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Golf Instructor Puts His Tips on Tape, Chips In a Winner

May 21, 1987|JACK HAWN | Hawn is a Times copy editor.

Bob Mann is a 51-year-old lifelong physical fitness fanatic who would rather stretch, bend, flex, lift, push, pull, strain and sweat than almost anything--except, possibly, strike a golf ball.

Mann, a professional golf instructor, pays close attention to his physical appearance partly because he makes videocassette tapes of himself in his business, but mostly because he loves exercise and all that accompanies it, with a passion.

It wouldn't be unusual to see him roller-skating from Santa Monica to Palos Verdes, about 20 miles, or pedaling a knobby-wheeled bicycle along the Pacific Crest Trail, which he has traversed in stages from Canada to Mexico.

Mann has a 650-square-foot gym in his Lake Elizabeth home that rambles through four rooms, where he works out 2 1/2 hours daily.

"I love to train," he said. And, happily for Mann, his almost obsessive life style--which may have contributed considerably to two divorces--finally is paying off in the highly competitive world of videocassette sales.

If Bob Mann's name carried the commercial impact of, say, Jane Fonda's, sales of his TV videocassette products--like the actress's workout tapes--surely would be skyrocketing.

Now, they are merely booming and have been for some time.

Expensive, full-page color ads in sports magazines pitch his videos on karate, isometric exercise, weight training and golf.

His latest video, on weight training, came out this month, and more fitness-oriented programs--bicycling, bowling, fitness testing at home and overall body toning--are on the drawing board.

"Automatic Golf," his most successful video, is the top-selling golf instructional tape in the United States, with more than 450,000 copies sold. It has consistently ranked No. 1 on Billboard magazine's sports and recreation chart from its inception.

Recently, his book bearing the same title and a photo of him on the cover was published by The Body Press of Tucson.

Still Relatively Unknown

Such national exposure, it might be assumed, would tend to make Mann famous, but he remains relatively unknown.

However, contrasted with his obscurity only a few years ago, when he poured his life savings into a "tough-sell" notion that has developed into a 24-hour-a-day video-producing business, he might now be labeled a celebrity.

"I took them out and sold them one at a time, a store at a time," Mann said, recalling how he started his business in 1982. "I spent six months promoting myself. It was a horrendous experience."

At the outset, Mann's golf cassette sold for $69.50, and the video stores might take three--"one rental and two for the showcase."

"But nobody would buy them," he said. "They would rent it, then come back and buy one. And the stores would get letters (praising the video) from golfers."

Lowered the Price

However, it wasn't until he lowered his price (eventually to the current $14.95) and began distributing the tapes to specialty shops that his business "turned the corner." He now distributes about 85% of his cassettes directly to chain outlets, such as K mart, J.C. Penney, Wherehouse Entertainment and others.

With the lower price, the tape has become a top-seller in video stores as well.

"The only other one that has sold even close to that is Jack Nicklaus' 'Golf My Way,' " said Michael Williams, manager at the Tower Video store in Los Angeles. "But that's a lot more expensive so it doesn't sell as much."

Mann launched his company, Video Reel, in an 800-square-foot building in Canoga Park, but last year moved to a much larger facility in Valencia, where he employs 27 people.

He said his company produces 2,800 tapes daily--half of them "Automatic Golf."

Nonetheless, a random check among Southland golf professionals and others connected with the sport disclosed that, whereas Mann's business may have "turned the corner," he remains in mid-block in terms of recognition.

For example, Hillcrest, Wilshire and Riviera country club pros know little about him or his techniques as an instructor, although Riviera's Ron Rhoads said club members have been impressed with his video.

"Johnny Miller has one out, Jack Nicklaus, Mark O'Meara and others," said Rhoads, Riviera's head pro for 14 years. "The list goes on and on, but the one I hear most about is Mann's."

Competition Not Intimidated

But the people who market Nicklaus' tape aren't exactly shaking in their shoes.

"We don't sit around here saying, 'What is Bob Mann doing?' We never felt we were competing with him," said Jerry Rettig, a senior vice president for World Vision Enterprises. "We have a tape with the greatest player the game has ever seen. We've sold well over 100,000 tapes for $85 and it is the highest grossing golf tape."

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