The custom golf cart business is booming.
Some of the entrepreneurial minds out there may see “easy” money on the horizon. If you’re one of those people and you’re wondering how to start a golf cart business of your own, this interview is for you.
Sloan Whitaker, one of the owners of BA Carts in Van Wert, Ohio, was kind enough to sit down for a wide-ranging interview. Thanks to his generosity, you’ll get a fun glimpse behind the curtain of the custom golf cart business.
So without further delay, here are some great insights from any industry expert.
DECEMBER 2022 UPDATE: Sloan and I recorded a podcast! You can listen below or read the email interview (which touches on some additional topics).
Interview with Sloan Whitaker, BA Carts of Van Wert, Ohio
Me: I know you and BA Carts are staying busy. Thanks for taking the time for this interview. I want to start by asking you how you got involved in the custom golf cart business. Can you give me some backstory?
Sloan: Hey Josh! First off, thanks for featuring BA Carts in this interview. Also, I appreciate what you’re doing for the golf cart industry, your website is awesome!
So the story of BA Carts is actually pretty long but I’ll keep it a short as possible. So my father (Lynn) owns an audio/video business that he started nearly 30 years ago here in Van Wert called Custom Audio Concepts (CAC). Around 7-8 years ago he started dabbling a little in golf carts as just a fun little hobby with friends which went hand in hand with CAC because all of his guys were skilled mechanics / car audio installer / techs / etc.
2017 is when everything changed. Not only did Ohio enact a law stating that you can drive golf carts on the road, but I moved home and bought into the business. BA Carts picked up Club Car Onward, and since we were already building golf carts when the golf cart demand boomed, we became very busy.
Of course, most golf cart dealers have grown since 2017, but thankfully, we have doubled and tripled in size, EACH YEAR since 2017, and I think we’ve done so because all of us at BA Carts take golf carts very seriously. We don’t just half heartedly throw golf carts together thinking to ourselves “Eh, it’s just a golf cart.” No, I’m always telling people “It’s NOT just a golf cart”, whether it’s for the campground or it’s how you take your family for ice cream, golf carts are a fun mode of transportation for thousands of people now and just like a car, people want a good looking golf cart that also works each and every time they hit the gas. From the products we buy, to the OEM’s we sell, to building each golf cart, to our customer service, we’ve spent the last five years making sure our customers are receiving one hell of a product/service when they shop at BA Carts.
Me: I knew the golf cart industry has grown, I didn’t realize that it’s grown that much!
With the next few questions, I’d love to get into some of the nuts and bolts of your business. Most of us won’t get the chance to do what you do, so let’s start with a fun question: What’s the coolest part about your job?
Sloan: I don’t even have to think about this question. Two things:
1. Seeing the look on our customers faces when they come to pick up their golf cart or when we deliver is definitely the coolest part about this job. Golf carts are just toys for adults, and just like a child lighting up when they receive a toy, our adult customers light up when they see their own personal custom golf cart.
2. Completing an Extreme build for a customer is definitely my second favorite part about this business. Our Extreme Club Car Onwards are for customers nationwide that want a luxurious tailor-built golf cart that is fully loaded with every premium option we offer.
From Custom Suite Seat Cushions, JL Audio Speakers and Subs, 10″ Stinger Touchscreen Head Unit, 4 Zones of XK Glow LED Lights, Custom Paint, Custom Powder coat, all of these options put together make our Extreme builds some coolest carts on the road today.
These builds take a lot of planning. First, we help our customers decide on what they want. Then we need to order, tear an Onward down to the frame, wire, and rebuild the Onward back up.
This work means we easily have 100-150 hours invested into the customer and build. The entire process can take 1-3 months due to lead times on ordering certain parts. So with all that being said, when we finish an Extreme build I love just stepping back and taking it all in, appreciating the customer and the fact that I get to build awesome golf carts for a living.
Me: On the flip side, what are the biggest challenges?
Sloan: The first thing that comes to mind is SPRING AND SUMMER TIME!
Here in Ohio, there are only 5-6 months of comfortable weather to use a golf cart. That means most people golf cart shop online all winter long and then start showroom shopping in Spring.
Man — I’ll tell you what — when it rains, it pours.
We will go from selling 1 cart a week during the winter, to selling 20-30 carts a week in the Spring and Summer. This results in multiple 100 hour work weeks, little sleep and lots of stress for everybody at BA Carts.
So to answer your question, our biggest challenge is meeting all our customer’s expectations during the Spring and Summer.
