Cocktails, Fashion Shows and Custom Headcovers: How Three Canadian Brothers Started Dormie Workshop
By Adam Stanley
Based in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Dormie Workshop creates a wide range of leather goods for customers worldwide.Dormie Workshop
Alex, Todd, and Jeff Bishop remember the trick to selling their first prototype leather headcovers at the Atlantic Canada PGA Show in 2014.
They served free drinks.
In a casino in Moncton, New Brunswick, the brothers officially launched Dormie Workshop, their leathergoods company, with a play on words and a boozy invitation for fellow PGA of Canada Professionals to learn more about their company. “Dark & Dormie” replaced Dark & Stormy cocktails (rum and ginger beer with a squeeze of lime) and they were off to the races after that.
“That was the secret to our success,” says Jeff Bishop with a laugh about their slapped-together prototype that year. “If you were at a car show, it would be like you were just looking at the transmission and the axle. But that car would run like hell, and you wouldn’t believe it.
“By the end of the show we wrote three orders.”
From cocktails to a worldwide business
Dormie Workshop has since turned into an award-winning creative shop that has produced headcovers and plenty of other high-quality leather pieces for about 300 golf clubs worldwide. It’s been named “Best Leather Headcover” by Golf Digest magazine the last six years running, and the brothers moved into a 10,000-square-foot facility in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 2021, now boasting a team of 58 strong.
The trio has never been as creatively inspired as they are these days.
“I think if you had just one widget and you were doing the same thing over and over that would get boring,” says Jeff, the lone PGA of Canada Member at Dormie Workshop. “We set the bar high but that allows our passion to keep growing.
“We’re having a blast.”
The brothers’ coming out party, if you will, happened at the 2016 PGA Show. Jeff and Todd were driving home from Orlando when they realized their then two-year-old company took orders for nearly 2,000 customized leather headcovers. That had exceeded their sales from the whole of 2015 – at an event that was only three days long.
Jeff and Todd were serial entrepreneurs on the side of their golf efforts since graduating with degrees in English (Todd) and business (Jeff). They had found some success with selling an alignment aid and also a ball-marker. Todd was teaching at a school and Jeff was caddying in the U.S. when he first saw more and more leather headcovers roll through the club he was at. His interest level got piqued but was disappointed in the offerings he saw.
The coolness or ‘wow’ factor just wasn’t there.
“There was something left on the table in that niche market,” says Todd. “We’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit but (the previous ideas) may not have been the cash cow we intended.”
The brothers had no money early in their journey – not unlike so many who start with just an idea.
“It’s embarrassing to say we even had two grand saved up because that was like a month’s rent. I forced (Todd’s) hand and went over the top and said, ‘Let’s do it’ and now we’re here,” says Jeff with a smile.
Fashion week research
The initial Dormie Workshop prototype was “literally a bag of leather shaped like a sock” but that’s where expectations were at with headcovers, admits Jeff. They came to that first show with something inspired and creative and that was just, well, different. There was a real opportunity in the space, they had an idea and wanted to be creative, but they were unaware that the technology for sewing even existed.
They ended up going to Kijjii, a Canadian sibling to eBay, to find local tailors and seamstresses to ask about getting prototypes put together.
“It was a matter of, if we do it, what machinery did we need? We had visions but we had no talent for the execution of it,” says Jeff.
These days, the brothers can do almost anything with their headcovers – even turning an old baseball mitt into a driver cover. They’ve attended fashion weeks in both Milan and New York to see what designers are doing with leather, and it’s expected they’ll head back to those shows again soon.
Todd recalls with a laugh trying to speak to the Italian folks – with an obvious huge language barrier – and doing a fake golf swing to show what they were trying to do with their product.
“We still got to go and see and feel (the new leathers) and if we were lucky enough to talk to someone who had heard of the sport of golf … they might know it,” says Todd. “If we could just catch one-tenth of the fashion sense of what everyone was touting in Milan and New York, we could light the world on fire.”
An eye on the future
Beyond headcovers, Dormie also has a wallet, stash bag, custom leather flags, and glove caddies on offer. They’re not currently selling a weekender bag, but they have a model for one, and they are working on a shoulder-bag model, too. They’re thrilled that a box of their goodies recently landed at St Andrews in Scotland.
“If eight years ago they said you’d be selling there, well, something went really right,” says Todd.
And the sock-adjacent prototype days are now well in the rear-view mirror. A perfect example? These days when they’re at a tradeshow they’ll put a custom headcover they made for Florida’s revered Seminole Golf Club in the centre of the table. There’s the iconic pink clubhouse. It’s made of high-quality leather, of course. Embroidery. Laser etching. A French seam. Multiple colours and a custom liner. They make custom pieces that reflect the culture and unique features of a club – anything goes, and they’re excited to do even more, despite the heaping handful of features already included in their current headcover offerings.
“Once you find out about laser etching and embroidering you’re like, well, what else is next? What else exists out there that we don’t know about and how can we update it or create something that isn’t already out on the market,” says Jeff. “We don’t rest. We take (the Golf Digest) prize and then we’re like, ‘What are we doing this year to win next year?’ We’ve had that attitude right from the get-go and we’re just trying to improve the process and make things look as cool as possible with the best techniques as possible.”