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How a Pro Athlete Turned Handmade Bat Entrepreneur
Inspiring story with a guy who turned his skill and passion for the game of baseball into a business selling premium hand crafted baseball bats. He literally starts from cutting down the tree and selecting the wood to turning the bats and doing all the marketing and sales.
Mark has a great story and is a true entrepreneur next door type that I really enjoyed chatting with and hearing how he plans to grow his business even further.
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Listen right here:
Matt: Welcome to the Entrepreneur Talk Podcast. I have the pleasure of speaking with Mark who’s got a very interesting business and a very interesting story to share with us. He actually makes his own bat – not the kind that flies, the kind that you play baseball with. He’s got a website – marklumber.com. Mark, thanks for taking the time to chat with me today. Why don’t we just kinda kick it off by giving us your background, how you got started in this and how the company kinda came into being?
Mark: First of all, thanks Matt for having me here. Basically, I play baseball all my life. I started at 4 years old and I kinda just went through every ranks all the way up to college in Florida and Mississippi. I caught a good break when I sign professionally to [inaudible 0:05:17.1] for a couple of years. In about 10 seconds, that’s kinda like the road I took to professional baseball. It was all out of fun. But once you stop, you realize that you miss the sport a little bit much. I’ve always enjoyed wood working and I was raised on a land, basically in the woods. Turning badges, it just kinda came naturally. I always loved hitting, throwing around with a bat and stuff and so on. I’m just kinda throwing all the passions together, I guess.
Matt: When you were playing, were you making your own bats then? Or is that something that came about after you stopped playing?
Mark: I wish I did, actually. Because now, I know the science behind it. I could’ve made a better bat than I use. It would’ve gotten me far, I think. I recently started that about a year or a year and a half ago. I started thinking about the project. I stopped playing about 3 years ago. The project definitely came after my career. But man, now, I wish I did.
Matt: What is it – as a non-baseball player, just for fun or recreationally. I wouldn’t know the difference. Obviously, there’s a huge difference there. So, what was it that you’ve figured out that you could do differently or better in creating a bat than what else is out there is available either for just a regular player to buy or even somebody at the highest levels of this sport? What did you do differently in crafting your bats that you can’t find elsewhere?
Mark: Yeah. For sure. There’s a couple of things. First, I would say the raw materials. Not all woods are created equal. I use hard maple only. That’s preferred by 70% of the major leaguers. That’s a good start point. In comparison to ash and berch, that’s also used. So, hard maple it is. Not all maples are the same. You got to find a good supplier. Basically, the grain has to be perfect. From the visual inspection to testing it out, you cannot see who supplies the best wood. For me, that’s the main key there. It’s got to be the whole approach to it. I know playing. Even if you have a good fit, if it don’t feel right, if it doesn’t feel right, and it doesn’t look the way you want it, you’re gonna go to the play not confident. That’s a major aspect of hitting – to float confident at the plate. So, our logo, our branding, the whole image behind it is also very rugged and very strong. On top of a good performing bat, we also have the image and the looks that kinda give the confidence to a player. It’s kind of that full package that we want to offer players, either professional players or amateur players that’s looking for the right bat just to feel strong and confident at the plate.
Matt: So, do you go to the source and kind of inspect the trees or the lumber that you’re going to end up purchasing. Where does it start for you? Are you actually looking at the tree itself and how do you take it from there and then you bring it back to your shop and you do everything yourself by hand? What’s the process kinda from tree to bat?
Mark: Yeah. Well, it started out I cut down my own tree at my Dad’s land. That’s how it all started. Since then, obviously, I won’t cut all my Dad’s maple that we got. The way it works is I’ve selected a few suppliers that I’ve gone to talk. I’ve gone to visit. And then basically, once I was confident with the supplier, you gotta buy a bulk size order. Once it comes into the shop, sometimes, I’ll have 5% or 10% pieces that I won’t make bats for them because I’m not satisfies so I’ll keep them for souvenir bats or test bats. I’m really picky with the wood that enters and comes out of the shop for clients. Basically, I handcraft all my bats. The quality control throughout the process is very meticulous. I take pride in hand-sending and stuff. Just really making sure that every step, there is no flaw that I hadn’t seen. I always make sure that the bat is absolutely great A.
