A Midwest Badminton Business
A MIDWEST BADMINTON BUSINESS
By Linda Downey
Louisville, Kentucky, is the home of the oldest Yonex dealership in the United States. This company, Louisville Badminton Supply, is owned by Charles and Bobbie Norton.
A brief summary of personal information
Born in Louisville, Charles’s family consists of one brother and three sisters. Bobbie, also born in Louisville, has a large family of four brothers and two sisters. Married on June 6, 1964, Bobbie and Charles were childhood sweethearts. The couple has no children of their own but has influenced many children to play badminton. For forty-one years, Bobbie and Charles have lived in a comfortable quiet neighborhood on the northeast side of Louisville. Bobbie began playing badminton in physical education class in high school. Charles started his badminton career in 1960 while a student at the University of Louisville.
History of badminton in Louisville
A football coach who enjoyed racket sports taught the weightlifting/badminton class that Charles participated in at U of L. He told Charles that if he was seriously interested in playing badminton he should go to the downtown YMCA, where a group of businessmen played badminton in the afternoons. The first day Charles attended the group, he was told to sit and wait. The men would call him when it was his turn to play. Well, his turn never came that day. He was not good enough yet to play with the men on the main court. Charles, being persistent, continued attending the YMCA. He competed with other men on the side courts. When Charles consistently beat the men on the side courts he was asked to play with the businessmen; he was then good enough.
Charles entered his first tournament in 1962 at David Lipscomb College in Nashville, Tennessee. Charles was primarily a singles player. When asked how he fared in the tournament, he said, “I did pretty well.” In Louisville, in the mid 1960’s, badminton was a sport played only by men. It was considered a “country club sport.” The men played tennis in the summer and badminton in the winter. You had to be invited to play. At this time in Louisville, it was strictly a Caucasian male sport. The proper attire for the men was white shorts and a white shirt with short sleeves and a collar.
On Sunday mornings, Chuck Yeizer, owner of the Fleishmann Margarine Company, in Cincinnati, Ohio, would invite a group of men to play. He owned a building at the Indian Hills Country Club called the Carmago Club. Charles remembered Curt Dommeyer being invited to play. Curt was a student at the University of Cincinnati.
The men from Louisville would travel to Charleston, West Virginia; Lexington, Kentucky; Cincinnati Ohio; and Indianapolis, Indiana, to play other mens’ club in those cities.
In 1975, women finally had a place to play badminton. Tom Sawyer State Park built a facility that contains four badminton courts. Bobbie and Charles could enjoy the sport together. The facility at Tom Sawyer State Park is open on Wednesday evenings from 6:00 to 8:00 and Sunday afternoons from 12:00 to 2:30. The cost is three dollars for each session. The University of Louisville also has a place to play badminton on Monday and Friday evenings from 7:00 to 9:00. U of L students and employees play for free with their university ID. For other individuals, they must purchase a badminton ID which cost twenty dollars for the semester.
The Badminton Business
During World War II, Serviceman Red Day from the United States met Mr. Yoneyama on the battlefield in Japan. After the war was over, Mr. Yoneyama offered the first Yonex franchise to Red. He accepted the offer, and opened his business in Roanoke, Virginia. In the late 1950’s, Sutcliffe, a sporting goods store in downtown Louisville, sold badminton equipment but eventually that store closed. Allied Sporting Goods took its place, but this store did not sell any badminton equipment. Charles would go to larger cities and buy rackets. He would then resell the rackets from his basement.
In 1972, Red Day offered a Yonex franchise for the state of Kentucky to Babe Ray. Babe was a tennis and baseball star at the University of Kentucky. He purchased a line of rackets from Red. There were five badminton rackets in the group. Babe did not want the badminton rackets so Charles purchased them for a total of forty dollars. Manhattan Beach, Chicago, and Central Michigan were hot beds of badminton in the 1970’s.
Because there was not a place to purchase badminton equipment, Louisville Badminton Supply was formally incorporated in 1975. This was the first store in the United States to operate with badminton in its name. The store was in operation until 1981 in a shopping center where badminton, tennis and squash equipment was sold. They also carried a line of clothing for those sports. The business left this location because it was too costly to operate. Louisville Badminton Supply was then relocated to its current address on Lyndon Lane.
