Reinvention leads to Richmond sports agency’s success

Mar 01, 2013
Reinvention leads to Richmond sports agency’s success

About three years ago, the owners of Proformance, a Richmond, Virginia-based sports management firm with offices in New York, Chicago and Tampa, were worried.

They’d been in business for nearly 20 years, but revenue was stagnant and their biggest client, Jose Bautista, an all-star baseball player coming off a stellar season, was thinking about switching agents.

With millions of dollars at stake, the partners decided they had to make some changes – and do it quickly.

“It was a tough time for us,” recalled Bean Stringfellow, a former professional baseball player and co-founder of the company. “We really needed to take a look at things.”

He and his business partner, Jeff Beck, knew they had to take bold steps to keep the business going and keep Bautista on board. “Revenue had hit a plateau,” said Beck, who has a background in finance. “It was at a decent level, but it didn’t reflect our track record. That was frustrating to me.”

Their top priority was keeping Bautista as a client. The Dominican Republic native signed with Proformance after graduating from high school in 1993. He played under one-year contracts in 2009 and 2010.

While playing for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010, he hit 54 home runs and was ranked fourth in the competition for American League MVP. Baseball experts predicted he was poised to play better – and demand more money.

When the partners heard that Bautista was talking to several big-name agents, they started reinventing the business. They energized the business by overhauling the marketing strategy, updating its digital presence and dedicating more time to the players themselves. They also added sports marketing, investment and concierge services.  Check out their site:

“We said, ‘OK, we have to reinvent the company in order to get back into growth mode,’” Stringfellow recalled.

Like many small business owners, Beck and Stringfellow started a business based on their experience. They met at Virginia Tech where they played baseball – to varying degrees of success. After college, Stringfellow spent nearly a decade in the minor leagues while Beck went into finance. They became agents in 1991 after Stringfellow’s career ended.

By 2009, they had a roster of clients that included all-stars Billy Wagner, Ron Gant and Bautista, an up-and-coming star.

The major changes the Proformance partners began implementing in 2009 paid off. Beck and Stringfellow said they kept Bautista as a client by including him in discussions about the changes they were making while leveraging the personal relationship they’d developed over the years.

A few months after Bautista decided to stay with them, he signed a five-year $65 million contract with the Blue Jays. 

Based on the positive response to the changes they were making, Stringfellow said they

hired Joe White as a research analyst and player agent. White, a former baseball player at the University of Richmond, previously worked in forensic accounting for the accounting firm of Deloitte.

In an era when data is king in baseball, White’s challenge is to analyze stats and other performance measures in order to create profiles that help Proformance negotiate new contracts or find new teams for players.

At the same time, Proformance, with Bautista’s help, began a more concerted effort to sign players from the Dominican Republic, considered a hotbed of baseball talent.

They learned that Dominican players, because of language and cultural differences, need more hands-on help maneuvering through a baseball season. Those players also expect to have personal, almost familial, relationships with their agents.

David Urban, a professor of marketing at Virginia Commonwealth University, said small business owners need to listen closely to their clients as well as keeping an eye on the competition if they are going to be successful.

Paying close attention “often spells the difference between being proactive and being reactive,” said Urban. “Proactive is better. This type of information can alert the business to opportunities and threats, so that the business can respond with new initiatives to capitalize on the opportunities or defensive strategies to minimize the threats.”

VCU’s Urban said all small businesses owners need to ask themselves how they can improve and, like Proformance, come up with new initiatives that can be quickly put into practice.    

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