upward of a dozen discs.
There is also an add-on holder for water/beverage bottles that one can purchase.
Kise said in the next year or so, he’d like to expand the brand into wider markets with different styles. But, he added, that takes a lot of capital and his current strategy of building slowly makes sense.
It seems like the slow build is definitely working as he said he expects to produce about 4,000-4,500 bags this year. The company has been growing about 70 percent per year, but with a price lowering this year, his business is up about 123 percent.
That seems proof that it’s not just the name, but other things that are separating NutSac from other bag companies. Kise said there’s a few things he thinks help.
“It’s made in America and it’s made with love and heavyweight canvas,” Kise said. “It’s very comfortable, lightweight, and cool. And, you can always say “Hold my NutSac while I drive.”
Besides that, Kise also noted that NutSac customers are very loyal and, in turn, the company is the same way.
“Customer service is the best part of the job,” he said. “I really like all my dealers, my contractors and the customers who purchase a NutSac. I figured we’re all kindred spirits with a slightly off-kilter sense of humor. I love it when customers send me pictures of their NutSac and tell me their NutSac stories.
“Everybody has their own favorite double-entendre,” he continues. “My current favorite is ‘Thanks for supporting NutSac.’ It never gets old.”
In all seriousness, Kise said he considers the company a gratitude-based business as he tries to remember how grateful he is for the support and trust he’s received.
“I think this frame of mind keeps me from getting cranky when things don’t go right,” he said. “And there are lots of frustrations.”
And as the company grows, stress comes with it. A lot more details, a higher volume to produce and they have been backordered much of this year.
“As long as I keep my mind in a sense of gratitude, I’m able to maintain my sense of humor and business cool.”
The American made part of the bag is one of the top selling points, he said. This, Kise said, is something he said he decided early — that the brand would remain American.
Besides helping in a small way to rebuild the small business economy, he said it allows him to build close business relationships. There’s a downside, too, in that it’s expensive to manufacture in the United States.
“I’d love to add more features and bells and whistles to my bag, but you have to consider every stitch because each new thing adds a lot to the price of the tag,” he said. “On the other hand, the cost pressures force you to really design an elegant and functional bag because you have to strip out everything that is non-essential.”
But maybe not adding the bells and whistles is a good thing?
After all, one of the best parts of the NutSac is the canvas material, which allows people to make the bag their own. It’s easy to embroider or add patches. And if there was much more, there might not be room for the customer to make the bag “their own.”
“Lots of customers like to pimp their NutSac,” Kise said.
NutSac has also added colors, which is the same material as the original bag. That way, if somebody wants something a bit different, they could order the bag in black, pink, coal or olive.
With the growth of the company, the demand for quality bags and the continued evolution of the game, NutSac seems to have a bright future.
So where’s this company going?
“NutSac world domination, of course,” Kise said with a laugh. “Seriously, I’d be happy to grow at my current pace, adding new products and expanding the brand into some new niche markets. My process has been to grow slowly without pushing too hard, so that my skill at running business grows at the same pace as the brand. … I’ve definitely been fortunate so far.”
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P.J. Harmer is the lead blogger for Rattling Chains. E-mail him at: pj [at] rattlingchains.com.