There were other men selling badminton equipment during this period of time. They included: Wes Shoppe with HL sports in Manhattan Beach, California; Ernie Schimmer with Rackets International in Los Angeles; George Geever with Geever Sports in Chicago; Bryan Bretzkey was selling equipment in Michigan; Easter Smith sold equipment in Miami, Florida. Willie Takikki’s business was Tennis and Badminton by Willie in San Jose. John Race sold equipment in Evansville, Indiana.
In 1975, Ben Yomeyama, son of Mr. Yomeyama and current president of Yonex Corportation, attended University of Tennessee Martin. He played badminton for the university. The team was coached by Linda Ramsey. Ben, on weekends when he was not playing in a tournament, would visit Bobbie and Charles.
In 1975, Louisville Badminton Supply had the first catalog for badminton equipment published. This catalog contained only black and white pictures. The following catalogs were printed and published by a company in Taiwan, then sent to Louisville Badminton Supply. After several years of publication, the catalogs were discontinued because new badminton equipment from the selected companies entered the market at different times of the year making it difficult to keep catalogs current.
Over the years, Louisville Badminton Supply has carried equipment from the following companies: Yonex, Black Knight, Wilson, HL, Victor, Head, Sportcraft, Carlton, Kennex, their own line of rackets, and even Kawasaki, yes the company that makes motorcycles.
The game of badminton has taken Bobbie and Charles to many countries. Charles has played badminton and held clinics in Japan, China, Taiwan, Taipei and England. Charles was a line judge at the badminton venue for the Olympics held in Atlanta, Georgia in 1996.
Bobbie and Charles travel many thousands of miles a year with their business. Once Louisville Badminton Supply was established, Charles started pursuing the institutional market. He traveled to many universities and school districts around the nation. As his business grew, Charles found it harder to see all his scheduled appointments in one day because his customers wanted to know more about badminton.
So that more people could be seen at one time, Bobbie and Charles started attending the National Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance conventions held throughout the United States, promoting the sport of badminton. The first convention Charles remembered attending was in Oklahoma. He remembered that there were people waiting to talk to him about his products. He received many orders for badminton supplies from these conventions sometimes selling hundreds of rackets in one order. Louisville Badminton Supply found its nitch in the market.
Charles has conducted clinics in almost every state. One of his favorite trips was to Alaska. He and Bobbie, five years ago, were invited to Anchorage and the northern part of Alaska where the Inniut Indians live. They wanted to learn to play badminton to occupy the long cold winter nights. Charles said that when they stepped off the plane; the temperature was twenty-three degrees below zero.
Louisville Badminton Supply has set up shop at many tournaments. From large ones like the USAB Senior Nationals at different locations, the World Police and Fire Games held in Indianapolis, Indiana, the Transplant Games in several different cities, and the Gay Games in New York City, New York, to small tournaments in Dayton and Cincinnati, Ohio, and Franklin, Tennessee.
According to Charles, it takes lots of preparation to get ready to go, whether it is to a clinic, a convention, or a tournament. Each situation is different, but he must have the proper equipment for each event. He has an inventory list of everything that must go. The packing of the equipment usually takes the better part of a day. A Chevy Impala is the rental car of choice because it has the most room in the trunk.
Louisville Badminton Supply has received numerous awards during their time in business. Some of the awards they are most proud of include: consecutive years attending the National Convention for AAHPERD; special recognition for the Southern District of AAHPERD; and a plaque presented to Bobbie and Charles recently for their contributions to the Midwest Badminton Association.
When asked what you like about badminton that has kept you committed to playing for a long time, Bobbie commented that it gives her energy. Charles said that it has kept him young! Bobbie and Charles have competed in several Senior Games Competitions. In 1997, they won the gold medal in the 55-59 age group in Tucson, Arizona.
As spectators, Bobbie and Charles were invited to the World Championships held in Anaheim, California, by Ben Yoneyyama. They agreed that the best match that they ever watched was when Howard Bach and Tony Gunawan won the final men’s doubles match. Charles said that it was amazing to be in a basketball arena filled with screaming excited badminton fans.
Here are a few quotes from the participants at the USAB Senior Nationals held in March in Raleigh, North Carolina about Bobbie and Charles Norton.
- “Friendly and helpful.”
- “Nice people.”
- “They go out of their way to help you out.”
- “Great couple—they complement each other.”
- “Constantly here.”
- “Steady—they are always there to promote the sport.”
- “Charles is a meticulous stringer.”
- “Friendly—completes the tournament.
Thank you, Louisville Badminton Supply, for the years of hard work and dedication promoting badminton throughout the world.