Lions and tigers and bears … oh, my! Daphne’s Headcovers is a family-owned, labor of love that manufactures just about every sort of animal headcover you can imagine. Jane Spicer is the President of this menagerie; she’s ably assisted in her Phoenix offices by several golden retrievers and a few pussycats.
Golf Conversations: How did Daphne’s begin?
Jane Spicer: It was a mom/daughter fundraiser. I wanted a sailboat. My mom said if I wanted one, I had to think of a business and make my own money. So we started selling toys and those morphed into puppets and I eventually got the sailboat.
GC: How old were you when you wanted a sailboat?
GC: Ten??? A real sailboat?
JS: Yeah, a little 16-foot sloop.
GC: And you were ten? When I was ten all I wanted was bubble gum.
JS: A few years later, a customer suggested that we make golf club headcovers. I was almost 16 then. My mom said, “If you sell enough of these, I’ll buy you a car.”
We went to Goodwill and got a patent leather hat box; we thought that would make a good sample case. And we made enough headcovers to fit in that sample case. We made a birdie, an eagle, and a bogie.
GC: Who’s Daphne?
JS: My mom.
GC: Is mom still with us?
GC: Oh, I’m sorry.
JS: Thank you.
GC: Did she get to see the success of the company?
JS: She did. My dad got involved with it, too. He came on as an accountant when he found out that we kept all our money in coffee cans.
GC: Let’s get back to how you started selling headcovers.
JS: I went to the Arizona Biltmore Resort.
GC: The Frank Lloyd Wright place?
JS: Exactly. I walked into the golf shop with my sample bag and there were photos of the staff on the wall. And the top photo said “Pete Robbeloth.” So I said, “Hi, I’m Jane, I’m here to see Pete.” And they let me in.
There weren’t any sales reps back then who were sixteen. Pete was really nice; he didn’t kick me out and I gave him my sales pitch.
He said three things to me: “I’ll buy your headcovers …your sales pitch stinks … and I’ll help you. I’m going to send you to a couple of people and if you can sell to them, you can sell to anybody.”
He told me to go home and practice my sales pitch for a week. I went to the first guy; he chewed me up and spat me out. The second guy traded me my headcover samples and cash for some tennis shoes that I wanted.
GC: Bad trade, Jane.
You were making these headcovers by hand?
JS: Oh, yes. We did them in our dining room. Again, we had a birdie, an eagle, and a bogey. We thought that a bogey is a bad thing so we made a little bogey monster headcover. I think we also had a koala and a beaver. That was our line.
One of the guys I talked to said he’d give me an order if we could make a camel. I said, “Of course we can.” I didn’t think twice about whether we could or not.
GC: The question begs: did he want camels with one hump or two?
JS: They were humpless.
GC: Had there been animal headcovers in the golf market?
JS: No, there hadn’t been. I had to overcome a lot. All I had was the will to succeed. And I wanted that car. My mom and I were so close; when I’d come back with orders, she was so pleased and delighted.
GC: How would you get into places that didn’t want to talk to you?
JS: Having a big smile and remembering people’s names at the gate.
GC: This would be at a private club that had a guard and an entrance gate?
GC: You wouldn’t call up the club and try to make an appointment with the head pro?
JS: Oh, I wasn’t that sophisticated. I’d just go out to golf courses, assuming that I’d be able to sell to all of them.
GC: This was all cold-call selling.
JS: Absolutely. I never had a plan. I was never organized.
GC: You were in school, weren’t you?
JS: Yes. I would sell on weekends.
GC: You had a lot of guts, Jane. For a 16-year old kid, that’s a tough thing to go knocking on doors and talking to people who don’t know you. My visor is off to you.
JS: Thank you very much.
GC: How many years did it take before you started enjoying some success?
JS: We grew slowly and steadily. We had two goals: one was to remain solvent. The other one was, my mom always said, “We must do good while we’re doing well.” That was hugely important to her.
[Note: one of the many ways Jane "does good" is her work with Gabriel's Angels, which delivers pet therapy to at-risk children.]
Bit by bit, I learned to make appointments and follow up. I did all the local deliveries. We did our first show at the Mountain Shadows Resort here in Scottsdale. And that helped us grow into a couple of other states. Shortly after, we did a PGA Show in Myrtle Beach.
GC: And mom was doing all the work by hand?
JS: Yeah. But we started hiring immigrants. My mom was from England and my father’s from Austria. My mom was really passionate about helping immigrants. She’d teach them to sew. And we grew that way for quite a few years.
GC: How did your mom find these immigrants?
JS: There was an organization called Catholic Social Services that a lot of them had registered with. And through word-of-mouth, we’d get referrals.
