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BizCast 45: Garage Ball Hits a Home Run with New Brice Prairie Location for Batting Cages

Episode 45

Garage Ball Hits a Home Run with New Brice Prairie Location for Batting Cages

About BizCast Greater La Crosse

We bring you news from the business community. From startups to experienced problem solvers, you’ll get in-depth insight on the challenges and opportunities of doing business in Greater La Crosse. Our show is a collaboration between WIZMNews.com and BizNews Greater La Crosse ( GreaterLaCrosse.media ).

Summary

The script is a conversation between Vicki Markussen, the host of the BizCast Greater La Crosse podcast, and Brian Meeter, the co-owner of a company called Garage Ball. They discuss the concept and purpose of Garage Ball, how it started, the services they offer, the recommended ages, the business model, the public’s response, their passion for coaching, and the impact they hope to have on kids.

Full Transcript [ generated by AI]

Brian Meeter: I’ve called it a glorified hobby and it’s starting to expand past that but the dollars that we’re getting, we’re trying to upgrade the space and make it a better place to play.

Vicki Markussen: Welcome to BizCast Greater La Crosse, a weekly podcast from Biz News. We bring you news from the business community. I am your host and founder, Vicki Markussen. And joining me is Brian Meter. He is not only the executive director of the La Crescent area. Chamber of Commerce and Tourism, but he also is a co-owner of a company called GarageBall.

Vicki Markussen: So this is a pretty new company. Where’d the idea for this come from? First of all, what does it do? We should start with what it does. So

Brian Meeter: GarageBall we are a baseball and softball hitting and pitching facility. We are located in Bryce Prairie. And we’re just trying to open and move into this new location here.

Brian Meeter: Mid November, we should be opening. But it’s membership based and also instructional based. Whether you want to participate in on your own with your mom, your dad as your coach, or you want to get some instruction from good coaches, then we offer everything.

Vicki Markussen: And is this for all ages?

Vicki Markussen: Or what are the recommended ages?

Brian Meeter: That’s a really loaded question. We recommend that you have some basic skills to start with. We’ll do some intro stuff this winter, like intro to T ball and that sort of thing. That’s going to be a new offering that we’re gonna bring up this year.

Brian Meeter: But yeah, we want some basic skills and I think in order for the child to have a good experience, they need to be able to pay attention. That’s one of the key factors. About fifth grade, it seems like that’s the point where they can focus a little bit longer, but we’ll run like some programming for younger kids, but it’s group programming.

Brian Meeter: So there, there need to pay attention for an hour is not necessarily there. They, it’s more sporadic. Yeah, I, but we have, we’ve had men’s softball leagues that have used our space in the past. We had a guy that was going to go do a fantasy baseball trip, like he, with the Brewers.

Brian Meeter: I can’t remember if I think it was the Brewers and he came to our facility because we have a pitching machine and he came there to get ready and, he’s my age, so he’s not playing for any organized high school team. And anyways, I think he really enjoyed it. But yeah, the ages span based on what your needs.

Brian Meeter: But our bulk of our business is middle school through high school.

Vicki Markussen: OK, so now let me go back to my question of. Where’d the idea for this come from?

Brian Meeter: Yeah, good question. I think we were thinking about it before COVID. Like it’d be just nice to have a space right for our kids. So it starts out with some selfish thoughts like, Hey let’s find a space for our kids.

Brian Meeter: And then COVID hit and there was nothing for kids and parents knew better. that they need to have their kids out having healthy activities. And so there was a space available in Holman that had a batting cage already in it. And our initial plan was, hey, let’s open this up for members coming with their kids.

Brian Meeter: And they can just hit for an hour and rent the space for an hour and hang out and it went well, but then everybody started asking for lessons. So we started to add clinics and lessons. We’re all masked and this was it was an awkward time, but it was successful in that people were thankful that we had opportunities.

Brian Meeter: Holman in particular doesn’t have a lot of recreational opportunities in wintertime for kids. It’s getting better and it will continue to get better. But we were pulling people. We’ve our customer base has been from Toma to La Crescent and everywhere in between. So it’s really neat to see people come from all over the area that are looking for these opportunities.

