A golf business for a golf family

By |  October 17, 2018 0 Comments
Turf equipment (Photo: Global Turf Equipment)

The Seznas’ love of golf drives them to connect golf course superintendents with the equipment they need to keep their courses in top condition. (Photo: Global Turf Equipment)

In July, Florida-based companies Global Turf Equipment and Turf Equipment Rental merged into a single entity under new ownership, GTE Partners, LLC. This acquisition, however, is unlike most. For one family, it’s the entree into a joint venture between father and son working in an industry that serves the game they love.

The decades-old companies, formerly under the leadership of Jim Sartain and Pat Yarbrough, built a strong, international reputation in pre-owned and used equipment for golf course maintenance.

Featuring top-tier brand relationships, they were able to offer equipment at a cost 60 percent less than new retail, providing courses an affordable option on quality equipment. Additionally, Turf Equipment Rental created an alternative to owning equipment for short-term projects or specialized needs such as renovations.

For Sartain and Yarbrough, the mission was to provide golf courses and their superintendents an affordable alternative to new equipment. That vision is the same for new GTE Partners owners Will Sezna and his father, Davis Sezna.

“We have tremendous respect for those who work so diligently to care for courses and facilities,” says Will, president of the new company. “Our mission is to provide a best-in-class option for our superintendents and their teams.”

Close-up of turf equipment (Photo: Global Turf Equipment)

Photo: Global Turf Equipment

A family affair with golf

The Seznas have spent much of their lives around the game of golf and in the hospitality business. They saw this acquisition as a unique opportunity to apply their love of the game to an area they highly respect.

A former golfer at the University of Georgia, Davis built a career in the golf and hospitality space. He has served as the president of La Quinta Resort and PGA West, co-managing partner at Heritage Golf Group, and developed his own golf and hospitality firm, collectively overseeing multiple venues and golf courses in his tenure.

Meanwhile, Will credits growing up in the golf course businesses created by his father as part of his inspiration behind GTE Partners. While working for a private equity firm, Will served Sartain and Yarbrough in finding a buyer for their businesses, as no succession plan was in place.

“As we got deeper into the process, we decided that instead of helping them raise funds to be acquired, we were going to raise the funds ourselves,” says Will of himself, his father and a private investor. “It was a unique opportunity where you have a company that was in a niche.”

The Seznas evaluated the company in November 2017, began pursuing it in January and finalized the purchase details in July 2018. Joining the Seznas in GTE Partners’ leadership is Chief Operating Officer Walt McMahon, who formerly served as Golf Turf Equipment’s vice president of sales.

Attesting to the quality of the two companies, Will says, “We have a great operational team already, and we’re just trying to enhance the foundation and scale.”

View of turf equipment facility (Photo: Global Turf Equipment)

Photo: Global Turf Equipment

Quality for less

Assuring quality equipment, GTE inspects and assures optimum functionality in all major areas, including engines, electrical, hydraulics and cutting units. They also inspect and repair general operation items such as reels/deck lift and lower, blades/reels engaging and disengaging, safety switches, hour meters, brakes, steering, gauges, belts, bearings, seals and cooling system components. After undergoing the reconditioning process, all machines are covered by a 90-day warranty.

GTE’s quality and affordability make a compelling case to courses that are operating under challenging budgets.

“The ability to provide superintendents quality machines that have 80 percent of the life left in them for 40 cents on the dollar is a unique proposition that really helps out these clubs,” Will says.

GTE Partners’ Tampa headquarters maintains an average of 300 to 400 pieces of equipment year round, featuring Toro, John Deere and Jacobsen. Most of the inventory is sourced from three- to four-year lease returns among top brands.

“We believe our inventory should reflect the demand in the market,” Will says. “Our job is to continue to grow the relationships with those brands.”

As for the rental fleet, McMahon says, “A large portion is geared toward equipment needed for renovation projects, equipment a course may need occasionally but may find it is more cost effective to rent than purchase and have it spend most of its time parked in the maintenance facility.”

The inventory includes aerifiers, tractors, sweepers, top dressers, material handlers and verticutters for specific projects, among additional routine maintenance equipment.

David Mattes, superintendent of The Links at Challedon in Mount Airy, Md., has worked with Global Turf Equipment on two separate occasions since 2016. After proposing an overhaul of select equipment to his course’s new ownership, Mattes found his local suppliers inventories were sparse. So Mattes turned to the internet, where he found Global Turf Equipment; he wanted to find the best quality products he could, for the lowest hours.

“Whereas I would love to be able to get new equipment, that’s just not the marketplace that I’m in, I have to get the best bang for my buck,” Mattes says.

In addition to low hours, Mattes found the equipment to be clean and equipped with a no-questions-asked warranty.

“They were very good on their warranty work … We had a motor that was not working on one machine, one of the mowers, and they just said, ‘OK, here it is.’ So, they sent it to us, it was really cool.”

After his initial experience, Mattes returned to Global Turf Equipment last year, valuing the company’s ability to work on price and their delivery on quality products and service.

“I have a big affinity for superintendents because they’re creative in getting the job done,” says Will. “Everyone expects to have this incredibly well-manicured course and they don’t understand the amount of money it costs to run a great facility. I think we have an amazing opportunity to help out with fixing those issues of budgets being compressed.”

A targeted approach

At the time of the acquisition, Golf Turf Equipment served courses in all 50 states and 80 countries, areas in which GTE Partners plans to increase visibility. Domestically, GTE Partners will focus on increasing its presence in the Southeast and Northeast, two regions that have vastly different needs but can be served by GTE’s inventory.

The company will also focus on its international business, which makes up a valuable portion of the company. With a location in France, an emphasis will be given to central Europe. Additionally, they are prospecting in the Caribbean and South Africa. The company currently employs 22 people.

As the Seznas know well from their experience in the golf industry, relationships matter. As a result, GTE Partners is continuing to work with Sartain and Yarbrough.

“They’ve grown this thing from its infancy and so we’re utilizing them as partners and consultants,” Will says. “They’re beloved throughout the industry, so it makes total sense for us to keep them close as we take over this business.”

As the Seznas and their partner continue to familiarize themselves with the business, their inspiration for best serving those who work in the field will drive them to maintain a position as a leading reseller of used golf course maintenance equipment.

“We’re all big golfers, golf penetrates all aspects of our lives, our families are golfers,” says Will. “This isn’t a private equity firm coming in to take over a company — this is a partnership that adores the game of golf.”

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