Firm may have cure for broken
Copley News Service
There's nothing a Major League slugger
hates more than getting his bat sawed off by an inside fastball, sending chunks
of wood flying and, typically, the baseball rolling to an infielder for an easy
It's also a costly problem: Professional
ballclubs spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each season to replace an
average of 24 busted bats per player.
But inventor Jim Flood - using strips of
tape made from a composite of graphite and Kevlar - claims to have found a cure
If he's right, the game may never be the
same. Just ask Yankees pitcher Roger Clemens, who caused a stir at this year's
World Series when he tossed the jagged barrel of Mike Piazza's bat toward the
Indeed, since its release in September,
Flood's patented invention (named Shocgard) has been a hit in some Major League
San Diego Padres Eric Owens, Mike Darr and
Ben Davis are among the players who used Shocgard-taped bats in some games
during the final days of the 2000 season. Tony Gwynn has had Flood rework four
of his bats.
"A bat wrapped in our safety tape
lasts five times-plus the life of an unprotected bat," said Flood,
referring to test results from the University of Massachusetts' Baseball
The test lab - used by Major League
Baseball to evaluate product innovations - certified that bats with Shocgard
wrapped around the handle didn't shatter after being subjected to swing speeds
of 100 mph and ball speeds of 104 mph.
Meanwhile, "wood bats without the wrap
broke fairly readily at swing speeds of 66 mph," concluded the lab report.
"Shocgard is a real innovation for the
game," said Jerry Hairston, a Chicago White Sox coach and former Major
League player. "The bats survive under some very grueling treatment."
Hairston said his son, Baltimore Orioles
second baseman Jerry Hairston Jr., plans to use Shocgard bats during the coming
season for reasons of safety, as well as to boost his batting average.
"Shocgard is also going to cut down on
the insurance premiums paid by ballclubs," Hairston said. Claims of damages
due to injuries from flying bat shards have been common.
But Shocgard still won't eliminate the weak
ground balls that come when a pitcher jams a hitter with a sharp, inside pitch,
said Randy Jones, the Cy Young Award-winning former pitcher for the Padres.
"A good slider may not break the bat, but you're still going to get a weak
grounder in the infield," Jones said.
Shocgard's graphite and Kevlar are the same
materials used in the manufacturing of bullet-resistant vests.
"One has elasticity, one has
stiffness," Flood said. "The combination matches the ... strength of
the bat handle."
Flood's Blackwrap Sports Inc., which he
runs with four partners, has shipped about 1,000 Shocgard bats to players on the
Padres, Tampa Bay Devil Rays, Boston Red Sox and other clubs.
The company expects to sell 3,000 more bats
- priced at $110 apiece - within the next several months, he said.
Inside Blackwrap's small, cluttered
facility in San Diego, bat handles are first sanded down by one-30,000th of an
inch before the Shocgard tape is applied. The tape is wrapped along the bat
handle to comply with Major League Baseball rules. (Extraneous materials such as
tape and pine tar, for instance, are not allowed to extend beyond 18 inches from
the bat's base onto the barrel.)
Bats are then dropped, eight at a time,
into an oven and baked at about 250 degrees for 20 minutes.
"The tape gets hot and shrinks,"
said Flood, who uses many of the principles he learned over the years developing
graphite-based golf products.
Finished Shocgard bats have a smooth,
textured finish with the feel of a hard-rubber grip.
Shocgard was originally developed
by a San Diego engineer who sold his idea for the product last year to Dwight
Anderson, one of Blackwrap's founders.
The prototype was a long glove air-dried
onto the bat handle. But Flood subsequently refined the product, using epoxy
tape to secure the graphite-Kevlar compounds and an oven to fuse the substance
onto the handle.
Blackwrap, which has capitalization
of $500,000, is being funded largely by Clem Abrams, another company founder.
Blackwrap plans to promote Shocgard bats at
trade shows and in ads placed in Baseball America and similar sports magazines.
The company expects to ultimately market
its bats to leagues in Japan and Latin America, and to eventually mass-market
the product in retail sports stores.
"We're also wrapping it around
aluminum bats to minimize the shock from bat-ball contact," Flood said.
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Niche-picker Claritas tells
businesses where to go
By Frank Green
Copley News Service
It wasn't too long ago that most
Americans read Life magazine, watched "Bonanza" on Sunday nights and
drove Fords and Chevrolets made in Detroit. The hands-down favorite meal in the
United States in 1954? Vegetable soup, fruit cup, steak, peas, french fries and
apple pie a la mode.
a difference the steady growth in immigration, the breakdown of the traditional
family, the Vietnam War and other sociological jolts have exerted on the concept
of mass culture - and on the way companies package and promote products.
"The mass market of the
post-World War II era didn't just fade away, it shattered into niche
markets," says Michael Weiss, the author of "The Clustered World: How
We Live, What We Buy and What It All Means About Who We Are."
We're no longer a solid,
one-of-a-kind society. Such fragmentation has forced many Fortune 500 companies
and small businesses, all struggling to capture customers on these isolated
demographic islands, to adopt a sophisticated marketing system known as
Clustering was developed by
Claritas Inc., which uses U.S. ZIP codes to categorize Americans by where they
live, work and spend their money.
