HOW WE GOT STARTED:
Inventing Toequet & MalletBall
It all started with a small problem in a big backyard in Terre Haute, Indiana.
A very special shared activity is needed to bring families together at holiday gatherings, and for Denny Ridgway’s extended family, croquet traditionally filled the bill. But as the skill levels increased over the seasons, the scraggly lawns available seemed increasingly inadequate. And building a “proper” lawn was way too expensive. Then came the brilliant idea: Don’t change the lawns, change the equipment!
After this brilliant idea, there were only details left to work out. The first detail to be nailed down was the balls: soccer balls were big enough and light enough to float over all obstacles…AND …you could kick them, so you wouldn’t need mallets…!!!! All that needed to be done now was to find the soccer manufacturer with a good ball at the proper weight who could supply them in the colors needed: blue/red/green/yellow. It was quickly done.
The second detail was the wickets. They needed to be big, but they should also be lightweight so one person could easily carry all the equipment needed to set up a HUGE course set over many acres. And the wickets should have built-in spikes to easily be pushed into the ground without additional equipment. After a little experimentation with the younger and rowdier members of the family, another requirement became evident: If one of the kids ran into the wicket at full tilt, there shouldn’t be an injury. Taking all these factors into consideration, the answer soon presented itself: lightweight, break-away PVC tubing with push-in spikes on the bottom!
After a year or so of experimenting, mostly with his old work cohort Al Trackwell and son Bret, word began to spread in Terre Haute. What, exactly, were the Ridgways up to? Friends and neighbors wanted to see it, and they wanted to try it out. Mostly, they seemed delighted and curious, and they wanted to play. “Maybe we’ve got something here,” Denny said to Al, “that other people want. Maybe if we make inexpensive sets, they’ll buy them.”
Al was enthusiastic and started putting together a manufacturing and packing plan, and the idea began to look feasible. It looked like they could sell their Toequet sets at a price competitive with mid-range toy croquet sets…and people would actually get a better value. But how would they sell these sets, how would people find out about them? On the Web, that’s how: And here’s where son Bret comes into the story: With his Internet fulfillment experience he quickly established a Website. www.Toequet.com was up and running on the Web, and all systems were go!
But almost nobody came to the site. Press releases were sent out, phone calls were made to generate media…and the result was just a few sets sold. There were a few short articles and notices in magazines and newspapers, but nothing like enough to create a groundswell of popular interest in Toequet. It was pretty discouraging.
But then came a promising response to the press release from the new National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach – the largest and finest croquet complex in the world, a laboratory of ground-breaking programs and events, and the home of the U.S. Croquet Association. The director of marketing and development was interested enough to ask for two demo sets. They were sent. The manager of The Pro Shop at the National Croquet Center was sufficiently impressed to display the Toequet sets in the lobby of the clubhouse and include them in advertising and on their own Website. Soon sales doubled, and then tripled….but it wasn’t nearly enough. At this rate, Toequet would NEVER succeed, and The fledgling Toequet Company would never pay the bills.
Then fate intervened, and his name was Bob Alman, the aforementioned Director of Marketing and Development at the National Croquet Center. One day Bob was gathering the equipment after a spirited session of Toequet with soccer players from nearby Palm Beach Atlantic University on the 10-acre Center’s Harpo Marx Fairway, and his friend John Ryan from Palm Beach offered to help. John had been playing croquet on the regulation lawns, and to be helpful, he started to hit to balls towards a central point with the tool at hand….his mallet! Observing this, Bob said, “Hey, that seems to work pretty well. Why don’t we play a game of Golf Croquet hitting the soccer balls with our mallets instead of kicking them?
And so it was done. In a flash of inspiration that, in retrospect, is totally obvious, Malletball was created. The game lasted about 25 minutes, and Bob narrowly and luckily won it on the last point. The heavy, regulation 2 1/2 pound mallets, as it happened, were weighted perfectly to the heft of the big soccer balls.
This was too good to be true, and the truth was that Bob and John enjoyed that first game immensely. Toequet was fine, but Bob’s soccer kick isn’t that good – and he’s very good with a mallet, as his national USCA ranking proves. For the first time, Bob got really excited about this Toequet equipment. John and Bob decided, on the spot, exactly what this new game must be called: Malletball!
Bob couldn’t wait to call Denny and tell him what happened. Denny is a marketing guy from way back, not close-minded at all, totally committed to doing what works, and to his great credit, he showed no signs of alarm or resistance. “Send me the specs for a mallet,” he said, “and we’ll try it out.” They had no heavy mallets in Terre Haute, because they always played the backyard game with lightweight 9-wicket sets.
After much discussion, two mallets were designed that would offer significant advantages over conventional mallets: (1) the “Universal” mallet – so called because it bridges the gap between regular association croquet and Malletball. It meets the official specifications of the USCA while offering Malletball players the biggest head in the regulation croquet mallet world, the better to make a center hit on the big soccer ball; (2) the “Monster” mallet was designed for the more extreme versions of soccer ball croquet, with special hitting faces and a very long shaft for long distance drives and lofting approach shots using the golf swing.
Within weeks, Denny was reporting not only that he had made the mallets, but that he and his croquet cronies Bret, Al, Bill, Dave and others were playing Malletball regularly, and they liked it a lot. Denny said he liked it even better than Toequet.
