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Golf Cars of Mississippi builds on 20-year foundation

Ridgeland — It’s more than just a new name. On March 31, a re-grand opening was held at Randy Watkins Golf Cars, now known as Golf Cars of Mississippi. Watkins, noted Mississippi golf guru and course manager who grew the business for two decades, is still affiliated with the company as a partner. And, golf cart fleet business to state courses remains a core focus of the company.

However, the new name reflects a area of the business that has been growing for years — retail/walk-in. And it also reflects where these walk-ins are coming from, which is from North Mississippi to the Gulf Coast.

“We are celebrating our 21st year in the same locale,” said Curt Busching, who serves as managing partner of Golf Cars of Mississippi. “Over the years, Randy has built a solid foundation here, and we are ready to take our fleet business to other non-golf course customers, as well as put more emphasis on walk-ins.”

More than just golf

Watkins founded the business in the mid-1980s on U.S. 51 in Ridgeland. From the beginning, the company’s bread-and-butter business was its fleet sales and service. Randy Watkins Golf Cars would lease a fleet of vehicles to a golf course, agree to keep them serviced, and then pick them up when the contract was exhausted.

These used golf carts were subsequently parked on the company’s lot, and were sold to individual customers predominantly for golf. (Golf Cars of Mississippi also offers new models on site.) However, that market began to evolve into something much more. Walk-in traffic increased as customers were drawn by lower price tags of the used carts and the fact that the company could customize the vehicles to meet nearly all individual tastes and preferences.

The primary force behind this increased interest in customized golf carts is their growing popularity in non-golf course settings. Parents find them ideal for their children to use to ride down to the neighborhood pool or park. Farmers find them efficient when traveling over their land. Colleges and universities have become another lucrative market, and hunters love the silent, exhaustless performance of the electric models and the fact that one could ride side-by-side with his hunting buddy on a more stable platform than three-wheelers.

The utility of golf carts continues to grow. Golf Cars of Mississippi offers electric-powered and gasoline-burning golf carts in four-, six- and eight-passenger configurations. Its utility vehicles offer similar choices.

However, the options become myriad when considering that Golf Cars of Mississippi can customize all its vehicles in every way imaginable. Club Cars of Augusta, Ga., is the manufacturer of Golf Cars of Mississippi’s vehicles, and Club Car’s motto is “If you can think it, we can build it.” A classic example is a recent order to customize a cart to resemble a ‘57 Chevy, rear fins and all. A majority of this customizing work is done in-house, though more involved orders such as the aforementioned ‘57 Chevy are shipped back to the factory in Georgia for completion. The turnaround time for most customized jobs is a matter of days, though more involved projects requiring return to the factory obviously take longer.

Customizing aside, Busching said today’s golf carts are getting more and more sophisticated and amenity-happy. All-aluminum aircraft frames (which prevents rust and reduces weight), heating and air conditioning, special light packages, built-in ball washer and ice chest and stereo systems are just a few examples.

“It’s almost like Rodney Dangerfield’s golf bag in the movie ‘Caddyshack’,” Busching said with a laugh. “These golf carts can come loaded. The new Fallen Oak course down on the Coast just ordered some carts. They wanted all the amenities — everything. Let me tell you, they got them, too.”

Playing through

The new ownership and management officially came on board January 1, 2005. The team consists of Madison residents Busching and Watkins and Marvin Scott of Jackson. According to Busching, Watkins is currently managing three golf courses, and was in negotiations with a fourth at press time, and, thus, has a full plate, but is still an integral part of the company’s team.

Busching said service is the key to Golf Cars of Mississippi’s future growth. The company can grow only at the pace that it can maintain its vehicles for its customers. So, while the sales team has been augmented from one person to four, the number of technicians has been increased from four to seven, not including one mobile technician. Busching said the new technicians come from the automotive industry, including the new service manager, who is preparing a service index in order to serve the company’s customers more efficiently and effectively.

Total employment at the company now stands at 16 employees. Golf Cars of Mississippi was recently named runner-up as the fastest-growing Club Car dealership.

“Fleet sales and service will continue to be a focus of Golf Cars of Mississippi,” Busching said. “Over the years, this has been a quiet company. We’re just looking to get the word out there about Golf Cars of Mississippi and the convenience and utility of our golf carts. They’re not just for golf any more.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at northway@msbusiness.com.

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