Brian Meeter: And there aren’t a lot of facilities that offer that if they are, they’re private, right? So they might be in someone’s garage, right? So garage ball kind of expanded to open up these opportunities for everybody. Yeah.

Vicki Markussen: Yeah, because this was, you said, November of 2020.

Brian Meeter: Yeah, in the middle of it.

Vicki Markussen: Everybody’s cooped up and you thought, hey, let’s just open it and see. Did you have a, did you have a business plan? Did you have a growth plan? What did that look like?

Brian Meeter: I’m a planner. I had a business plan and how we’re going to break even that’s always been the model is how are we going to break even we’ve never really been in this to be, the next I don’t know, GRB, for example, where they’re there have teams and all that sort of stuff.

Brian Meeter: We don’t have teams, right? So we’re trying to expand beyond that model a bit now as our team. Yeah. Our children are aging through the programs what are we going to do after they’re gone business model, but yeah, we had a plan. We knew we needed to do some clinics. We knew we needed to offer up some things to make it work financially, but the membership also helps to pay for the bottom line.

Brian Meeter: And that was our initial plan was a few clinics and the membership and it’s expanded now. We offer team rentals and we’re we have people coming to us to want to do lessons and work out of our facility and our schedule is already starting to get pinched a little bit so we’re looking for different ways to grow the business the best that we can and meet the needs of our community.

Brian Meeter: So not our community doesn’t necessarily as a whole look for some of the travel ball opportunities that are in other bigger communities, right? But we can certainly help those kids that are interested in that too, and provide a space for really good training.

Vicki Markussen: Yeah. So you were saying that it’s the ability to pool, if you will, the kids from multiple communities to create that travel ball. You’re helping provide

Brian Meeter: that. Some communities are already doing that. We’re providing the space. We’re not organizing the teams. And I think that’s an important distinction because, we want to provide a space for those teams to come in and do what they need to do.

Brian Meeter: We see this quite a bit in softball, right? Where there’s girls from Toma and GT and lacrosse and on Alaska and they need a place to play. They need a place to practice. Here’s, going back to my tourism and commerce hat, right? The money’s leaving the community to go to Eau Claire, to go to Rochester, and to go to the Green Bay area.

Brian Meeter: I’m sorry, to the Madison area for these training opportunities. We’re not trying to build a, 50, 000 square foot facility. But we think that a smaller space with some good training is exactly what this community needs. And it’s not small by any means. We’ve got three nets, two full size 65 foot nets, so you can do live pitching and live hitting there.

Brian Meeter: We’ve got batting. Our pitching machines and one of the cool things that we were talking about earlier that we had something called hit tracks. It’s a baseball simulator so you can play games. We do leagues. We had a softball beer league in there. One winter. We do, but we do leagues for middle school and high school and it’s a winter league.

Brian Meeter: You get four buddies and you come in and you You have a, the ball thrown to you and the hit tells you what happens, so it simulates a game, like if you crush one and it’s a homer, then everybody like, they chuck their bats now, they think they gotta flip the bat, it’s pretty cute, but it’s a, it’s real fun, it’s the best way you can simulate a game.

Brian Meeter: these days and it seems like the kids really love it. So one of the things we’ve also had is birthday parties. Parents want to have their birthday parties at our place because it’s a neat space. There’s an entertainment factor. We let them bring in all the food and drink they want to. They just got to clean up afterwards and that’s about it.

Brian Meeter: But it’s a fun place for people to do that as well.

Vicki Markussen: And you have an interesting model because the membership is really what guarantees you can pay the rent so to speak. And then I’m guessing the walk ins are I’m sure there’s profit in the memberships too, but it guarantees you that you have that steady income because if you don’t know who’s walking in the door or something happens and so you outgrew the Holman facility. Is that what happened?

