Article written by Dave Sparks
It’s 2005, and you’ve just scraped together $800 to buy merchandise and launch an eBay store that your girlfriend has named Dynamic Discs. You’re selling plastic discs that people are hurling at elevated, chain-covered metal baskets in parks around the country.
So what happens? If you’re a patient optimist like Jeremy Rusco, you wait.
Having used class time in an Emporia State University Business Law course to review pricing information for that first order, Rusco had no idea that what started out as a college hobby would one day evolve into his life’s work.
“We sold one disc the first week, one the second week,” he recalls, remembering his senior year at Emporia State University where he was to earn a Bachelor of Science in business administration degree the following spring.
Patience, moral support from friends, an innovative agreement with a Swedish manufacturer and backing from a visionary financial institution over the years has paid off. The company that got its start selling 100 discs to college buddies and eBay shoppers now ships upwards of 30,000 discs a week to a worldwide customer base.
And, the girlfriend who named the company? She’s now Rusco’s wife, Wendy. The couple has seen their business grow from the basements of homes they rented in Emporia, while Jeremy supplemented their income with substitute teaching assignments in the public school system.
“I gave that up after about a year, because we’d gotten so busy with Dynamic Discs,” says Rusco. The business outgrew the basement of the first house Jeremy and Wendy purchased in Emporia. Dynamic Discs moved under its own roof, 1,500 square feet of office space in west Emporia.
Even that wasn’t enough room. A building on Commercial Street in downtown Emporia became available in 2010, and Dynamic Discs has called the space home for its storefront operations since then.
The building also set the stage for the company to take a giant leap in the disc golf world—partnering with Latitude 64, a company in Skellefteå, Sweden, to produce Dynamic Discs-branded golf discs.
“They (Latitude 64’s products) were starting to become some of the more popular discs in the United States because of their quality and consistent playing characteristics, and we knew that in terms of finding a manufacturer to go with, they were the one,” Rusco explains.
Already familiar with the company’s representatives when they would visit the United States for some of the more important disc golf events, Rusco was eager to tour Latitude 64’s factory in Sweden. “I was blown away by their production facility. The entire process is automated to insure the product’s quality.”
And with a handshake, a deal was struck.
While one might expect this type of business arrangement crossing international boundaries would be a tightly woven web of contracts, signatures, and legal bills, that’s not the case.
“It’s a pretty special thing with our partnership that they’ve never let us down, and we’ve treated them the same,” Rusco says.
“It’s pretty hard to find an arrangement like that in today’s business climate.”
Dynamic Discs launched four discs onto the market in December 2012—a putter, a midrange disc, a fairway driver and a distance driver.
“We were pretty scared about that first order for 8,500 discs,” Rusco admits. But a couple of days after the discs went on the market, he was ordering more production from the company’s new Swedish supplier.
“Now we have 33 different discs, with more introduced each year. They’re often the most popular discs on the market,” Rusco says, a note of pride escaping in his voice.
Popular equipment for a popular sport. Disc golf has been around since the 1970s, experiencing rapid growth during the past decade.
“I don’t see the enthusiasm waning anytime soon,” Rusco predicts, adding that two to four new disc courses are opened every day in the United States, currently home to 6,000 such courses. He projects 20,000 disc golf courses in the United States by 2040.
“It’s a great sport. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s for all walks of life,” he adds.
Manufacturing and distributing disc golf merchandise is only part of the picture, though. Rusco’s work promoting disc golf as a sport is the other key ingredient to his company’s success, and events like Emporia’s Glass Blown Open disc golf tournament have helped guarantee growth.
“Glass Blown Open is obviously something that we’re really proud to be the machine behind,” Rusco says. The event started with around 80 players in 2002. It’s grown to become the largest disc golf event in the world the past three years. More than 1,600 competitors from all over the world spend an entire week in Emporia, scoring rounds on the city’s disc golf courses, eating and drinking in its restaurants and watering holes, and contributing transient guest tax dollars to Emporia’s tourism efforts each night they spend in a hotel.
“People refer to Emporia as the Disc Golf Capital of the World, and the Gravel Grinding Capital of the World,” Rusco laughs, making mention of the city’s famous Dirty Kanza annual bicycle race staged on the area’s Flint Hills gravel roads.
The future for Dynamic Discs is just as clear and colorful as those pristine Flint Hills skies, too.
“I see us staying here in Emporia,” Rusco says. “We’re the number-two disc golf company in the world, in terms of volume. And, I think we’re number one in terms of the image we have and the positive things we’re doing for the sport.”
In addition to its Emporia store and online presence (www.dynamicdiscs.com), Dynamic Discs operates three retail stores in Kansas City, Kan., Carrollton, Texas, and a recently opened location in Springdale, Ark. Add five recreational vehicles that tour the country promoting disc golf, and it’s easy to see Rusco doesn’t take lightly the importance of keeping the sport in front of recreation-seekers.
Bringing a portion of the manufacturing process to Emporia is also in Rusco’s playbook.
“Opening up a production facility that employs more people and provides opportunities for us here in Emporia is something that I want to make happen.”
“It’s crazy to think about how much money it takes to operate, and we’ve been fortunate to have a bank (ESB Financial) that’s been supportive of our vision,” Rusco says, adding that Dynamic Discs operates privately, without outside investment.
“We’ve grown from essentially my college hobby to a company that has 50 employees now,” Rusco notes, adding that 13 of those workers moved with their families to Emporia from out of state. The connection with Emporia stretches to its higher education opportunities, as well.
“More than half of our organization is either attending or has graduated from Emporia State University or Flint Hills Technical College. We try to hire college kids and keep them here after they graduate,” he said.