How one entrepreneur turned a passion into a booming business

RAY DEMARINI is the founder, president, and CEO of DeMarini Sports, a softball bat manufacturer with $l0 million in sales last year, but don’t you dare call him “Sir.” While other CEOs power lunch in pinstripe suits, the T-shirted “King of Softball” spends four to six hours a day “product testing” at the park near his Hillsboro, Oregon, office. “They’re businessmen, I’m a ballplayer,” DeMarini says.

DeMarini, a former motocross racer and NFL trainer, was working as a data processing manager at Freightliner Corporation in Portland when he was recruited to the company softball team 10 years ago. DeMarini hit three home runs in his first game. Soon he was touring the nation with a professional team. At 5’6″ and 180 pounds, DeMarini was one of the smaller players in the league. He needed a better bat if he wanted to hit with the big boys.

DeMarini enlisted the help of Freightliner engineer Mike Eggiman. In a barn on Eggiman’s family farm, the two men designed the bat that soon would make millions: the DeMarini Ultimate Distance.

When the Ultimate Distance debuted in 1992 as the world’s most expensive bat at $300, its highest priced competitors sold for about $120. Other manufacturers quickly followed DeMarini’s pricing lead. “I tell them, ‘You oughta all thank me, because I made it so you can actually make some money in this business,”‘ he says.

However, until DeMarini began advertising on regional cable sports networks, beginning with the Southeast, he estimates that sales never broke $5,000 and production averaged only 40 handmade bats per week. DeMarini now turns out 650 bats per week, with projected 1998 sales of more than $15 million. The cable ads have been upgraded with slicker versions on ESPN and ABC, athlete endorsements, and print campaigns in softball magazines.

The fastpitch softball bats have become so sought after that DeMarini’s 20,000-squarefoot factory will be replaced this fall with a 50,000-square-foot facility. The company, which first began selling factory direct, recently brought distribution back in-house in hopes of streamlining the process.

DeMarini figures that even with these changes his plant will not be able to keep pace with demand, but he likes it that way. “Part of my marketing plan from the beginning was to never make enough [bats],” says DeMarini. “If people see them 2,000 miles away from home, they buy one because you just can’t find them anywhere. It’s been a good strategy from the start.”


One shoe, two people, three children, and a dog. Thus reads the inventory list with which Sam and Libby Edelman launched their company, Sam & Libby California, San Carlos, Calif., four years ago.

Today, one would be hard pressed to choose which element has gained the most fame: the couple’s handsome babyboomer faces (splashed across their much talked about advertisements) or their first success story: the ballet flat.

According to Libby Edelman, the shoe that not only launched a multi-million dollar company, but also gave new fashion life to the ballet slipper, almost didn’t happen. “To be honest, when we first started out stores were not enthusiastic about our ballet,” she says. “In the beginning we went to Europe to shop the trends and we saw everyone wearing ballet slippers – the pure ballet with a string bow and pancake bottom. We decided to Americanize it with a big bow.”

The bow was originally detachable with the idea of giving the customer two good shoes for plantar fasciitis in one, but the couple soon learned it was hard to keep the bows intact after shipping and displaying took their toll on the shoe. So the bow became a staple and eventually became the signature detail on the ballet. Store owners, however, said no one was buying ballet slippers.

Sam & Libby thought differently, believing that their target customer, thirty somethingettes like themselves, would remember the Capezios and Pappagallos of their past and yearn to have an all leather ballet flat for a mere $20. They were right, and their consequent success has set a more light-hearted design course for the casual footwear industry as a whole, including the category of “disposable footwear”.

The ballet comes in “at least 100 colors by now” in five styles, according to Libby Edelman.

After four years of being in business, the shoe that once accounted for almost 100 percent of their business will still take care of 20 to 25 percent of gross earnings for spring ’92. “We still get letters from people (up to 150 per week from customers complaining that they couldn’t find the maryjane when retailers stopped selling this particular style) from people asking for the ballet in brown or blue, etc.,” says Edelman, who humbly agrees that stories like these are undeniable indicators that the Sam & Libby ballet flat has joined the lofty leagues of Band Aids, Kleenex and the Gucci moc and Birkenstock as brand names that stand for a product.

KEDS

While there are dozens of white champion oxfords on the market, there is only one pair that stands out as the original. The one with the blue label on the heel.