Now I want to be clear here, I and the rest of BA Carts appreciate the hell out of each and everyone of our customers, so I’m not saying “Our biggest challenge is dealing with customers.” Our biggest challenge is delivering on the BA Carts name during overwhelming sales.
We don’t just throw junk together and deliver mediocre golf carts to our customers. We build some of the best quality golf carts money can buy and we offer many custom options that most dealers don’t.
On top of the final product, we treat our customers like gold, and delivering on our high standards can be increasingly hard to do when you have 100 golf carts sold that need to be built/modified that also need to be delivered yesterday.
We’ve built a “Quality Over Quantity” reputation as a business, so customers come to us expecting world class customer service and next level craftsmanship. They don’t come to us expecting to find the cheapest golf cart for sale in Ohio. If that were the case, delivering on the BA Carts Name wouldn’t be challenging at all, it’d be easy.
So with all that said, I’ll stop blabbering and just say this: It can be challenging having such high standards for our business, but the amount of people we have on the road today driving a BA Cart is worth all the blood, sweat and tears.
Me: If someone is looking to buy a custom golf cart or build one on their own, what are the most important questions they need to ask?
Sloan: If they’re shopping pre-owned then they need to ask:
- What’s all been replaced during the rebuilding process?
- When you say “restoration” what are you actually restoring?
- Does this cart come with a warranty?
- If you bought this cart from a golf course, where was the golf course? (Carts at courses in Florida are used two to three times more a year than a golf cart at a course in Michigan)
Regardless of you shopping new or pre-owned, they also need to ask themselves:
- What features are most important to me. Speed? Suspension? Space? Gas or electric? Lifted or not?
- What am I using the golf cart for? Camping? Residentially? Work?
The golf cart that is the best option for the camper that will only drive 5 mph on bumpy/stoney roads around their campground might not be the best golf cart for the customer that wants to drive residentially on smooth roads that have a 25mph speed limit.
Me: I know that BA Carts has a pretty extensive rebuilding process. Explain what you do and why you do it.
Sloan: So our “BA Restoration Process” includes restoring the frame, restoring the engine, restoring or replacing every mechanical part with new, and replacing all cosmetic parts with new.
Our #1 goal in our restoration process is to turn a pre-owned golf cart into a 100% mechanically sound machine that not only runs like a new golf cart but looks like it’s brand new.
The initial reason why we went over-the-top on our restoration was because we never wanted a customer to have a beautiful golf cart sitting in their garage that didn’t run. As the years have gone by, we’ve noticed that there is an even bigger WHY for what we do and that is due to the Lipstick-On-A-Pig golf carts out there.
It’s very easy to take a golf cart that is on it’s last leg mechanically, replace the body with a pretty painted body, replace the rims and add a backseat while not even trying to restore the engine, frame or mechanical parts. Many companies ignore the mechanical but call the golf cart “restored.”
We have so many people bring us their golf carts that look brand new but have extremely bad mechanical/frame/wiring problems due to a poor restoration.
At BA Carts, we’ve set the restoration bar high with a sickening attention to detail. We think our customers deserve this quality and we realize that there is a crucial need for real Golf Cart Restoration in our market.
Me: I’m sure you’ve seen just about every golf cart brand come through your doors at some point. What are your favorite brands to work with and why?
Sloan: We love to work with Yamaha because they are undeniably the most bulletproof golf cart in the industry. We also love to work with Club Car not only because they are the Cadillac of the industry, but the accessory and customization options for Club Cars are endless.
Me: Are there any brands you try to avoid?
Sloan: I’m not going to name any names because I don’t like creating enemies, but I will say that we only sell OEMs and brands that we whole heartedly believe in.
If an OEM or brand sells their product because they produce quality, then we will pick them up. If an OEM or brand sells their product because they push to be the cheapest option rather than the best quality option, then we won’t even consider them. Golf carts and golf cart parts just like anything else “You get what you pay for.”
Me: Do you prefer gas carts over electric? Or vice versa? Why?
Sloan: Excellent question, but let’s break it down to Gas, Lead Acid Electric and Lithium Ion due to the increasingly popularity of Li-On carts.
I prefer Gas carts right now because they’re easy to diagnose and fix (most of the time), they reach 200 miles per gas tank, and most importantly, they don’t make a fuss about only being used six months a year (unlike Lead acid carts).
