2015: The Launch
Ace Runners Disc Golf was born in 2015 to satisfy our community’s need for a reliable Disc Golf supplier. Back then, discs were only available from a few retailers. If you wanted more selection, you had to order from a handful of American online retailers. Eric Vachon, Wes McIntosh, and Michael McMillan were three disc golfers who needed discs and they knew many people who had the same problem. So they decided to solve the supply problem by sourcing and selling discs to their community.
As tournament directors for many events in Metro Vancouver, they initially sold discs at events only. As demand grew, they launched an online store in November 2015 from one of their homes in Surrey, British Columbia to better track their inventory and to supply players outside of their immediate community. Sales at tournaments were still the primary sales channel; online sales were mainly to residents in BC and then to Alberta, Yukon, Ontario and Quebec.
2017: New Owners
In Summer 2017, Eric and his family relocated to Cochrane Alberta due to a job change. As Wes and Michael did not want to continue Ace Runners on their own, Eric took all their stock with him. Working every night after his family went to bed eventually took its toll. After making some soft queries, he approached me, John Gould-Thorpe, about taking over Ace Runners. Two weeks later in early December 2017, I drove to Cochrane and packed my truck with all of Ace Runners’ stock, which filled up my hobby room in the basement of my home in Langley, BC.
Not ones to do things in half measures, me and my wife Jeannie immersed ourselves in our new hobby business in the evenings. Our son was 5 at the time so we were pretty much housebound in the evenings anyways. We promptly doubled the stock, started tagging each disc to avoid recounting everything after tournament sales, and revamped the online store to reflect the best practices of the larger US retailers, which included weighing and photographing each disc. Instead of meeting up with locals to hand deliver orders, local customers could pick up their packages at our Anytime Fitness gym in Surrey, BC. Sometime in 2018, online sales exceeded onsite sales and by that time, Ace Runners fulfilled orders all across Canada. Stock began to take over our basement.
2019: Steady Growth
By Spring 2019, we (both of us still worked our day jobs) were getting help from our niece Joely to help us keep up with our so-called hobby business. Our son James was at an age when he wanted to help (today it’s all about video games).
Pro tip: You don’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for a disc golf specific shelf. Ikea Billy shelves work fine if you angle the removable shelves inward.
2020 to 2021: The Covid Boom
A public health emergency was declared in BC on March 17, 2020. Due to Covid-19, the government forced many businesses to shut down, including our gym, Jeannie’s full-time job became part-time, and James started “online learning” in grade 2. Everyone was on lockdown. Most activities were outlawed; disc golf was not. More and more people were introduced to our sport and the demand for discs soon exceeded supply. Disc golf was booming. New players wanted discs. New stores wanted discs. Disc manufacturers could not keep product on their shelves. Ace Runners now demanded our full-time attention. Before disc golf could take over our house, we moved into a temporary small commercial space in fall 2020 and subsequently moved into our current retail store in Langley, BC about a year later.
2022: Return to Normal
Beginning spring 2022, Covid-19 restrictions began lifting and people started to resume their normal activities. All the major disc golf manufacturers caught up to demand by fall 2022.
2023: The Business of Disc Golf
Today, what is available from the manufacturers has returned to pre-Covid inventory levels, i.e. manufacturers' supply is now exceeding demand. The difference between then and now lies in the numbers - excess supply now means hundreds of thousands of discs instead of thousands of discs. Due to the exponential growth in our sport in 2020 and 2021, many of the manufacturers expanded their operations by way of staff, facility, production capacity, etc., new manufacturers, distributors and vendors jumped on the bandwagon.
Kastaplast (a somewhat smaller manufacturer) was bought out by Latitude 64 (one of the largest disc manufacturers), which in turn was purchased by a venture capital company. Do these deals mean there are more mergers and acquisitions coming? New manufacturers and distributors with lots of capital (Clash Discs, Lone Star Discs, Powergrip, etc.) have taken market share from the old guard. Powergrip says it is the largest disc golf store in Europe; it launched its US online store in June 2022 and plans to have multiple retail locations throughout the US. What will this mean for the smaller stores? The question for 2023 and beyond is Who will be left standing?