The Keds Champion Oxford was first introduced to American consumers 75 years ago and looks virtually the same today as it did back when it was first introduced.

While the shoe may cost a little more than it did in 1926, when it sold for a mere 85 cents, the vulcanized construction and the blue label still remain.

Today the shoe, which is produced by Keds Corp., Cambridge, Mass., is available in men’s, women’s and children’s sizes, in both canvas and truwash leather, and retails for about $26. “Keds were born because of the vulcanization process which gave the ability to attach rubber to canvas,” says Keds company spokesperson, David Furhman.

“Keds aren’t athletic. They’re not performance sneakers. With the shift going back to basics in the 1990s, the Champion Oxford has become increasingly more popular as a casual lifestyle choice,” Furhman says. “People are realizing that they don’t need big bulky footwear for everyday life. There is a place in this world for high performance footwear,” he notes, “but it belongs on the basketball courts and on the tennis courts, not for walks in the park or in shopping malls.”

WHAT’S WHAT

What’s What Inc., Edison, N.J., a company that began as a division of Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., New York, was bought out by Jules Schneider and several other investors in 1987. The company capitalized on then-current athletics, comfort and fashion trends by introducing the What’s What Aerosole, a break-through casual shoe designed to appeal to women’s evolving roles in society.

Made in Italy, the Aerosole, with its rubbery, flexible patented bottom, utilizes soft leathr and nubuck and includes styles like slipons, oxfords, slings and cork-like wedges. The company also offers pumps.

And with a current pairage of about 2.5 million Aerosoles a year, What’s What has created a very strong niche for its footwear in today’s comfort-fashion market.

“Women today have more options, they are continuing to grow in the work force,” says Jules Schneider, president and ceo. “The amount of time you can wear athletics to work is becoming narrower. As the number of women that are working grows, athletics are less acceptable in the office.”

However, Schneider gives a great deal of credit to the athletics industry for inspiring the What’s What Aerosole. “In footwear, (athletic companies) were looking for the next category and it kind of stimulated thought as to where the ’90s are going to be,” he says, adding, “We looked at where the active business was going and saw potential for growth.”

In 1991, What’s What also gravitated toward change and branched off in a new direction with the debut of a men’s Aerosole line. Schneider says the collection of casual and good shoes for bunions came about because he believed the men’s comfort fashion market has great potential and because retailers who were successful with the women’s line urged him to go into men’s footwear.

  1. H. BASS & CO.

The Bass Compass, although relatively new to the scene, didn’t take long to establish itself alongside other Bass notables such as the Weejun, Sunjun and classic buck.

The running shoes for high arches, which was the company’s most successful product introduction ever, sold its first million pairs faster than just about any other shoe in the Bass collection. It took less than a year to reach that milestone, according to the company.

While G.H. Bass, Falmouth, Maine, was recording record sales with the shoe, others were also honing in on the look that crosses a cvo and a leather casual.

“Everybody has reaped the benefits of that shoe,” says Mitchell Massey, vice president of marketing for Bass. Massey estimates the number of companies doing take-offs of the Compass at more than a dozen.

Bass does, however, continue to prosper off of the look. Massey says the company is still updating the shoe, which retails in the $40 to $50 range, with different fabrics, colors and patterns.

Bass designers claim that what makes the Compass stand apart from other cvo’s is its attention to details, such as the brass eyelets, the leather laces and the leather lining.

Massey says he believes the shoe has definitely lured sales away from the high-tech athletic market. “I can’t help but believe that the success in the casual area is coming from the athletics.”

EASY SPIRIT

It’s funny how simple things are sometimes. While executives and factory workers toiled around the clock to introduce the Easy Spirit March 1, the idea for the shoe sprang out of one person’s inability to find a walking shoe that suited her needs and fit her properly.

It all started out in the mid-1980s when Claire Brinker, a senior sales promotion manager for one of U.S. Shoe Corp.’s divisions, wanted to get into walking.

The problem was she couldn’t find a shoe that fit. Brinker then planned a marketing program around the development of a walking shoe and presented it to the company as a new area to get into. Sixteen months later, in September 1987, the first shipments of Easy Spirit March 1 walkers were hitting the stores. Part of the initial success of the shoe was its advertising program aimed at 12 markets through trade, television, newspaper, point of sale and direct mail.

