In this article, we’re telling the story of Powergrip, a pretty good disc golf shop. It’s about how we grew to become a disc golf specialty store operating in five cities in Finland and in the United States. We’re celebrating Powergrip’s 15-year journey in 2024.
How to Fund a Disc Golf Hobby?
A group of volunteers sits at the Toppila Teboil gas station, enjoying coffee and pastries after the volunteering efforts for the upcoming disc golf course in Meri-Toppila in early summer 2007. This time, active members of the Oulun frisbeeseura and BSC Disc Golf Team (local clubs) cleared paths through the forest and installed tee signs made of pieces of former lamp posts. Conversation flows, and laughter fills the small café of the gas station. The backs of their track jackets are soaked in sweat. In the talks of a few, the dream of harnessing the hundreds of volunteer hours spent in disc golf into something even mildly financially productive becomes more frequent.
After dozens of volunteer efforts, competitions, and shared coffee breaks, in June 2009, Fritid Finland Oy and its subsidiary, Powergrip, were officially listed in the Finnish Patent and Registration Office. We attempted to name the company Ab Fritid Oy (free time in Swedish), a playful suggestion often joked about during our volunteer work. Understandably, this did not meet the requirements of the PRH (Patent and Registration Office). Therefore, we chose the name Fritid Finland Oy for our company. Harnessing our leisure time into business related to disc golf was at hand. The founding members of Powergrip—Pasi Laukkanen, Petteri Turunen, Janne Länsitie, Jussi Viirelä, and Erno Väyrynen—were excited because the intense planning phase that had lasted the entire early part of the year was completed, and the actual work could finally commence.
Let’s Try and See What Will Happen!
We ended up with the name Powergrip in the early spring of 2009. During several of our meetings, we listed over a hundred different name suggestions in a Google document. Powergrip was chosen as our name because it’s a firm-sounding term known in the world of disc golf. Additionally, Powergrip fits fairly well with the Finnish language and also works internationally. However, we didn’t emphasize internationality too much because we primarily planned Powergrip’s activities to fund our disc golf hobby and for fun as a joint project. Each of us had our day jobs in the IT and education sectors, and we didn’t envision the situation changing. For instance, Erno remarked at one meeting: “What’s the point of us selling frisbees in the ‘tundra,’ where the ground is covered in ice half the year?” Fortunately, Pasi, who was then working as a purchasing manager at Nokia and has an entrepreneurial spirit, responded, “Erno, don’t always be so analytical. Let’s try it out and see what comes of it!”
In the founding year of Powergrip in 2009, there were approximately 150 disc golf courses in Finland. The number of disc golf courses had increased about tenfold over the previous decade. Despite Erno’s skeptical comment, we believed that with the growth of disc golf courses and the number of enthusiasts, opportunities for business would also expand. We commenced our disc sales trials by setting up a sales point at the Hiironen and Meri-Toppila weekly events, transporting the sales booth to the location with a trailer.
We quickly noticed a strong demand for disc golf discs. Disc golf equipment wasn’t readily available; purchases had to be made either by phone or from a couple of domestic online stores, and from several abroad, especially in the United States. We established our first brick-and-mortar store in the city center of Oulu on Mäkelininkatu, in Janne’s father’s garage. Prior to this, our stock was housed in Pasi and his partner’s laundry room. The garage wasn’t a bright or clean space, but people began to find their way there. Our store was open on specific weekday evenings and weekends.
Pretty Good Disc Golf Shop
We established our first online store at our familiar address, powergrip.fi, right in the summer of 2009. Our multitasker, Petteri, coded it just as he has coded every online store we’ve had to this day. The initial version of our online store was quite lightweight in structure; for instance, it didn’t have online payments. We used to send invoices to customers via email shortly after they placed their orders. Despite this somewhat clumsy method, we decided from the beginning to process incoming orders as quickly as we can. If someone devoted their time and money to us, it was our obligation to do our part swiftly and meticulously. This mindset will remain the guiding principle of our operations for as long as we continue doing this.
While settling on the name Powergrip, we decided to dub ourselves a pretty good frisbee shop. Certainly, we aimed to be as good a disc golf shop as we possibly could, but we wanted to remain humble and inject a bit of humour into it. After all, the driving force behind our entire disc golf hobby was humour and friendships. We were allergic to the exaggerations typical for marketing. We wanted to do things differently—preferably through actions rather than words. In 2020, we changed our slogan to “Pretty good disc golf shop”. Our nickname, PG, conveniently also stands for Pretty Good.
Powergrip Expands from Oulu to Four Other Cities
We moved from Mäkelininkatu in the center of Oulu to the Rusko district, to a rented garage in the summer of 2010. We transformed the space into a Powergrip store. We built shelves, tables, and a sales counter and designated a part of the area for storage. All of our stores, too, are Petteri’s handiwork, from Finland to the United States. Since the space wasn’t insulated, during winter, customers had to wear winter clothing in the store. We served customers on specific weekday evenings and weekends, all year round.
We relocated our current Oulu store to Höyhtyä shopping center in April 2012. Initially, we operated across from the current location until we acquired the larger premises we have now.
Sales continued their steady growth as disc golf expanded as a sport. We hired our first employee, Joni Taipaleenmäki, in 2013. Joni is still with us and remains one of the cornerstones of our company. Successful entrepreneurship is a long-term commitment. Early on, we recognized that we needed to reach the million-euro mark in sales before being able to pay ourselves even an average salary. However, the freedom to build our own future and contribute to the growth of the disc golf scene weighed most on the scale. Despite entrepreneurship consuming most of our time and energy, we greatly enjoy working within the realm of disc golf, although it has shifted our focus away from actually playing the sport. This is a typical phenomenon among those involved in the sport, excluding professional players of course.
