Hill Billy electric trolley: factory tour

Hill Billy's new electric trolley is carving a niche for itself in the market

Charlie Lemay's picture
Fri, 12 Feb 2016
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Electric trolley brand Hill Billy is on the comeback trail. Following a spell in the deep rough, the British organisation has found the fairway, and it appears some decent numbers are in order.

Back under new/old ownership, it has forged a strong relationship with customers, who see merit in the stripped-down, simple product.

Perhaps surprisingly for Hill Billy, it has discovered a new demographic in the last decade, which will do no harm to the brand's bottom line. 

“Our demographic is a mix,” said John DeGraft-Johnson, Hill Billy chairman. “When we first started in the 90s it was a distress purchase, people had to buy one because they couldn’t get around the course.

"In time it came to be viewed more as a game improvement product. Nowadays you’ll see many more youngsters using them, but the price can sometimes be a hindrance for the younger demographic. So these latest trolleys are a great entry level product.”

Brand Background

The brand is named after the Billy goat, famed for being light and nimble on its feet.

Formed in 1993, Hill Billy was one of the earliest folding trolleys, quickly gaining a loyal following.

DeGraft-Johnson and his team bought the brand in 2000 and ran a “very successful business” until selling up in 2004. Over the next five years, the company struggled.

“The (new) owners were strong in the trade, but were not keen on selling direct to consumer,” explained DeGraft-Johnson.

“When David and I bought it back a few years ago we returned to selling direct. We had already developed the EZiCaddy which was perfect, so we released this new product in 2014 with a soft launch.”

Hill Billy has a strong relationship with PowaKaddy, sharing the same owners and factory in Sittingbourne, Kent.

While they were once a group, which caused issues with PowaKaddy taking precedence, the pair are now treated as completely separate companies.

“Selling by telephone or online allows us to serve the consumer direct,” said Alan Ainscow, Technical Service Manager, who’s been with the company from the start

"We can also gain useful feedback about things our customers like and dislike."

The Hill Billy trolley

Described as an “entry level electric trolley”, the product is so easy to use even the biggest technophobe will have no issues, from the unfolding stage through to packing it away and charging the battery. 

“The product is a simple folder, with no thrills. Essentially it has the same electronics and engineering as higher priced trolleys but without the glitz and glamour," said DeGraft-Johnson.

“It utilises a plug and play system, which avoids the need for fiddly wires and connectors, and works with both a lead acid (£269) and lithium battery (£369). To buy a new battery is £150. 

“We offer a 5-year pro-rata warranty on lithium batteries. If it fails in the first two years, you get a free replacement, year three a 50% discount, year four 25%, year five 15% discount. So effectively you are renting. Charging time for lithium is around five hours, but we strongly recommend you leave them on charge all the time.

“If you have an old Hill Billy trolley that takes an acid battery, we can upgrade you to a lithium for £150, as we have a universal Hill Billy lithium battery that fits into the old models.”

The battery is clearly the most important aspect of the trolley, and the component that has customers stroking chins and pondering whether to shell out extra cash.

“This year for the first time lithium battery sales overtook acid battery sales. The Europeans adopted it much quicker – 96% use lithium," added DeGraft-Johnson.

"If you want something really simple to use, this is the one. Sales are picking up again now consumers know we are back on the market.

Extra Features

- Top speed is about 6mph and the trolley boasts a soft start.

- Height of the handle is adjustable – it is the only electric trolley with this feature.

- Anti-twist base ensures the bag stays in place, and the cart goes straight.

Factory

In 2006, Hill Billy moved from their factory in Whitstable, Kent, to Sittingbourne in the same county. Down in the belly of the beast, I was afforded the luxury of watching the product be assembled by one of Hill Billy’s skilled workers.

The trolley is made from a staggering 263 component parts. It was intriguing to watch it come together while moving down the production line, and was particularly satisfying to see the final piece of the jigsaw slot into place – the Hill Billy sticker.    

“The products are designed in the UK," explains Ainscow. “We have it tooled and moulded in China, then it comes back to the UK to be assembled.

"The expertise for making these trolleys remains in the UK, so we’re proud that we make the most of that knowledge. It also allows us to respond to customer requests much quicker if we are assembling them here.

"We sell around the world, although the large majority of sales are in the UK. If there’s a problem we’ll send out a loan trolley, or find a way of keeping them going while their trolley is fixed."

Customer service is at the heart of the Hill Billy brand, from providing an affordable, yet high quality product, through to dealing with breakages.

With so many brands simply concerned with till numbers, it is refreshing to find a golf outfit who are sympathetic to their customers and heed feedback - and it's clearly working. 

Hill Billy came back onto the scene with a new-and-improved product, and 2016 could be the year they speed away from the competition. 

Visit the Hill Billy website for more information. 

 

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