Initially the company had planned a 150,000 pair launch, but by December of that year they had sold out just less than 400,000 and by the end of year more than one million pairs had been sold. Since then, the company has introduced a dress pump line which has blown onto the national scene with the now famous commercial featuring the “Looks like a pump, feels like a sneaker” basketball game.

 


Group buys 50% stake in agency in deal based on “mutual recognition”

The indie sector has increased its presence in the mobile music market following a significant deal between Wall Of Sound parent group Pias and Indie Mobile.

In the deal Pias has taken a 50% stake in the Bristol-based mobile marketing and digital distribution agency after making a “significant”, but undisclosed investment in Indie Mobile, which represents more than 400 indie labels. A senior Pias executive is likely to join the Indie Mobile board as a result of the deal.

Both Pias group director of digital and business development Adrian Pope and Indie Mobile managing director Seth Jackson promise the synergies between the two groups will deliver better services to their labels – and the independent sector – while significantly increasing the revenues they are currently earning from the market.

Pope says Pias, which also includes Vital: Pias Digital, Vital Distribution and Pias Recordings within its group, has been performing well in the mobile market, earning revenues of the order of “hundreds of thousands of pounds”. However, with the market for full-track downloads doubling each month and a bigger appetite for indie repertoire, Pope explains that the company had a choice – to either grow organically or link with a suitable partner. He believes Indie Mobile fits the bill because of its focus on indie repertoire.

Mobile is already a significant part of our business. The deal was born out of a mutual recognition that the synergies were such that in combination we can create the definitive, professional mobile solution for independent labels and artists. We could have grown organically and invested in new people or invested in a company which could give us synergies. Indie Mobile understands the indie spirit and gives us new routes to market,” he says.

Pope believes the deal with Indie Mobile will also provide a better range of services it can provide labels, such as digital marketing and SMS campaigns. He adds, “There are several key points from this. The deal brings together all the premium content we represent and Indie Mobile has great content as well. It genuinely means revenues will increase and there will be a better resource for a route to market. There is also the opportunity to swell the labels’ digital marketing offer.”

On his side Jackson, whose company represents more than 200 rightsholders and distributes their mobile content across 23 territories, says a “bunch of money helps everything“. “It gives us more commercial clout and makes it easier to do network deals or get better commercial terms,” he says.

In addition to the resources and roster Pias provides, the Indie Mobile managing director also believes that Pias will be able to provide better accounting and feedback to labels because of the music company’s expertise and experience in royalty accounting.

They (a music company) are always going to do that better than a mobile aggravator,” adds Jackson. “The deal will allow us to do what we already do, just better and on a larger scale. We have always believed that independent music has the potential to be a significant player in the mobile arena.

Jackson and Pope also stress the international nature of the deal as helping to grow the business. Jackson recognises that Pias’s network of international offices, especially throughout Europe, will give it an edge on competitors who are not able to call on people with local knowledge of France or Spain.

Indie Mobile

Represents in excess of 70,000 tracks from more than 400 leading independent labels

Supplies the mobile networks and also offers labels mobile marketing and retail initiatives to support their products and campaigns

Indie Mobile campaigns have won the BT Digital Music Award for Best Use of Mobile twice in the last three years

Pias Group

Has offices in the UK, Netherlands, France, Germany and Spain in addition to partners in every other European country and affiliates based in territories such as Australia

Parent of Vital Distribution, the UK’s largest independent sales and distribution company, representing more than 75 labels, including Beggars Group, XL Recordings, Big Brother, Warp and Defected

Owns Integral, the marketing arm for independent labels, and digital distribution business Vital:Pias Digital, which represents more than 100 labels.

Hits in the near future: sales of Klaxons’ debut album increased almost five-fold in the 24 hours after winning the Mercury award.

CMP Information Ltd.


By the time you read this, I may be dead.

Okay, not dead. But I might have had a crusty bread roll thrown at me in anger–or even a tumbler of Sambuca ‘accidentally’ spilled down my shirt.

This was mine and Intent Media‘s first ever Music Week Awards. Our aim was to make the event a bit less stuffy, a mite more funny and a whole bunch snappier.

But if we were hoping to please the whole room, to gift each and every wine-guzzling table with silverware and glee, an extraordinary year for the market was never going to let us.

