Meet the Algarve’s Man with a Plan – Ruben Martins.
Ruben Martins is a man with a plan – and a van. What’s more, he delivers. Article by: Peter Ellegard.
There’s no need to worry about paying airline fees to fly your own clubs and equipment out with you, or queue to pick up a rental set at the airport when you land.
Instead, Ruben loads them in his van and delivers them straight to your door, wherever you are staying on the Algarve. And when it’s time to head home, he picks them up directly from your accommodation so you don’t have to drop them off at the airport, either.
Portimao-born Ruben set his company up at the beginning of 2019 after spending 20 years working in the golf industry. His first role was organising tee times across all of the Pestana Hotel Group’s golf courses. From there he moved to the new Silves Golf Course as a ranger/starter when it opened in 2007, before going on to work in a similar role at the nearby, Troon Golf-managed Amendoeira Golf Resort with its Nick Faldo and Christy O’Connor Jr courses. He then joined golf club rental operation Clubs to Hire, where he worked in the warehouse for five years.
“After that I saw an opportunity to set up a different service,” Ruben explains. “We only work with delivery and collection from the customers. It’s a concierge service direct to the customer.”
“When you arrive at the airport you are tired. You have to queue to pick up your clubs or rent clubs at the airport which takes time, then go outside to rent a car or get a transfer. If you rent a small car it’s going to be a problem getting clubs in it. With 18 Store, guests just receive their clubs at the door. We deliver to hotels, villas and any accommodation on the Algarve. The feedback has been very good. People like the service; you can see from the Trustpilot reviews.”
Rental clubs are all premium brands: Callaway, TaylorMade, Cleveland, Srixon and Wilson. But don’t expect to pay premium rates.
ALL RENTAL SETS INCLUDE DELIVERY AND COLLECTION, WITH PRICES STARTING AT €30 A WEEK AND RANGING UP TO €75 A WEEK FOR THE VERY LATEST MODELS.
18 Store started very strongly and had a successful debut year, Ruben says, adding “at the beginning of 2020 it went crazy”. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit in March 2020, resulting in what he admits was a “very tough 18 months”.
The easing of travel restrictions across Europe combined with the rollout of vaccination programmes helped bookings pick up after mid-2021, however, with September and October particularly busy although still down on 2019 levels.
18 Store customers mainly come from the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Germany and Holland, typically staying between four days and a week. Scandinavian golfers tend to go for longer holidays, staying as long as nine weeks and generally taking their own golf clubs, although Ruben says they like to rent electric trolleys.
Golfers book clubs and any accessories they need directly on the company’s website or via email, selecting their desired brands and where they will be staying for them to be delivered and collected. 18 Store is a member of global golf tourism industry association IAGTO and also works with several golf tour operators to rent clubs and other equipment to their clients.
The inventory currently comprises around 90 sets, including men’s and women’s clubs, left and right-handed options, and a choice of regular steel or graphite, stiff steel and senior flex shafts. In addition, there are 20 rental push and electric trolleys available to rent. The plan is to increase the number of rental clubs offered.
Now 37, Ruben began playing golf in his early twenties and still enjoys a social round with friends every couple of weeks. He has no official handicap but plays off 18 with them.
Besides giving him a break from the mental stresses of running his business, he says it’s good to test new clubs and shafts from brands as that allows him to better know the quality of the clubs rented to guests.
For the moment, 18 Store is a one-man band. Ruben delivers and picks up all the clubs himself in his van, with partner Helena helping to clean clubs and doing some back office work.
“It’s only me at the moment making the deliveries. I can drop and collect around 20 or 22 sets of clubs in one day, just with one van,” he says.
He adds that he will assess the situation in 2022 and decide whether to bring in an extra one or two employees – possibly even expanding to new destinations.
“We hope we can start growing after the pandemic and we will then decide where we should go.”