Anyone involved with youth baseball knows that the sport isn't just for the kids; the whole family can join in. Take Dave and Dayna Destler of Canoga Park, CA, for example. When their son, Dusty, began playing in youth leagues at age 6, Dave was with him in the dugout as a volunteer coach while Dayna served as scorekeeper. Before long, the Destlers began looking for a magazine that would offer news, tips, and advice to other budding ballplayers, as well as information and guidance for parents. Their search came up empty, a result that might have led some parents to simply shrug their shoulders and say, "Somebody ought to start one." That "somebody" proved to be Dave and Dayna.
Just as baseball players frequently call on their old coaches for advice, Dave and Dayna often contact their SCORE mentors via phone and email for business tips that will help keep Junior Baseball slugging. "We couldn't have done it without them, both when we got started and when we hit the rough times," Dayna says. "SCORE is truly a wonderful, valuable organization."
At first glance, starting a new magazine would seem to be familiar territory for the Destlers, who had already founded and published British Car, a successful bimonthly magazine for automobile enthusiasts. The market certainly seemed larger and more lucrative—the U.S. has more than 9 million kids playing baseball compared with only 50,000 British automobiles. But as the Destlers researched their potential market, they realized that this larger market also meant a larger, more complicated management and financial commitment.
By selling British Car, the Destlers were able to augment their SBA loan and devote their full attention to Junior Baseball. They spent the first year building the product and attracting advertisers. With the help of a five-person staff, the first issue rolled off the presses in September 1996, and Junior Baseball appeared to be on its way to the big leagues of publishing. Circulation lagged behind projections, however, and by the end of its second year, Junior Baseball was in a financial slump. "We had counted on a large amount of newsstand sales," Dayna explains, "but increased competition among small publishers made it difficult for us to get shelf space."
The magazine now has over 10,000 paid subscribers, and thousand more readers through complimentary subscriptions and other promotional programs. Junior Baseball has also earned official endorsements from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the United States Amateur Baseball Association (USABA), USA Baseball, and more than a dozen other national youth and baseball organizations. The Destlers have added a website that offers articles from back issues, a listing of youth baseball camps and schools, and a youth baseball tournament calendar. "We recently introduced a book and video store that has tested very well," Dayna says. "We're working on increasing the range of selections and hope to add it to the website soon."
In 1999, the Destlers' profit topped $100,000. Still, the couple is managing the magazine's growth carefully. Dave oversees editorial, ad sales and production, while Dayna handles finances, marketing, subscription services, and circulation with the help of two part-time employees. In recent months, Dusty, now 17, has joined the team to conduct Junior Baseball's interviews with Big League players. "I think they enjoy talking to Dusty more than Dave because they remember being baseball-hungry kids too," says Dayna with a laugh. Then there's 12-year-old daughter Deanne, who occasionally helps with mailroom chores. Deanne enjoys playing softball, and, not surprisingly, the Destlers are considering adding another magazine focused on that sport.
To develop their business plan and SBA loan application for Junior Baseball magazine, the Destlers enrolled in an entrepreneurship course offered by the SBA's Small Business Development Center. They also began meeting with volunteer SCORE Mentors Nisan Matlin and Robert Emerson. The two business veterans worked with the couple to develop their business and financial plans, analyze complex spreadsheets, and refine their marketing strategy.
"We went over every aspect of the plan, trying different projections and fine-tuning the figures," says Dayna. "It was very reassuring to have input from experienced business executives."
Matlin and Emerson's advice proved to be as valuable as a batting tip from Barry Bonds. Their suggestion of a new publishing schedule and refinanced loan relieved the financial pressure, allowing Junior Baseball to grow in step with its advertiser and reader base.