The assumption is that people tend
to herd together by class, social status and other cultural markers: reading the
same types of books, going to the same movies and imbibing the same kinds of
Such distinctions ultimately can
determine if The Wall Street Journal will be found in more newspaper racks in
one area than another, if Burger King will heavily promote 99-cent menu items in
one neighborhood but not another, and if Starbucks will descend upon a
"We help McDonald's decide
whether or not they should offer, say, salads at a certain site, based on sales
expectations in the area," says Robert Nascenzi, the president and chief
executive officer at Claritas. "Companies also use our information if
they're going into a new region to determine if it's a good idea."
Businesses apparently need all the
help they can get these days with niche-picking.
Claritas grossed $80 million last
year, providing large firms with site analysis reports - they can range in price
from $60,000 to $80,000 - as well as profiles detailing how to get and retain
customers. The profiles can range in price from $120,000 to $140,000.
The company employs 500
demographers, statistical analysts and salespeople at its headquarters in San
Diego and at regional offices in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Atlanta.
"We serve everybody from major
retailers and telecom companies to banks and life insurance firms,"
Companies have long used retail
surveys - Chamber of Commerce economic reports, census figures and other
demographic sources - to try to get a window inside the minds of consumers.
For example, Sandleman &
Associates regularly polls diners for the restaurant industry to determine
attitudes on such unlikely subjects as astrology (22 percent of "heavy
casual-dining users" are believers), political elections (75 percent
usually vote) and the Internet (60 percent surf the Web).
Likewise, Lreport.com conducts
quarterly Urban Pioneers surveys of 600 "trendsetter and mainstream"
young people to help Fortune 500 firms spot the next waves in retailing,
consumer services, media, behavior and fashion.
"There's a real resurgence
right now in traditional pastimes, like backgammon, collecting stamps and using
stationery to write letters," says Maria Vrachnos, Lreport's general
manager. "There's a backlash to the techno-saturated world."
But some executives who have pored
over neighborhood profiles from Claritas say the company's micro-marketing
analysis, more than typical consumer surveys, pulls them down to the street
level and into the living rooms of potential customers.
Dick Bridy, a developer and broker,
routinely uses clustering when scouting sites across the country for Easy Lube,
Childtime and other retail chains. The Claritas model, he says, "is like a
filter, which helps me find high-profile locations based on the surrounding
population's income and education level."
Bridy has secured 16 properties in
the last year for Barbecues Galore in Nevada, Northern California and in the
Pacific Northwest, and he describes Barbecues Galore's core audience as upscale
baby boomers and yuppies.
"Every single time we've stuck
to the Claritas model, the results have met or exceeded our sales
expectations," he says.
Claritas uses census data,
newspaper reports, Bureau of Labor statistics and dozens of other sources to
classify areas of the country, says Nascenzi, the CEO at Claritas.
After digesting the numbers,
Claritas assigns each ZIP code region up to five of 62 neighborhood lifestyle
categories, ranging from "Blue Blood Estates" (elite, super-rich
families) to "Hard Scrabble" (older families in poor, isolated areas).
For instance, in the "American
Dreams" ZIP code area of 92114 in Valencia Park, Calif., Claritas sees many
residents who have passports, watch "Baywatch," smoke cigars and have
two phone lines in their homes.
But, in the 92103 Mission Hills
neighborhood of San Diego - "Money and Brains" - residents are most
likely to read Vanity Fair, watch "Friends," own or lease a European
luxury car and to have purchased, in the past year, a business suit priced at
more than $250.
"Of the (Mission Hills)
workers, 72.4 percent have white-collar jobs, 11.3 percent blue-collar
occupations and 16.3 percent other types of jobs," notes Nascenzi.
"Average income levels in this area are expected to grow by 13.5 percent
over the next five years, from $59,699 to $67,739."
Yet even in "Hard
Scrabble" locales, marketers mine profits. Chewing tobacco is one product
that is very popular among groups in the "Hard Scrabble" category,
Claritas has found.
Nascenzi emphasizes that the
company's demographic model doesn't define the tastes and habits of every single
person in a community. Instead, it identifies the behavior that most people are
likely to follow.
The so-called PRIZM clustering
concept was developed 25 years ago by Jonathan Robbin, a social scientist who
believed that birds of a feather stick together. His initial research revealed
that 80 percent of neighborhoods change little in demographic makeup from one
census to the next.
Robbin founded Claritas in
Arlington, Va., in the mid-1970s. The company originally compiled 40 cluster
types but has since expanded its roster to account for new lifestyle hybrids.
"At one point, they toyed with
the idea of using only 10 to 20 clusters," says Michael Weiss, a clustering
expert. "Sixty-two categories seem to make a good balance and to encompass
In 1999, after merging with San
Diego-based National Decision Systems, Claritas moved its headquarters to San
The other day, demographers and
analysts at Claritas were busily wrestling with a project for a restaurant chain
that is considering opening 13 outlets in Phoenix. Claritas was analyzing the
city's neighborhoods to find the best sites for moving the most hamburgers and
"If a company is thinking
about opening a store in University Towne Centre (a San Diego shopping center),
we'd look at the customer profiles at their successful stores, then study the
population within a five-mile radius of the prospective site," says David
Tedrow, assistant vice president at Claritas. "If your best customers are
families with kids, but only 10 percent of the population fits that category,
you might be better off not opening the store."
