A Rural Ecommerce Success Story:  Bats-Bats-Bats!

"The opportunities on the Internet are endless," say Shane and Mandy Johnson, owners of J and J Sports Shop in Montpelier. They are successful and you can learn from them how you can be successful in a similar way. Similar successes doing basically the same thing are immediately viable. Shane and Mandy have homesteaded a global niche market and have shown how successful anyone with a little imagination and initiative can be!

Both Shane and Mandy love the Montpelier area and both of them are convinced they want to stay here. Shane was working at the Bear Lake High School as a custodian. Mandy related, "Shane loves baseball and he wanted to get bats at cost and tried to get an account established so he could purchase bats." In 1999 he worked from his computer at home, found the supplier DeMarine, and started selling bats on E-Bay.

Shane’s brother who lives in Logan had a web address and was selling car accessories on the Internet. His business, "Eclipse Covers" sells car seat covers, floor covers, dash covers, etc. His business is located in a warehouse in Logan and he gets 100 percent of his business online. He needed a customer service person to help him and so in September 2000 Shane quit his job and served as the customer service representative for his brother and began to seriously sell bats online at his own website, http://batsbatsbats.com

At first, Shane worked from his home. Then he started in a small shop next to the local barber shop. Later, he had a storefront at the Jewel Motel in 1999. At first he didn’t even have a computer at work. He checked the computer at home. Finally, after moving three times in three years, he relocated to the present location, J and J Sports on Washington Street.

The Johnsons buy direct from the manufacturer, advertise bats at their website, and sell from individual orders that come in over the computer. Then feel they can sell cheaper this way than businesses with lots of overhead can.. They take orders, package them up and UPS carries out the orders on a daily basis. Shane related that they have send out up to 125 packages in a single day. He relates, "We would never sell that many out of our storefront here in Montpelier." Since opening the batsbatsbats.com business, they have also started http://jjsportsballs.com   http://jjsportscards.com   and http://theonlinegolfshop.com

Shane and Mandy sell mostly to out-of-state customers. They related that they estimated 99.9 percent of their products go out of state. Their customers come from California, Texas New York, and other places on the East Coast. They also have a few customers from other countries. They have sold bats in the UK, Japan, India, Germany, and Canada. Shane noted that they sell very little out of their store front on Washington Street. "Another store just like ours could open right beside us here and it wouldn’t affect our business at all. The store front really isn’t necessary."

Just like any business, people "walk in the front door to browse (people who access the front page of the site)." They often have up to 30,000 people visit their store in one week. In the batsbats business there are approximately 5,000 people who walk in the front door. The Halloween store is getting almost l,000 hits a week. The Seat Cover business gets from 10,000 to 15,000 hits a week. They have had over 100,000 people come in their front door to browse!

Summer is the best time of the year for selling bats, but unlike Idaho, their "summer season" lasts lots longer. Their slow months are September and October. They have discovered a new niche to supplement the bat business. They developed another web site, http://alarmingproducts.com and are busy during their off season selling Halloween supplies. Their Halloween supplies are selling all over the world.

Shane and Mandy both say that customer service skills are the most important skill they look for in their employees.. "Then have to take orders by phone and e-mail. Now we have a catalog also," Mandy related. There are four people who are almost full-time on their payroll. This does not include Shane and Mandy who also work full-time. "In fact," Mandy added, "the most frustrating part is that we work about 24 hours a day."

"Having a good web page is very important," Shane reflected. "Have it done professionally. Lots of people have the knowledge to do a page but not always know how to get on the right search engines." Making sure they are being listed where people will look is so important to a business. The Johnsons related that they believe the key to success is to have a good idea and then to work toward getting it on the web. Tons of people are setting up shop online to cater to the global market the Internet makes possible. It has nothing to do with selling locally. It brings money to the community and doesn’t compete with any local businesses. The model is established and can be copied by anyone for just about anything, i.e. bats, Halloween, crafts, sports cards, etc. There’s enough for everyone but you need imagination and initiative to get started.

Shane added, "In the future every retail store will have to have a website if they want to stay in business! It’s so easy. You can get anything you want. Even Wal-Mart has a website. After all, it’s cheaper to pay shipping than to pay for gas to drive somewhere to look for the items your want to purchase."

As to the technical skills that are required, Shane responded, "be able to learn; have ambition, and have desire. You need patience; and you need to be ready for hard work. It is a full-time job."

Shane and Mandy are willing to help others get started in their own businesses. Later in the year, they will do presentations to groups. They are currently helping a friend get started in his own sports supplies business on the web. Watch for presentations in the News Examiner.