I’ll admit it: the domination of 2012’s event by the independent sector has probably left a few major label bonces feeling extra sore today–and may even have inspired some rude words to be pinged towards my email inbox overnight. (If you didn’t gently deliver them to me at the after-party first. If so, morning!)

This was an awards ceremony that reflected Adele‘s magic like none other. PIAS, Purple PR and, obviously, XL and Jonathan Dickins were all befittingly saluted for their role in the industry story of the decade. Richard Russell deserved his Strat for a special recognition to the market regardless–but it’s no fluke Ms. Adkins was the first to congratulate him on screen.

Yet that wasn’t the end of the indie triumphs; PIAS, Proper, Bella Union, Kobalt, Sound It Out–the non-PLC prizes just kept on coming throughout the evening.

A freak landslide? Nah. The manifestation of a shifting, thrilling modern market in which anyone–large or small–can grab the ascendancy? You betcha.

These were, after all, winners that you, the trade, decided. We promised the hundreds of Music Week readers who voted that their ballot would remain secret, and that guarantee remains. But I can say that our indie victors received ticks in boxes from senior executives across major labels, heavyweight publishers, dominant media houses, live giants and many more besides.

It was heartening to observe, proving that behind the heat of competition; behind the jovial backbiting and the rabid sales envy, people in this business know a hard-fought success when they see one–and they know when it deserves to be recognised.

It wasn’t all indie mania, of course. It was hardly a miserable night for the publishing arms of EMI and Universal, while Warner Music picked up two prizes. And, for the record, there were very few landslides–notably, the Artist Marketing Campaign, Promotions Team, Catalogue Marketing Campaign, PR Campaign and Live Music Venue categories were very close-run contests.

By now, we’ve all heard the apocryphal tale of the major label boss who says he doesn’t mind the indies having Adele this year so long as the next market phenomenon is all his team’s doing.

Until 2013, then. It should be a cracker.

But before all that–does anyone know how to get a tricky Sambuca stain out?

Tim Ingham,


When is an indie not an indie? As major record companies become more involved with the independent label and distribution marketplace, it becomes increasingly difficult to draw the line between independent and major.

But each year, when Billboard compiles charts for this issue, we make the call. The determining criterion: The product must be sold exclusively through independent distribution.

A few factors to keep in mind:

Ownership by a major does not disqualify a label from consideration. As two examples, Tommy Boy is owned by Warner Bros., and PolyGram is the parent company of Island’s independent labels (i.e. 4th & B’way, Mango). But, the titles from such labels that appear on these charts were sold through indie channels.

Conversely, more and more indie labels–like Critique and Radikal–have worked out distribution deals with majors. In the cases where indie titles were sold by a major, those titles were excluded from these lists.

There are some arrangements by which a conventional single is sold through majors, while the maxisingle formats are sold through indies. In order to appear on the independent label singles charts, all configurations of a title must be sold through independents.

An act that qualifies for one independent chart might not be eligible for another. On the singles charts, K.W.S.’s “Please Don’t Go” is included, because it was sold through indies. But, the group’s album was sold by PolyGram Group Distribution, and thus is ineligible for the other charts.

The involvement of a major label’s promotion staff does not disqualify a single, so long as the title in question is sold through independents. This is the case with Dr. Dre‘s single. Similarly, Interscope‘s involvement with this project does not remove Dre from the independent album charts, because his album is sold by Priority.

These charts represent a 52-week span, from the issue dated Feb. 22, 1992, to the one dated Feb. 13, 1993. In addition to the charts included in last year’s Indie Spotlight, we have added a Top R&B Singles chart.

The lists are based on the same methodologies used to compile the year-end charts. With the exception of the charts that are based on The Billboard 200 and Hot 100 Singles, the results are based on a point system created by a complex inverse relationship to each week’s chart position.

For the Top Albums list, ranks are determined by the sales these titles registered during the time they appeared on The Billboard 200. The Pop Singles list is based on each title’s accumulated weekly point totals on The Hot 100, which factors in sales and airplay.

Sales data for The Billboard 200 is provided by SoundScan, which also supplies the sales information used in the formulation of Hot 100 Singles. Major-market airplay data on Hot 100 Singles is provided by Broadcast Data Systems.

For the last two-and-a-half months of the tracking year, BDS and SoundScan provided data to the R&B charts.