Frisbeepoint, located in Helsinki in Finland, started its operations in 2009, the same year as Powergrip. In 2017, we sealed a deal with Frisbeepoint to acquire their entire shareholding, marking our expansion beyond Oulu for the first time. Renowned figure in the sport, Kari Vesala, joined us as a shareholder, while the other two founders of Frisbeepoint, Toni Asikainen and Markus Stigzelius, pursued a different path. Frisbeepoint, much like us, had built its operations with great passion, making the integration of our activities straightforward. With momentum gained, Powergrip also inaugurated its third store in Turku that same year.
The Tampere Disc Golf Center was a long-awaited full-scale top-tier disc golf course in Tampere area, established in 2018. Another disc golf legend, Jussi Meresmaa, hinted to us about a commercial space in the immediate vicinity of “Sentteri”. Which after various stages, we managed to open as our Tampere store in 2018. By now, there were already four stores: in Oulu, Helsinki, Turku, and Tampere.
The business of Powergrip continued its growth, accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic, driving the sales of disc golf. In 2021, discussions with Frisbeemarket, based in Kuopio, progressed to the point where a business acquisition was agreed upon to take place in 2022. Jukka Matula founded Frisbeemarket specializing in custom products in 2015. We were delighted that Jukka joined Powergrip to oversee the custom product business, and we also got Juho and Tuukka to support Jukka in Kuopio.
Erno Moves to the United States with Discmania
Alongside the growth story of Powergrip, Erno made a difficult decision in 2013 to leave the full-time entrepreneurship recently initiated with Powergrip not to mention family and friends. He moved to California to establish Discmania’s operations in the USA, with the assistance of Jussi Meresmaa and then Innova Europe Oy (now Spin18 Oy). Erno thought that opportunities like these don’t come by often in life and decided to seize the chance. He spent a total of just over seven years with Discmania, gathering valuable experience in entrepreneurship and operating within the main market of the sport in the United States. Erno returned to Powergrip in 2021, a couple of years after his return to Finland. The change was once again painful as the people at Discmania had become close to him. However, the Discmania USA operation had been his primary motivation for transitioning to Discmania, and this task had already been accomplished. This made his return to Powergrip easier. Also, the feeling that the journey with Powergrip had been left unfinished.
Establishing Powergrip USA In Illinois
Upon returning to Powergrip, Erno glanced at maps with internationalization in mind. Although Finland is a strong disc golf country, the sport continues to grow wherever disc golf is played. Considering the recent past and the size of the market, the United States seemed like a natural direction, and Erno began preparing a business plan. It didn’t take long before the board of Powergrip gave the green light for the Powergrip USA operation. However, this time, Erno intended to stay within the home country and seek out local talents.
In early summer of 2021, Erno began mapping potential Powergrip USA employees from his acquaintances. One of the first individuals was Zach Parcell, a trusted man residing in Illinois. Zach, for instance, is behind the disc golf website All Things Disc Golf and had previously worked in marketing at Discmania USA. Initially, Erno didn’t even believe that Zach would seize the opportunity, but still floated the idea during a catch-up call. Zach had a demanding job and family commitments. Erno and Zach stayed in touch for weeks, and the concept of Powergrip USA as a joint venture started to captivate Zach more and more. We decided to embark on this joint venture at the end of June 2021. Zach became a partner and CEO of Powergrip USA. We established Powergrip Inc. in the state of Illinois on October 15, 2021.
Establishing a company in the United States was a familiar operation for Erno due to his experience with Discmania USA. This task can be accomplished quite easily by using a specialized law firm. The most challenging phase for a small and medium-sized enterprise like ours, however, was likely the opening of a bank account from outside the United States. We managed to tackle the challenges of establishing the business one by one while simultaneously progressing with the implementation of the online store. Petteri had his hands full again, this time in a new operational environment. “PeraStore” seamlessly integrated into the US e-commerce interfaces, and we launched powergripusa.com on June 9, 2022. We opened our first brick-and-mortar store in the United States, alongside the online store inventory, in April 2023. Naturally, Petteri was involved in building the store in the United States as well.
Towards a More Customer-friendly Powergrip
Like many other outdoor sports, disc golf enjoyed a significant surge in sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic between 2020 and 2022. The demand far exceeded the supply; our shelves were occasionally nearly empty, for instance, in September 2021. Naturally, disc golf manufacturers ramped up their production as much as possible. It was expected that at some point, supply would surpass demand. However, no one knew how the markets would behave. The Russian invasion of Ukraine caused, among many other unfortunate consequences, an energy crisis. The diminishing hype effect of the COVID-19 pandemic, society’s return to normalcy, rising energy prices, and inflation led to a significant decline in sales starting around October 2022.
Although we are the market leader in Europe in the field of disc golf specialty stores, we cannot afford to stand still. We are working diligently to primarily improve our customer experience. When engrossed in running the business, it’s easy to “run alongside the bicycle,” as Pasi often says. The metaphor means it’s easy to get stuck in old ways without seeing the activity from an outside perspective. As of writing this in December 2023, we have a project underway aimed at implementing a new e-commerce platform. At its core are the customers and their needs.