Brian Meeter: Yeah, there was an opportunity for us to move to a little bigger space. And so we took that opportunity. And. We had to order all this netting. I didn’t know I was going to be a construction guru on and hanging nets and moving turf and stuff like that. But that’s what we’re in the process of doing.

Brian Meeter: And you’re right. Vicki, the business model is evolving, though, and we’re trying to put everything right now back into the space. I’ve called it a glorified hobby and it’s starting to expand past that but the dollars that we’re getting, we’re trying to upgrade the space and make it a better place to play.

Brian Meeter: So some of the ways that we’ll do that are newer equipment, better equipment bringing in coaches that maybe have some division one or some high level coaching experience to come in and help us train for maybe special clinics and stuff like that. So we’re putting all the dollars right back into the space right now.

Brian Meeter: But yeah, the membership certainly does help throughout the year to keep the lights on, so to speak. Yeah. And

Vicki Markussen: you have to balance two of, okay, you can make the investment, but if you can’t reap more dollars or there’s not perceived additional value, then. Weighing what you invest in and how has the public and their response? How has that shaped what you’re now creating is 2. 0 if you will right?

Brian Meeter: The power of the public is awesome. I’ll tell you that because the mothers are the best at Networking for you, right? I get hey, I heard this from, Christy’s mom and so on, and they’ll just start spreading the word. I just got a phone call yesterday from a coach that wants to bring their team to Garage Ball because of a mother that had told them about it.

Brian Meeter: So we’ve done mostly grassroots marketing here. Our marketing budget was free social media for quite a few years, right? And our networking has been huge. And It’s like we’ll be at capacity this winter, so if you’re interested, it’s important to connect with us early where we need to expand the opportunities are in the shoulder season for the sport.

Brian Meeter: So once it gets nice out, people want to be outside. We get that. What can we do to offer them more opportunities to improve in between without like burnout without, risk of injury and stuff like that. There’s a lot of things you can do that I’ve learned over the years. I coached college sports.

Brian Meeter: I played college sports. I’ve connected with some really good people. Again, it’s that networking that I think I’m pretty darn good at to bring experts in to help you grow with some of those opportunities in the off season. That’s where we need to focus our attention right now. It’s like we’ve got blinders on.

Brian Meeter: We’re trying to just get this place open. So we’re hoping to be open by mid November. And then once that starts, it’s going to be like pedal to the metal. So where’s the new location? It’s in Bryce Prairie. So it’s right off County Z. If you’re familiar with Bryce Prairie, there’s a couple different ways to get there.

Brian Meeter: But if you go past Red Pines just a little bit and you take a right on County Z, you’ll see a sign. And yeah it’s an awesome space.

Vicki Markussen: What makes you passionate about owning that business?

Brian Meeter: That is a great question. I like to see like the kids figure it out like the light bulb goes on. I’ve been working with a kid for a couple years.

Brian Meeter: Good athlete. Hit and miss in his sessions, right? And I’m excited to see him this fall. He’s going to be a little bigger, going to be a little stronger. You see some passion when they have some success. Now, we coach them up and we train them and we don’t coach them during the games, right?

Brian Meeter: Somebody else has to do that. And they don’t always see things the same way that we do. And these kids need to take advantage of their opportunities when they get them. And when we see that happen, Vicki, that is one of the most rewarding parts of coaching. Is when they go somewhere else, with someone else, who doesn’t do things the same way you do, and they get their opportunity and they succeed at it.

Brian Meeter: And then, mom and dad come in and the chests are out and they’re they’re really proud and they they’re thankful. And I don’t need the pats on the back, right? But it feels good when you hear the stories, and sometimes those stories aren’t good. Like sometimes they fail, right? And then you get, you go back to work.

Brian Meeter: And that’s part of the process of being a good baseball or softball player. It is singular, singularly the hardest thing to do. to hit a baseball and it gets faster. I see these kids when they’re younger and they’re seeing 50 mile per hour fastballs and 60 mile per hour fastballs and they go to high school and at the beginning they might see some 65 to 75 mile per hour fastballs but this kid that crushes the ball all the way up to that age might struggle a ton when they see 82, 85, 86 mile per hour fastball and you see a lot of drop off in the sport.