GC: These immigrants were from which countries?
JS: Mostly Cambodia and Vietnam.
GC: Then what happened?
JS: We got busier and busier; I hired more and more sewers…
GC: And while you had all these people working for you, were you making the same three or four designs?
JS: I think we were up to around twelve designs. My mom and dad were doing it full time from our house while I was still in school. Then they decided to get a much bigger house so they could run the whole operation out of the house. So three quarters of the house was dedicated to Daphne’s headcovers and we lived in the other quarter.
GC: With all of these animals you were making, it sounds as if you should have bought a zoo.
JS: We probably should have. Because we were always rescuing animals.
GC: Ahh, the Spicer family sounds like a nicer family.
Ok, what happened next? You got the sailboat and you got the car. Did you go to college?
JS: I studied art in college. I wanted nothing to do with the family business. I was going to live in San Francisco and have a graphic design studio. And have a dining room table that didn’t have a sewing machine on it.
I got out of school and I was doing some design work for some ski stores in Phoenix. I’d grown up with these parents that had an incredible work ethic; they worked all the time. And when I got out of school, nobody worked. It was all about how to cheat the boss, when was the next break, or not to really work. It didn’t resonate with me; I hated that. I liked being productive and succeeding.
I met my future husband Steve in college. He was having a similar experience with work. So we decided to quit both our jobs and resurrect the puppet business. We sold one of our cars to capitalize the business and spent six years traveling the art shows.. And we were still helping my parents with the headcover business. They had grown so much that they had to mechanize the production process.
GC: So they were doing the headcovers. You and Steve were doing puppets.
JS: I also worked for them so that we didn’t starve while we were building the puppet business.
GC: Then what?
JS: We continued to grow. We moved into a warehouse, our first proper facility. It had a house attached to it. My dad rented the house; he said the tenants were nice people. There was a strip joint down the street and the house was rented to some strippers, one of whom was named Bambi.
My dad said she was a perfect tenant: “She’ll always have cash!”
GC: That’s exactly what I was going to say! They get cash right when they leave at 4 o’clock in the morning. From what I hear.
JS: We would get paid in ones.
And we knew where those ones had been! They were good tenants, they slept all day; we never saw them. One day I looked out the window and Bambi was digging through the garbage. She was gathering scrap fur material for one of her outfits.
In 1994-1995, my parents decided they wanted to retire so Steve and I bought the company from them. My mom stayed on as a consultant. She kept so much information in her head; we weren’t computerized then.
GC: And how were the headcovers being manufactured then?
JS: We still had people sewing for us.
GC: Did you have salespeople?
JS: We got some field sales reps. At first, if they were breathing, I would hire them. I was so grateful that they’d work for us. We had one in particular who put us on the map.
GC: What’s her name?
JS: Pennee Irwin. She taught me so much. She really knew what she was doing and got us into posh resorts. And we kept getting busier and busier.
In early ’95, my mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Twenty months later, we lost her. Shortly after she died – in October of 1996 – Tiger Woods won the Masters for the first time and our business grew 400% in a quarter.
I held the copyright on Tiger’s tiger headcover.
GC: You do? How does one do that?
JS: Sheer luck. My mom and I had designed the tiger and he had been carrying it for years.
GC: He’d been using your tiger headcover?
GC: So he must have gotten it from some little pro shop somewhere?
JS: Yeah. His mom had bought it.
GC: So you had the copyright on this before he turned professional?
GC: Every style that you did you copyrighted?
JS: That’s right.
GC: Ok, so Tiger wins the Masters by 12 shots and the phone starts ringing the next day?
JS: Yes. In a warm and fuzzy business such as ours, you get wacky people that will call you: “I need 10,000 buffaloes ASAP.” And we’d always say to them: “No problem. Send us a check for 50% up front and when we get it, we’ll start.”
So after the Masters, we got a call: “We’d like 10,000 tigers right now but we’re gonna want 30,000 total. And we want to pay you more for the tigers than you usually charge because we want premium service.”
I said, “No problem, just send me a check.” I gave them my address and that night I said to Steve, “I got another one of those phone calls today” and didn’t think anything more of it.
The next day I got a FedEx delivery and there was a check for $80,000 in it.
JS: I held it up to the light to see if it was real.
Then I started having problems breathing.
Steve and I jumped around, we were so excited. Then we looked at each other and said at the same time, “Oh, shit! How are we going to make 10,000 tigers?”
GC: Did they give you a deadline?
JS: No, they just sent a check.
GC: Then you called Bambi and asked her to cash the check for you.
Had you ever had an order like that?
