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Ballplayers Take a Swing at Being Businessmen : Enterprise: Eric Davis, Darryl Strawberry and Reginald Montgomery share baseball and a business in the tough neighborhood where they grew up.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

On a run-down section of South Broadway in South-Central Los Angeles, a sparkling white Porsche convertible pulls up in front of a modest storefront. Out of the car steps Eric Davis, who will earn $3 million for each of the next three years patrolling center field for the Cincinnati Reds.

Nearby, a dirty-faced homeless man pushes a shopping cart past the storefront and an adjoining Baptist church and aluminum-can reclamation yard. So what is Davis, natty in a dark business suit and patent leather black loafers, doing here?

Inside the storefront is All Star Custom Interiors, a business started three months ago by Davis, fellow baseball star Darryl Strawberry, who plays right field for the New York Mets, and their high-school chum and ex-minor league ballplayer, Reginald Montgomery, all of whom are 27. The firm sells custom bathroom fixtures, carpeting and other interior goods to contractors and individuals.

For Davis, who has a house in Woodland Hills, and Strawberry, who has an Encino residence, All Star gives them an opportunity to learn a new skill that they hope to use after the major leagues. “Baseball isn’t always going to be there,” Davis said. “This was a challenge to me to learn the products, learn the business world, learn how to deal with people outside of baseball.”

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And to hear Davis and Montgomery tell it--Strawberry couldn’t because he failed to show up for an interview--the business also is their way of helping improve South-Central Los Angeles, where the three men grew up. Davis and Montgomery went to Fremont High School in nearby Compton, and Strawberry attended rival Crenshaw High.

Each man owns one-third of All Star, which they initially capitalized with about $50,000. But they have since spent thousands more building their showroom and ordering supplies for resale to their customers.

Davis and Strawberry also are on the promotion trail; their appearances on TV sports talk shows typically include a plug for the new venture.

All Star also isn’t shy about dropping the names of celebrities who have bought its goods. When a visitor recently stopped at its showroom, Montgomery pointed to a stack of boxes in a corner and said they were destined for the home of Byron Scott of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team. Laker Michael Cooper also is a customer, he said.

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The ballplayers’ investment in All Star is still a pittance given the salaries of Davis and Strawberry, who earned $1.8 million last year. Indeed, they could have opened All Star in a swank area, but they chose South Broadway “to try to upgrade our community,” Davis said.

“People around here like nice things,” he said. “They might not be able to afford all of the high-end stuff, but they can afford the medium-range stuff, like a Jacuzzi tub. We could probably do 100% more residential business if we were in Beverly Hills or Woodland Hills, but that would be taking away from our culture.

“Just by putting our building here, other businesses on this street are trying to upgrade their businesses,” he added. “It’s a positive image in the community.”

All Star’s single-story showroom, which is not much bigger than a master bedroom, features such high-end items as a $1,600 royal blue toilet and a $4,000 black bathtub with gold-plated fixtures and Jacuzzi. Davis and Montgomery said such items are meant mainly for upper-crust individuals who come by to see what is available, and that All Star sells much more mundane and lower-priced goods as well.

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Among the products All Star sells are bathroom fixtures made by Kohler Co. of Kohler, Wis., Bob Gold, the company’s zone manager for Los Angeles, said “we admire their philosophy on developing a business and returning something to the neighborhood where they grew up.”

All Star is not a passing fancy that the ballplayers grubstaked in order to help their old friend Montgomery, they said. “It was something we had talked about for numerous years, going into some type of business,” said Davis, who spends several hours a week at the store during the off-season. And his interest in decorating precedes All Star.

Davis’ mother has been an amateur interior designer for many years, he said, and “It rubbed off on me.” Davis said he has thrice rearranged the furnishings in his Woodland Hills home, where he lives with his girlfriend, Sherry Brewer, and their 4-year-old daughter, Erica.

Understandably, Davis is still learning the fine points of managing a business--and mastering its jargon. Although he is all grace on the diamond, in an interview he gets tongue-tied trying to describe All Star’s profit potential and confuses its gross sales, net sales and low overhead. But his point is clear: He thinks All Star will break even after its first year.

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In the meantime, Montgomery will be the day-to-day boss, running the firm while Davis and Strawberry try to hit 90 m.p.h. fastballs eight months out of the year. That suits Davis fine, because he and Montgomery are close friends.

Although Montgomery also unsuccessfully tried to become a major league ballplayer, he was familiar with the home-furnishings business; his father, Ed Montgomery, has been a building contractor for 40 years.

After Reginald’s five-year effort to make the big leagues ended in 1988--a USC star, he was only a step away from the majors, having played at the Triple-A level in the minors for the California Angels and Baltimore Orioles--he joined his father as a trouble-shooter, helping other builders and developers locate interior supplies.

The need for Montgomery’s services persuaded him, Davis and Strawberry in 1989 that they should start a business that helps interior designers, contractors and developers order faucets, carpeting, sinks and the like.

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Those professionals--who are often buying in bulk--will account for up to 80% of All Star’s business, while individuals shopping for themselves will account for the rest, Davis said. Montgomery said the company has no sales goal for its first year because, “We didn’t want to set any goals. We wanted the market to dictate what we could do.”

Davis and Strawberry also will have fax machines and personal computers in their respective Cincinnati and New York homes, so that they can receive frequent updates on All Star’s business. Still, Montgomery doesn’t pretend that in the heat of a pennant race, Davis and Strawberry will be too concerned with peddling bathroom wares.

As Montgomery noted, “You can’t worry about toilets and bidets and try to hit a slider from Bert Blyleven.”


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