Brian Meeter: All right, as I’ve aged and I’ve seen that with my own son that where there were some struggles at first, thoughts are how can I help this, this transition. So that’s going to be one of our focuses moving forward. But you want to see that, that, that person, maybe they weren’t the star, but they figured out when they get a little older too.

Brian Meeter: That’s what I’m passionate about. I want to see these kids figured out. enjoy it, beat the hardest challenge in sports, which is to hit a ball that’s coming in fast. I wasn’t the best at it. That’s why I ended up being a pitcher. But I think, our instruction, our space and the opportunity to just feel successful in a space and build confidence in kids.

Brian Meeter: COVID changed things for that, it, it was so hard. I have a daughter that’ll be, the grade that she started as a freshman and COVID hit, right? And this generation is challenging or facing a lot of challenges. Confidence is like one of the number one things that they’re facing as a challenge.

Brian Meeter: And I think sports allows that confidence to be re regrown, rebirth. And it’s really neat to see it in some kids that, the hair’s a little shaggier than it used to be. And they don’t always look you right in the eye. And then when they get an opportunity, coaching really helps with that.

Brian Meeter: And we request our kids and we demand the kids that come into our program to be respectful of coaches and to look us in the eye and to shake our hands and to smile and feel proud of what they’re doing. I think I think that’s one of the greatest things about what we do.

Vicki Markussen: Yeah. You’re forming, beyond sports, you’re forming just great character and stamina

Brian Meeter: And we hope so, right? We really hope so and that, that can help them further down the road than, maybe some of the things they’re doing outside of sports. is have a good relationship with the coach. Be respectful. It’s not always gonna go their way. Build that confidence in our facility and then they can hopefully translate that outside of our facility.

Brian Meeter: Walk a little taller, become a little better person in society. And those are all important aspects Of what coaches do, and we’re not the only ones, Vicki. There’s so many coaches out here across the community that do this on a micro scale that don’t get a lot of recognition. I used to use volunteer soccer coach.

Brian Meeter: I didn’t know anything about soccer, but I was a willing participant and being a willing body out there is important, a positive, willing body. And, people look back on that. I get thanks occasionally from these athletes that I coached that that were here in lacrosse and I see them and now they’re, they were just little guys and now they’re shaven and they’ll come up to me and them and their parents will thank me just for it.

Brian Meeter: Being there for them, being a positive influence, but there’s people like that spread throughout the entire community. And they do it for nothing. They do it just for, because they have an interest in it. Maybe they have an expertise in it. Maybe they don’t have an expertise in it. That was me in soccer, but I learned as much as I could, as fast as I could.

Brian Meeter: But these people have huge influence. And we’ve had some great ones that have come through the area over the years. If you’ve been in lacrosse for a long time, you probably remember the name Dick Hackett, who was the athletic director at lacrosse central for a long time. And I met him at towards the end of his life and had a chance to interview him for a previous job that I had.

Brian Meeter: And he was an athletic director. I think he did some coaching as well. But his positive influence had such an impact throughout his community. He used to see every bus off and when it came home, he was back there waiting for the kids to get off the bus on a trip. Like how many people do that now?

Brian Meeter: The influence that he had, it was a little old school, but it was amazing. I wish a lot more of us would take that old school approach to the impact we can have in kids. And this is a really long answer to a question, what inspires you to do what you do. But I could talk about coaching and the impact that a positive coach has on kids for a long time.

Brian Meeter: We have to have several cups of coffee, but just trying to do that on a micro scale and hopefully people appreciate it and they’re interested in checking out GarageBall.

Vicki Markussen: Yeah . absolutely. My husband coached basketball and baseball and there’s nothing like the kids coming up still going, Hey, coach.

Vicki Markussen: Hey, coach. Yeah. And the impact that you had that you don’t even know that you have. So Brian meter co owner of garage ball. Thanks for joining us. And we’ll catch you next week. Thanks, Vicki. Thank you.

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