EVANS, Ga. – Queen Elizabeth’s mode of transportation recently at the Royal Horticultural Society’s Chelsea Flower Show drew considerable media attention.
At the age of 95, she was driven in a $75,000, state-of-the art golf cart with all-weather capability. The cart came equipped with cream leather seats with reclining capability. Cup holders, a heated windscreen and Bluetooth capability were among the other features for the luxury vehicle.
The cart was manufactured by Garia, a Danish low-speed electric vehicle company acquired by Club Car earlier this year. It was Club Car’s first add-on since being acquired by Platinum Equity in early 2021.
Founded in 2005, Garia is known for its luxury golf and leisure cars that attracts customers – like the Queen of England – who are seeking to ride in style when puttering around the neighborhood or at flower shows.
The addition of Garia lines up perfectly with Club Car’s direction. Golf remains a mainstay, but with an emphasis on the leisure and utility markers, Club Car’s focus goes beyond the sport.
“We feel like we’re moving to be a lifestyle brand,” Club Car president Mark Wagner said recently at company headquarters in central Georgia. “Now, that brand must translate into work and work vehicles. Golf is our core, it’s how the brand is prevalent, but it’s key to stretch that into these other markets. In some cases, it means cool aesthetic and high features with the colors and nice fabrics. It’s interesting how we’re sharing those features across all of our portfolio, so if the brand is to benefit, we know we’ve got to stretch it, we know we’ve got to mature it to really penetrate these other markets.”
In a wide-ranging conversation, Wagner touted the promise of Club Car roughly one year after Platinum acquired the company from Ingersoll Rand for $1.7 billion.
(Answers have been edited for clarity and length).
PE: Club Car is known as a golf cart manufacturer, but what are other areas of focus for the company?
Wagner: We’re one of the world’s largest producers of low-speed, small-wheeled vehicles, many of which are electric, but we also make gas and diesel vehicles. There are three markets, golf being one. Utility vehicles are a large market. That’s people using our vehicles for work. Things like maintenance, housekeeping and people transport. The really fast-growing piece of the business is the consumer side where people use our vehicles for leisure in neighborhoods.
PE: You’re a premium product. Is that a differentiator from competitors?
Wagner: We enjoy some of the longest-running vehicles in the industry. (The vehicles are) not just aesthetically pleasing but are exciting to ride. They perform great and can do the work that the rider needs and it lasts a long time. Many of our customers are repeat customers.
PE: Explain Club Cars’ presence within Ingersoll Rand and why it chose to divest.
Wagner: We were the second smallest business in the corporation. We were a stable, consistent performer and a good cash generator. There was a lot of passion around the brand from the board and the leadership team. A few years ago, Ingersoll Rand started to think about becoming a pure-play global company, so they split the climate division and the industrial division. We were transacted in the industrial division. At that same time, our consumer business had launched and was really growing and really expanding. And for the first time, we were a growth engine inside the corporation.
Wagner: I think we became a little more attractive to put on the market to acquire, and I think Ingersoll Rand realized that they probably weren’t the best owner for us. The growth maybe had exceeded the investment that they wanted to put in our non-core business.
PE: What is the potential of Club Car as a standalone company?
Wagner: The three markets that we serve are dramatically growing anywhere between high single-digits to mid double-digits. There are mega trends around the world that are fueling our markets; last-mile delivery and electrification of vehicles in Europe, leisure and neighborhoods with amenities in the U.S., and then what is a post-COVID golf boom with some of the highest historical rounds played in golf in 20 years. As a standalone company, we’re a little more nimble, much more focused. Our investments have increased to capitalize these markets.
PE: Explain what you mean by last-mile delivery.
Wagner: Last mile is normally talked about with goods and services, thinking about products delivered to metro areas. They’re being shipped into those areas and they need to get dispersed. Think of how Amazon gets products to where they need to be. In metro centers in Europe, that’s electric vehicles only. Many of those centers, you can’t have gas or diesel engines either at night or at all. Many packages are being delivered into those cities with electric vehicles. That’s a real driving force. It’s a $2 billion industry just for the utility business alone, with almost half of that being the last-mile delivery piece.
PE: Give us a general update on the transformation under Platinum.
Wagner: We were almost 20 years inside (Ingersoll Rand). To stand up everything from payroll to finance, to legal, to tax and IT, all of that work is really 100% done now. On the transformation side, we heavily focused on our operations and supply chain with a series of consultants. That work is still ongoing.
PE: The release announcing the sale to Platinum mentioned the firm’s carve-out expertise. What does that mean? Why was that important?
Wagner: We knew it was going to be a lot of work to carve us out. About three-quarters of our leadership team had only been with public corporations in their careers. When we looked at Platinum and their portfolio and really their specialty, we knew that their expertise of the carve-out would be needed for us to be successful. That was a real differentiator for them to be able to deliver that and help that. We could have never done that on our own. We just wouldn’t have had the experience to do it. We thought that was an asset and it really has been.
PE: How did that carve-out expertise play out during the diligence process?
Wagner: We’ve seen the diligence process from both sides. Both being acquired and then working closely with the Platinum team on acquiring other companies. I think the diligence process was robust. A long series of questions with follow ups. Subject matter experts were brought in, both internal to Platinum and consultants in areas like IT or legal or other areas.
Wagner: As we switched to the acquisition process, the insight was a little different. There was a lot of risk management discussion, areas of concern, things that could either prevent growth or increase expense. Those follow ups were specific, poignant in areas to reduce risk over time. I appreciated it in the acquisition process.
PE: Tell us about Club Car’s growth since Platinum transaction.
Wagner: The demand on this business is significant. The bookings numbers coming in are very high. We have more than a year of backlog on our books with more orders coming in every hour. It’s really a sprint now to ramp up capacity and volume. We’ve enjoyed growth together since the acquisition with probably even more growth planned for the second half of 2022.
PE: What are growth opportunities and where is Club Car headed?
Wagner: With the (Garia) acquisition, we have a very large breadth of vehicles at our disposal, both in the consumer space and in the utility space and can continue to benefit from the golf success. The industry availability is very low, it’s like automotive dealers being empty, so it’s going to take us years just to build up that inventory inside our dealer network because the demand’s so high. You’ve got that as a tailwind as well.
Wagner: Municipality and university, those markers want to procure all that stuff together. They want to have high payload and nimble vehicles all at the same time in a bid. We’ll be able to do that and benefit from that. Lithium is a major trend in this industry as well. More of our products are being developed with lithium which is great benefit to the customer, but also higher sales prices and margin prices for us. We’re launching a new consumer vehicle in September after four years of development that will be a game changer between a golf cart and automotive, something special for neighborhoods and families to enjoy.
PE: Where do you see Club Car in five years?
Wagner: It’s a more global business. I think it’s a heavily EV business. We have obviously been in electric vehicles for 60 years, but electric is becoming such a high percentage of the business that is our future. The business is Tesla-like fun. There will be an emphasis on technology in autonomous, technology in our connectivity, how we’re delivering entertainment or knowledge or safety inside the vehicles. Those are all compelling.
Wagner: The last piece, I would aspire to have this business be more of a leader in our space in safety and regulations. There’s a lot of work to do here, some is part of ESG that I think could be in that framework, some would be just better stewards. Those are real opportunities for us in the future.