Picture the typical CEO of a multimillion-dollar company. Thwack! Armani on his back, Gucci loafers on his feet, holed up in his corner office. Thwack! Now meet Ray DeMarini, 51, CEO of the $15 million DeMarini Sports, maker of the Rolls-Royce of softball bats. He's got a T-shirt stretched across his back and sneakers on his feet, and he spends 4 to 6 hours each afternoon in the park near his Hillsboro, Ore., office blasting softballs into oblivion. "Testing new products" he explains, as he...thwack!...crushes another pitch. "How could I be so lucky I get paid for this?"
Well-paid too. Each of his aluminum bats costs $300, putting them among the most expensive bats in the world. "They're one of the most popular bats in the country," says Ron Boley, a commissioner of the Amateur Softball Association. "Friends are always asking me if I can get a deal for them. I can't."
More than a decade ago, DeMarini, the son of a businessman and an accountant, was a data processor for a truck manufacturer and a fiercely competitive left-center fielder on the company softball team. At 5'6", he kept looking for a bat that would give him the edge over bigger hitters. In 1989 he approached coworker Mike Eggiman, an engineer, and suggested they create their own. Working in a barn with pieced-together machinery, the two came up with a design based on truck springs—and more spring was exactly what the bats seemed to provide. "Nobody cheered me on; everybody laughed at me," says DeMarini of those early days. "But I just knew this was my chance in life. I was never going to be a great data processor." Advertised on sports channels, the bats caught on quickly with hardcore softball players.
Last year, sales were $10 million. This year, DeMarini will introduce a hardball bat—and a golf-club line.
It looks like Ray DeMarini will have to open a branch office—one with 18 holes.
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