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.”

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