Now I know this is a controversial topic, but I’m just basing my opinion on my hundreds of unhappy electric golf cart owners I’ve talked to in the midwest. THE WINTER IS NOT YOUR FRIEND IF YOU HAVE A LEAD ACID ELECTRIC GOLF CART. I’m not going to get into all of the details on how to keep your batteries healthy, but you better follow every last rule if you have a lead acid electric cart in the midwest because if you don’t, your batteries will be toast within 2 years if you don’t use your cart during our long and cold winters.
I’ve had hundreds of customers do everything right with their batteries and STILL end up having to replace them every 2-3 years. The maintenance required for an electric cart here in the midwest can be annoying and tedious which is why I’m growing fond of the Lithium Ion golf carts. From Onward, to Evolution, to Roy Pow Lithium Ion batteries, the zero maintenance, range on one charge, the power, and drop in battery weight is a game changer for the golf cart industry.
We’re adopting the Lithium Ion trend a little slower up here in the Midwest than the southern states because we’re all so pro-gas, but us guys at BA Carts have been slowly building and selling more Lithium Ion carts. I bet I’ll be a bigger advocate for Li-On than I am for gas down the road.
Me: I’ve seen golf carts vinyl-wrapped, bed-lined and even spray-painted. Some of these designs looked good at first glance. What’s the best way to make a cart look good and hold up over time? What process do you favor at your shop?
Sloan: We have our carts painted with automotive paint and automotive clear coat. It holds up well, looks beautiful, and can be buffed if a customer scratches the body. As for the steel/aluminum accessories (lift kit, brush guard, struts, backseat, etc), we have them powder coated. We work with PPG and Prismatic Powders which produce a strong/hard powder coat that also looks great.
Me: I’m the type of person that likes to keep things simple. If you were to choose 5 — and only 5 — must-have features for a custom golf cart, what would they be?
- Paint Job
- Aftermarket Rims
- LED Lights
- Overhead Dome Lights
Me: Do you have a favorite BA Carts custom build? What makes this cart your favorite? Do you have any photos you can share?
Sloan: The two carts we built for Heavy D and The Muscle of The Diesel Brothers on The Discovery Channel has to be my favorite custom builds because it was just an awesome opportunity and crazy story looking back.
I’ve always been a fan of the show. In fact, a lot of my inspiration for build ideas and videos I’ve done for BA Carts comes from Diesel Brothers. So when The Muscle saw my online content and reached out for two carts I practically panicked.
They’re the Diesel Brothers so they didn’t want some small/simple golf carts. Nor did they want to wait very long to have them.
Like an idiot I sold them two builds that required a bunch of parts that I didn’t even have in stock! So I spent probably three days calling our suppliers saying “I NEED THIS AND I NEED IT NOW PEOPLE! I’M BUILDING CARTS FOR DIESEL BROTHERS!” Thankfully we got everything within two weeks, we worked six 20 hour days building the carts. I loaded the carts and the wife in the truck and I hit the road and drove straight to Salt Lake City to deliver them. We got to meet all the guys, and I spent a full day of filming with Diesel Dave and Muscle that’s supposed to get some air time on their show.
I think the craziest part about all of this was what happened after our trip out to Salt Lake. Diesel Brothers decided to include our carts in their huge advertising campaigns which received millions of views. So, looking back, those two carts and everything that came with the opportunity is why they’re my favorite!
Me: What’s the most expensive or the most unique custom cart to come out of BA Carts?
Sloan: One of my most memorable sales was the very first Extreme Onward we ever sold. I’ll leave out a few details to keep the customer anonymous, but here’s the story: I was at a trade show showing off our first ever Extreme build and a customer walked up up it, took it all in, cranked the volume, heard the sound system, flashed me his credit card and said “I’ll take it.”
After talking for awhile I asked “This is a $25,000 golf cart, what do you plan on using this for? He said “This is what me and fellas will be taking to the strip club.” So somewhere out there, one of our Extreme Onwards is a strip club mobile.
Me: Thanks for this glimpse into the custom golf cart world. Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
Sloan: You’ve done an excellent job with these questions so I don’t really have much more to say. If anything I’d just like to give a shoutout to all of our customers and our team at BA Carts, I wouldn’t be doing this interview if it wasn’t for our customers and our also BA Team. If there’s anything we love more than golf carts, it’s the people that we get to meet as a result of selling golf carts, so again, THANK YOU.
And thank you Josh for the interview. I’m really digging Par 3 Near Me. I appreciate what you’ve done for us already and I’m looking forward to seeing what collaborations we can put together in the future!