Josue Reyes didn’t grow up playing golf, but the game would play an instrumental role in his career and in launching his own business last year.
“I grew up playing baseball,” Reyes said in an interview from the Reyes Retail headquarters in Sheboygan Falls. “Golf, I didn’t pick up till I was in college.”
Still, he’s now a PGA golf professional, on the boards of PGA Magazine and the Association of Golf Merchandisers, and has twice been named the PGA Merchandiser of the Year.
Like many casual golfers, Reyes picked the game up in the late 90s when Tiger Woods was at the height of his ability.
“I can play but not at that level,” Reyes said. “Growing up, basically every job that I had has always been in hospitality, and I always love sports. (Working in golf merchandising) kind of just melds it together.”
It was a bit of a risk and a step back to get into the golf industry 20 years ago.
“I had a good job at Disney in a fine dining restaurant, (making) good money in my early 20s, and I left all that to go work at a bag drop for like nine bucks (an hour) plus tips,” he said. “I just always knew that a career in sports and hospitality was kind of my direction and golf just happened to blend both of those together.”
Working in golf merchandising brought Reyes to Sheboygan. After several years as the head of golf merchandising at Ritz Carlton Hotels, he joined Kohler in 2008, a few years after the company’s Whistling Straits course first landed the international spotlight as host of the PGA Championship, a tournament it’s hosted twice more since, as well as the Senior Championship and the 2021 Ryder Cup.
In addition to stocking and managing the high-end merchandise in Kohler’s golf shops, Reyes worked with corporate clients to create swag and merch for their corporate events at the resort.
“If we had a corporate client that was coming in to the resort and even though golf was not in their itinerary, we could do padfolios, we could do tumblers, we could do this and that with your company logos on it,” he recalled. And then he had people calling for merch when they weren’t even coming to Kohler.
“I had corporate clients that were coming back to me for corporate orders that were not associated with anything at Kohler or the resort,” he said. “For example, Associated Bank or RW Baird, some of these financial institutions come to Kohler, we service them, and then six months later, they’d be like, ‘Hey, Josue, that quarter-zip pima sweater that you got us, everybody loved it. We’ve got an event in California, we’ve got an event in New York, we want to order another 100 units.’”
That, along with an acquired habit of giving advice to colleagues in the industry, made Reyes think he could do this on his own.
“I figured that after the Ryder Cup I’d already reached the pinnacle for merchandising at a major level, and I just felt like there’s a need for this business,” he said.
Just like moving from dining to golf 20 years earlier, Reyes took another leap. Launching Reyes Retail in May 2022, Reyes leveraged the network he spent nearly two decades building.
“When you get to that certain level where you’re doing merchandising at a high volume, you do have the opportunity to network with the presidents and VPs of all these companies,” he said. “I’ve got a nice Rolodex of who runs Nike, who runs Adidas, who runs Peter Millar.”
Access to those higher-end brands is one of the things that sets Reyes Retail apart.
“There’s thousands of promotional companies out there where you could buy t-shirts and pens and hats and whatever you need,” he said. “But what I realize is that within golf, we have access to brands that a lot of these promotional companies don’t have access to.”
The other differentiator, Reyes said, is his attention to customer service details.
“Coming from Ritz Carlton and coming from Kohler, five-diamond, five-star standards … those are things that, when you’re working for those organizations, are just ingrained in you on a daily basis,” he said.
So far, the company has taken on local clients like Above & Beyond Children’s Museum in Sheboygan and the golf teams of Howards Grove and Sheboygan Falls High Schools; regional clients like VISIT Milwaukee and the Geneva National Resort in Lake Geneva; and national clients like Hyatt Hotels, Marriott International and more.
Reyes’s wife Melissa left her teaching job to join the company in January of this year.
“I’m probably the less risk taker of the two for sure,” she said. “But here we are.”
The couple have known each other most of their lives. In fact, they were born just two days apart – she near Chicago, he in Puerto Rico. Both families relocated to the Orlando area when they were kids.
“We grew up about a mile from each other, and we went to middle school together and became high school sweethearts, and we managed to make it work out,” Josue Reyes said.
Melissa Reyes said the decision to come to Sheboygan was a good one for their family, in part because they were able to raise their children closer to family in Chicago and in part because their new hometown was very welcoming.
“I honestly could not have been any happier the last 15 years and raising them here,” she said. “I mean, people talk about the (niceness of the) Midwest, but on our end, it’s been very true.”
For now the business is located in a leased space and using mostly leased embroidery and screen printing equipment; additionally, some of the embroidery and screen printing is outsourced. One important line of business is running e-commerce shops for brands; for those clients, the company keeps inventory on hand. As that business grows, more space will likely become necessary.
Given that the company has grown significantly in its first year with virtually no investment in advertising or marketing – it’s all been word of mouth thus far – Reyes thinks the staff of six could be tripled in the next five years.
“The phone’s ringing,” he said. “We’re taking on orders and new clients, but then again, I’m also mindful of the growth of our business. I’m just not just trying to pick up every (new client) unless I can find the right staff and train them accordingly. We’re being very strategic in how we grow.”