JS: Oh, no. If we had a 100-piece order it was a big deal.
GC: So how do you make 10,000 tiger headcovers?
JS: First we called every sewer that we’d ever known and started them sewing. Then we had to order the fur. The fur manufacturer called back and said, “Do you really need this much fur or did you make a mistake?”
“No, we really do. But we need terms because we don’t have any money.” We were so afraid that we couldn’t fill the order that we opened a separate bank account and put the $80,000 check in there in case we had to give it back.
GC: How long would it take to make one tiger headcover?
JS: In the beginning, it would take one person all day to make thirty. So we moved into a larger building to handle the orders. Because this young stud was carrying a headcover, it made it ok for all men to carry them.
GC: Not to carry just tigers but any kind of animal?
JS: Anything, yeah. All of their alter egos were coming out, so we were doing lots of gorillas and whatever you felt like when you had to hit a driver.
GC: I put a brassiere on mine.
JS: I’ve had a skunk on mine for a long time.
GC: So things really took off because of Tiger.
JS: Yeah. We contacted some factories in Mexico and they would send us their sewers and we’d teach them all night how to sew.
GC: Can Steve sew?
JS: Yeah, we all learned how. And we would cut the material at night to have it ready for the sewers who came in the morning.
GC: How long did it take to do 10,000 tigers?
JS: It seemed like a lifetime. It took several months.
GC: So even though the customers wanted these headcovers “tomorrow,” they stuck with you anyway?
JS: They did. For which we were very grateful.
GC: Did you ever have any communication with Mr. Woods about these tiger headcovers?
JS: No. But I did with his mom. They’ve always been very nice and have said, “We use Daphne’s headcovers” and for that I’ve been grateful. I’m basically a shy person and respectful of people’s time and space, so I’ve not taken advantage of opportunities to meet them. I didn’t want to be one of those people who say, “Hi, hey, I did this for you.” That’s not who I am so I just didn’t do it.
GC: But you said you spoke with his mother?
JS: Yeah. Once I got a phone call and it was one our buyers. Mrs. Woods was in the background. She said, “I have to have one, his is worn out, I need some more.”
GC: Doesn’t she give him a new one every year?
JS: I believe she does.
GC: But now, I assume, all of your headcovers are manufactured out of the country?
JS: Yes. About 15 years ago we started manufacturing in Indonesia.
GC: How did a nice girl from Phoenix find a manufacturer in Indonesia?
JS: We were buying our animal eyes from a company that hand-made them in Italy.
GC: Makes sense: they’re EYE-talian.
JS: It was Steve’s idea to find a manufacturer. Really, all the good ideas have been his.
GC: Yeah, he married you. That was a good idea!
JS: I always tell him that.
So he called the eye manufacturer and asked him if he knew anyone. And we found out about Bruno, an Italian who was running a factory in Indonesia. And a while later, we moved to a factory in China.
We have a great relationship with the husband and wife team that run the factory there. We’ve vacationed together.
GC: Before the Internet, you must have had a catalog operation. You were selling to pro shops and stores, not directly to consumers?
JS: Right. We never sold directly to consumers. The golf shops built us. I’m very loyal and grateful to the golf shops. Daphne’s still sells directly to them. We’re now in 75 countries.
GC: Do you have one headcover that sells more than others?
JS: It ebbs and flows. The tiger is still extremely popular. Our gopher does very well. It’s iconic with Caddyshack. And our dogs. People love to have their dogs on their bag.
GC: Who does the designing?
JS: We design as a team. Steve and I are involved and we have some designers. We’re hands-on with the design every step of the way.
GC: Do you see an increase in sales of a particular dog breed that wins a dog show like the Westminster?
JS: Oh, absolutely. Or if they’re on a TV show or in a movie. When Wishbone was on TV, we sold tons of Jack Russell terriers. Sales of Dalmatians went up when 101 Dalmatians came out. Lions sold when Lion King came out.
Daphne’s makes headcovers to be the best quality headcover that you’ll ever have. They have a lifetime guarantee; 10 years from now, 15 years from now, if there’s a problem, we’ll fix it or replace it.
There are a lot of novelty items out there but they’re not designed to protect your driver and they’re not made with very good quality.
Our headcovers have my mom’s name on it … it’s my kids’ future … I’ve got people that have been with me for 27 years who have stood by me. And we stand behind our product.
GC: How many tour players – men and women — are carrying your headcovers?
JS: We’re close to about 200.
GC: That’s a lot of freebies!
Jane, it’s been fun talking to you about your menagerie. And I love that you’ve got all those animals – the real ones – supervising your office operation. Continued success to Daphne’s.
JS: Thank you.