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Golf cart popularity driving Mississippi business

They might be called golf carts, but most customers today are interested in them for hunting or tailgating.

They might be called golf carts, but most customers today are interested in them for hunting or tailgating.

David Dreher is used to selling golf carts. These days he sells an average of one cart a day, about 300 to 400 a year. What’s different lately is the buyer. “It’s rare we sell to a golfer,” Dreher said. “Everybody wants carts for tailgating, cruising around the neighborhood or hunting.” He figures for every 15 cart buyers, “one guy is a golfer.”

Sales are so good that Dreher was just named 2013 Dealer of the Year by Madjax, a leading maker of custom golf cart accessories. He is a past Diamondhead Business of the Year winner chosen by the Hancock County Chamber of Commerce.

Dreher has been selling golf carts for eight years and three years ago he opened Gulf Coast Golf Carts on the outskirts of Diamondhead, a golfing community with two courses and accompanying golf cart paths. It’s common to see non-golfing residents running errands in their customized carts. Dreher himself lives in Diamondhead and said he loves to “hope on my cart and cruise around.”

The cart’s popularity has spread throughout Hancock County, where they are a favored mode of transportation during festivals and Second Saturday Art Walks. This year, the new Mystic Krewe of the Seahorse will take to the streets of Bay St. Louis not on floats but in decorated golf carts.

Cart fans come to Dreher from a wide area. “The average customer drives about two hours to buy from us,” he said. They come from Baton Rouge, Hattiesburg, New Orleans and all along the Gulf Coast to Mobile. “It’s a good hub location to reach a pretty good market for us,” he said.

Dreher started selling carts right out of Southern Miss, and when he moved to Diamondhead he bought his own basic cart for $800. He ordered some parts online that arrived damaged and after a particularly bad customer service experience he decided he could do a better job.

“I started selling parts and taking orders out of my house,” he said. Business grew quickly and he had to move to a small shop next door to his wife’s pet shop. Business continued growing and he eventually bought land for a building. (The landowner asked him to throw in a golf cart as part of the asking price.) Today he has five employees and sells around 300 to 400 golf carts a year.

His typical buyer, if there is such a thing, is in his 30s or 40s and is looking for a good deal on a cart for recreational use. They comparison shop just like car buyers, he said.

A base model cart can be customized to a heart’s content. “It’s endless, really,” he said. “Custom seats, glow lights, audio packages, any color.” One woman started out with a $2,000 cart and ended up with an $8,000 customized job. The most expensive accessories are audio packages, big rims and tires.

The average price for a base unit is around $2,400 or $4,000 for a street legal cart that requires a license plate. “Those average around $7,000 brand new,” he said. Carts that have a VIN — vehicle identification number — and a serial number are considered street legal.

Dreher believes part of the golf cart’s popularity is the fact that people don’t like to stay inside when there are so many festivals to attend and beautiful roads to take through neighborhoods and along waterways.

Another reason is the cost.

“With the bad economy and people losing their jobs, a golf cart is still an affordable luxury item,” he said. “You’re going to think twice about buying a camper or a pontoon boat but you can afford a nice cart. It’s why we still stay busy. It’s something affordable to go hunting, golfing, driving around the neighborhood. You still want to have fun.”


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About Lisa Monti