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York Region

Friday, August 20, 2010

Man makes mint off your lost golf balls

BY L.H. TIFFANY HSIEH

You could say that he's got balls.

Shaun Shienfield, a former York Region resident, is the No. 1 online seller of premium pre-owned golf balls and his multi-million dollar business based out of Markham began when he was just 15.

He is now 29, lives in Toronto's tony Mount Pleasant-Eglinton area, and bought a brand new condo this year.

"I'm under 30. I know, I know, it's crazy. I remember sorting golf balls on my March break when I was 15, 16," said Mr. Shienfield, who, out of 300 competitors, won the title of the fifth annual eBay Canada Entrepreneur of the Year.

So exactly how many balls? About 80,000 a day, 500,000 a week, and 20 million a year.

"We have about five million golf balls at the warehouse at any one time," he said.

Growing up in Thornhill, Mr. Shienfield attended Vaughan Secondary School until Grade 11, when his family moved to Richmond Hill and he transferred to Bayview Secondary School. These days, on the rare occasion he's not working, he can be seen at The Briars in Jackson's Point, where his parents live.

In 1995, Mr. Shienfield founded Knetgolf with his brother and father, a lifelong entrepreneur.

"Before the Internet was big, we sold the balls by fax and we sold them real fast," Mr. Shienfield said.

From there, Knetgolf.com was launched in 1998.

Then one day, "I was at home searching Google. I typed in 'recycled golf balls' and all the links were going to eBay. So, people were doing it already on eBay. I thought, 'Wow, they are doing it and we are the business, I better sign up and be proactive about this,'" he said.

That was 2001 and Mr. Shienfield was 21.

From Callaway to Nike to Titleist, Knetgolf works with a network of 2,000 golf courses in Arizona, Nevada, and California to recover lost golf balls, estimated at one billion a year, Mr. Shienfield said.

"The average golfer loses about 4.5 to five balls a round, and most of us are average golfers, including myself. I lose plenty of golf balls," he added.

"We have contracts for the rights of scuba divers and recovery people to go into the desert.

"The reason why so many of our golf balls come out so good is because they are from the desert - they haven't seen water."

Once the balls are collected, they are processed at one of its facilities in Markham and Arizona.

"We clean them up, grade them, inspect them like jewellers, and sell them back to the public between 40 to 70 per cent off the prices of new balls," Mr. Shienfield said.

"They perform the same."

Knetgolf currently employs 70 staff, 40 of them in the 25,000-sq.-ft. Markham facility, where its call centre is also stationed.

The company ships to 30 countries, selling to more than 250,000 golfers a year. eBay accounts for 20 per cent of its overall revenue.

"eBay really allowed us to begin to ship globally. It's grown exponentially," said Mr. Shienfield, adding that 80 per cent of his business is in the States.

This was Mr. Shienfield's first year entering the eBay contest.

He received a $2,000 cash prize he said he'll use to reinvest in the business.

"I'm profoundly honoured about the title. I'm humbled by it - I'm not the only person who deserves this or earned it," he said.

"Getting people to buy pre-owned balls, we are taking the ego out of the game, basically."

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