Tedrow says clustering profiles
typically can predict a new store's economic fortunes within a 20 percent
Only occasionally does the crystal
"We might have one client who
has opened eight new restaurants, but only seven are tracking within the
range," says Tedrow, noting that the clustering model might not be
considering such intangible factors as poor customer service.
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More retailers warming to
Steve La Rue
Copley News Service
Caffeinated entrepreneurs like
Karen Cebreros, owner of Elan Organic Coffees of San Diego, think American
coffee slurpers care enough about social and environmental issues to gladly pay
a little more for "coffee with a conscience."
That's the idea behind a new -
actually an old - kind of coffee called "shade-grown" that Cebreros
imports into San Diego, hoping it will put a dent in the nation's $18.5 billion
annual coffee market and save tropical birds and forests at the same time.
"Americans drink one-third of
the entire world's coffee production," Cebreros said. "Don't you think
we could vote with our dollars and make a difference using coffee?"
Shade-grown coffee beans are picked
from plants that grow among other tropical forest plants and in the shade of
native tropical trees, which can reach 200 feet, in Central and South America.
This is how coffee was
traditionally cultivated, said Matthew Quinlan, director of the coffee program
of Conservation International, a worldwide environmental organization.
But mechanized American agriculture
came to South America in the 1970s. Tropical forests were bulldozed. Coffee
plants were packed onto bare land. And per-acre production rose, Quinlan said.
Television advertisements of the
1970s and 1980s extolled the more "productive" plantations and
featured an idealized coffee picker who praised and caressed their beans.
Today, conservationists such as
Quinlan charge that the environment and coffee farmers paid a big price for
higher yields at corporate plantations. And Juan Valdez, the coffee picker on
TV, looks in retrospect like a despoiler of the environment.
Commercially cultivated coffee
fields need more fertilizer, pesticides and water, Quinlan said, and they are
more vulnerable to erosion and agricultural pests. He said once-independent,
small-acreage growers became part-time plantation workers at low pay.
But it was the loss of bird habitat
in Latin America that launched shade-grown coffee as an added environmental
feature, which environmentally conscious coffee quaffers in North America have
been willing to purchase at a premium.
"We have seen migratory bird
populations decline across North America, and research by the Smithsonian
Migratory Bird Center found that a key factor was the loss of forested areas
where traditional shade-grown coffee was grown," Quinlan said.
Among the disappearing birds were
species such as the Baltimore oriole.
responded by working with small-acreage coffee growers on 3,700 acres of jungle
surrounding the 50,000-acre El Triunfo Biosphere Reserve in southwestern Mexico.
The group struck agreements with
small-farmer cooperatives there that set minimum prices to be paid for their
beans and guaranteed sales of shade-grown coffee from this area of Mexico to
Starbucks Co., which introduced it last summer as its "Shade-Grown
Conservation International is
seeking to expand and repeat the experiment in other areas of Latin America and
in Asia and Africa.
One reason shade-grown coffee costs
more is that fewer coffee plants can be harvested per acre.
But planting the coffee plants in
the midst of the jungle allows the jungle's birds and insects to defend coffee
plants against pests and plant diseases. The jungle's spongy soil retains water
and resists erosion, and birds and other jungle plants naturally fertilize the
soil. So, farmers need to provide less, or no, fertilizer, pesticides and
The phrase "shade-grown"
refers to the way coffee is grown, not to a particular variety. Some devotees
say shade-grown coffee tastes better because its beans grow more slowly in the
shade. Others say there is no taste difference.
In either case, all shade-grown
coffee comes from arabica beans, which are considered the most flavorful, said
Torrey Lee, owner of Cafe Moto on J Street in downtown San Diego.
He ships roasted shade-grown coffee
to 350 coffeehouses in San Diego County and adjoining counties. One type,
Guatemalan Atitlan, sells for $11.75 per pound at The Pannikin coffeehouse at G
Street and Seventh Avenue downtown.
In what could be the biggest boost
yet for shade-grown coffee, Cebreros said she has signed an agreement to supply
a blend of certified shade-grown, organic coffees to the U.S. Department of
Interior's headquarters building in Washington, D.C., starting this month.
"Once we get this giant highly
visible location, we will start being able to convert the 379 national parks to
organic and shade-grown coffee," Cebreros said.
The coffee Cebreros will supply,
called Cafe Rojas, comes from Guatemala, Peru and Mexico, and is certified
"Bird Friendly" by the Smithsonian Institution Migratory Bird center,
Surveys from the National Coffee
Association suggest that the time may be right for a premium coffee with an
environmental and social cachet.
The number of Americans who drink
gourmet coffees each day climbed from about 4.5 million in 1996 to 21 million in
1999, these surveys found, and coffee consumption overall is climbing by about 5
percent per year.
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