With mallets to add to the equation, the National Croquet Center was selling a few more Toequet sets. Some customers found their way to www.Toequet.com and bought second and third sets, because they realized these were great gifts for relatives, and also good pastimes for second homes and vacation spots where there were no good lawns. Things were looking up. But there was still a lot more “up” to go, clearly.
By now, there was no stopping Denny and Bob. They talked on the phone almost every day, to align their separate but – as it turned out – totally compatible personal visions for these games, and they checked everything out and tested it with their partners and friends – especially Al, Bret, Bill, and Dave.
Denny and his friends and family had started out with an abiding love of everyone’s favorite childhood game of 9-wicket double diamond backyard croquet. They knew instinctively that it was too good to be limited to children. They had the idea that these games could bring back that childhood fun for adults and families everywhere.
Bob and pros at the National Croquet Center were looking at it from the other end: How to get beyond the limiting image of croquet as an elite sport; and how to spread the fun of the quickly-learned game of Golf Croquet into a world with not nearly enough short-cut, evenly textured grass playing surfaces – without actually going to war against the golfers!
Toequet and Malletball answered both needs. So with their united vision, Denny and Bob were soon negotiating an agreement with the other partners to re-launch Toequet and Malletball on a much broader consumer base. By conducting group events for schools, summer camps, charities, corporate and employee groups in South Florida and selling equipment to all and sundry, Bob would be the first model for an “area rep” to be duplicated in other parts of the country. Based on his experience, he would literally write the manual for a regional sales agreement that would be based on population as measured by the millions in ZIP Code areas: the area reps would buy rights along with a modest amount of equipment at discount rates and could get thirty percent of direct sales, anything the market would bear for producing group events, and also 15 percent of all sales in the assigned geo area. For the right person, it’s a deal that couldn’t fail.
The next part of the marketing plan was easy: The Website needed to be redone, with lots of pictures of all the different groups and venues suitable for the games with links from both www.Toequet.com and the new domain of www.Malletball.com - which Bob wasted no time in buying.
By this time, the wealth of testimonials and press reports (and pictures of all kinds of groups playing in all kinds of situations, on every sort of terrain, and all hours of the day and night suggested a running theme that exactly fit the circumstances:
ANYONE, ANYWHERE, ANYTIME!
What other game, we asked ourselves, has this kind of universal appeal, and is so easily adaptable to many types of venues? And with equipment so inexpensive! All we had to do is create a marketing plan to get it across. And once again, the direct experience of Bob and Denny and Bret and Al and Bill provided the answer. We all reported the same experience to each other: If you had a chance to demonstrate it, your potential customer or clients would say something like, “WOW! THIS IS SO GREAT!” And “Why haven’t I heard of this before…???”
Because we have no advertising budget, that’s why! So we had to figure out a way to get these games and this equipment out into the world so people could try them out, say “WOW”, and then insist on playing more.
Without big-bucks advertising capital, we went down the only road open to us. Our marketing plan is based on person-to-person contact and exposure to the equipment and the games in local areas – exposure generated, for the most part, by local Area Reps and supported by our superb Website and personalized marketing and sales support for each of the Reps. If you see these games – and especially if you play them - chances are you’ll be captured. Small islands of Malletbll and Toequet activity are beginning to appear around the country now, not just in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Southeast Florida, but also in suburban Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington state, Oregon, Wisconsin, New Mexico, in California’s Sonoma County, in Dublin, Ohio, in St. Louis, in northern Maine…and even England. They’re tiny islands in a vast sea of virgin territory, but they’re there.
We’re including everybody we know in our vision for these great games – everyone from the super-conservative organized croquet faction to backyard croquet players, golf clubs, soccer coaches and fans….and even the organized chaos of the Extreme Croquet movement.
That’s before you even consider the vast potential of Malletball and Toequet as ideal activities for groups, ranging from The Rotary Club and the employee picnic to incentive sales groups and corporate team-builders. (And incidentally, it’s the group events which should be the biggest income-producer for our Area Reps initially.)
And just to get all these factions together for the first time, we’re looking at dates for the first ever MalletBall World Championship. It will be held in Palm Beach County, Florida, headquartered at the National Croquet Center in West Palm Beach, and will feature (1) super-court Malletball at the National Croquet Center (2) Xtreme Malletball in the wide open spaces of nearby Okeeheelee Park, and (3) Beach Malletball at the end of Worth Avenue on the Atlantic Ocean in Palm Beach, along with (4) a Toequet competition for soccer-oriented youth groups. (email WicketSports@AOL.com for dates and details.)
That’s our story, so far: a brand new idea; a new company; inexpensive equipment; a World Championship in the planning; and a small but growing list of Area Reps producing revenue events and reaping the profits from both direct sales and online sales in their territories.
Right now, at the beginning of 2004, The Toequet Company is one-tenth accomplishment and nine-tenths vision. We’d like you to buy our equipment and play our games. And finally, we want you to email us about your own adventures and discoveries with Toequet and Malletball.
Whether you’ve played any kind of croquet or soccer before, you’ll find out that those big wickets are really a new and wider window on the world of extreme sports. It’s all about fun and camaraderie, the countless ways you can celebrate the great outdoors, and most of all, the sheer pleasure of enjoying your friends and family in a game that anyone can play…anytime, anywhere.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Want to be an Area Rep? Write to us!
Bob Alman, Marketing and Development Director – WicketSports@aol.com