One night about a year and a half ago, friends Nathan Kanemoto (pictured, at left) and Nick Koehler were talking over drinks when they decided to go into business together. They both had experience with online sales but were no longer satisfied with their jobs. Their shared enjoyment of softball—they each played on a company team and Koehler still plays in an adult league—led them to quit their jobs and open 99Bats, a baseball and softball sporting goods store (loosely named after Highway 99). The business started online and is still primarily Internet-driven. Last Friday (July 23), they celebrated their first day in their new retail store (at 3030 Thorntree Drive, Ste. 12) in north Chico. Koehler and Kanemoto sat down with the CN&R while their shop—inside a medium-sized warehouse—was still being set up, the walls lined with bats, gloves and branded shirts and hats. Still looking to fill space, the pair said they plan to build batting cages, which would allow customers to test out bats and help them continue creating product-testing videos for online customers. Stop by their shop or check out their website, www.99bats.com, for more information.
What sets you apart from other sporting goods stores?
Kanemoto: Our passion. We were playing softball a lot. That’s something we love to do. I think that sets us apart—our enthusiasm. A customer comes in and we can talk for 30 minutes and not even know that time passed. You go to your Dick’s Sporting Goods, there really isn’t that invested interest. They have a great selection, but if you go there, there are employees that may be Chico State students, and they may not care as much as you do. [Nick] plays still, where if you go to Dick’s you have people who don’t even play baseball or softball.
Your business is primarily online right now. Do you see that growing?
Kanemoto: We want to provide more [online] content. We’re going to put a batting cage in so we can do videos and actually inform the customers about the new products that come out. There are so many bats out there and unless you have a sporting goods store in your town, you’re just relying on a picture or someone’s information handed down to you.
Will people be able to come and hit in the batting cages?
Koehler: They [will be] mainly for content creating. And customers can come in and have a demo of that bat. As far as a business to pay to use the batting cages, that’s not where our mindset is.
How much of a difference does having the right bat make for a player?
Kanemoto: It matters if you’re trying to get a scholarship. Let’s say you get 10 extra hits, your batting average goes up, you get a couple extra home runs in a year, next thing you know you’re getting a full-ride scholarship somewhere. We had a local kid who was swinging a 30-ounce bat and he wanted a lighter bat and we had that bat. And on his very first at-bat he hit a home run.