Matt: That’s sounds like a huge differentiator right there because I’m sure most of the bats are coming out of a big factory made by people that aren’t hands-on and intimately involved with it. so, once you got to the point where you’ve cut down a tree and you’ve made a batch of bats, how did you go from that to being able to start selling them and having people be interested in trying them out and actually buying them from you?
Mark: Now, I look back and I’m pretty amazed how quickly I got from that point that you just mentioned to selling bats. Basically, my first prototype was in January of last year. Then, I started selling in April. But I did all the research I could. I was very hands on with the testing and the initial phase. Lots of trial and error, obviously. But, I was really able to come up with a good product pretty early in the process. Of course, I was actually confident enough that I’d started selling at a discounted price, obviously. But, I started selling a little bit while improving the product as its known today. It kinda worked out perfectly actually. I actually took my first bats to Paula College and Mariana Florida where I went back in ’08-’09. I actually hit a home run with them. That was kinda like the break point to me. Am I continuing this project or not? I guess, we’ll see so. I went out there, brought a few bats, had a couple of friends try them and then I’ve hitten derby with them. It did fairly well. It kinda gave me the boost that I needed to keep going.
Matt: Wow. Well, I guess if you compete in a home run derby and do well, that’s a pretty good proof that the product is legitimate. From there, do you go back to selling them online kinda one at a time? Or did you talk to distributors? Did you talk to players? How did you kinda build the sales from there?
Mark: From there, I just started to talk to selected group of people that I’ve played with or that now coaches. Basically, mouth-to-mouth, it just generally ramped up from there. I made a few sells to teams and stuff but really, I guess, basic marketing. I would send out a demo or two into a group of people, to a team, and then would try them. They would order in. basically, that was it. no publicity. No marketing. None of that. Just talking to friends. Once I was ready to take another step, this past December we launched the website. Since then, it’s been another process kinda like talking to more people, more friends that I know, more teams and more associations, stuff like that. We’re starting to talk to stores. We’re in a few stores here in Canada. There’s always room for really good quality bats anywhere in America, really. I’m going to Florida next week, at Paula again. Same place I went last year. I’ll be competing again in the home run derby with my version 2.0. hopefully, I’ll do a little better. So basically, it’s a lot of talking to contacts you have and that’s a major point. I’ve realized, that’s kinda why I started this project. I know a lot of people in baseball and I’ve always maintain good relationships with anyone of them. People always like my behavior everywhere I went. I guess my name is legit in the baseball industry around people I knew. That was kinda a good start point there with all the contacts.
Matt: Yeah. It is definitely very helpful to have good reputation in the industry that you’re trying to get into. Have you managed – are you working on getting it into the hands of any major league pro players who would be sort of endorsement for you? Or is that already happened?
Mark: It’s not really in the plan in the way that you’ve got to pay hefty license and fee each year if you want to be MLB Approved. It’s like $20,000 a year. But, I’m in a hunch of rise of Russell Martin here in Montreal. He’s gonna try out a few bats maybe just for fun, just to get some feedback from a major leaguer. It’s always cool. I’m lucky enough to have access to him. That’s good. For people who don’t know him, he’s a major league catcher for the Toronto Blue Jays. But other than that, I’ve got a lot of friends who are starting their MLB careers as well. Definitely, I’ll get the bats in the hands of those guys but I’m not really looking to go to the big leagues just yet. It’s definitely a goal but I’m aiming all the sub-level target, I guess, sub-level markets. All the top elite, amateur teams’ levels. That’s really that I’m going for.
Matt: Well, I’m sure if those guys have a good experience with your product, by the team they get to the big leagues, they’re not gonna want to switch to some other bats just because it’s got MLB stamp. They’ll take your bats with them or they’ll offer to pay the [inaudible 0:17:42.4]. “I’m not putting my bat down, buddy. I’m gonna play with this. I’m gonna take it to the play.”
Mark: That would be a good problem.
Matt: Yeah. I’m sure that if it performs it’s advertise, nobody’s gonna go to second best just because. They’re not in that level of –
Mark: Exactly. It’s your tool. I mean, it’s your primary tool. For a hitter, his bat is that’s all his got. It’s the extension of his arms. So, it’s really important. People don’t realize [inaudible 0:18:17.5]. That’s not true. You develop a relationship with your bats over the season. I assure you.
Matt: Yeah. I’m sure it becomes an extension of you. If you pick up the wrong bat, you’ll instantly know the difference.
Matt: So, with that said, what’s your next step? Are you still able to produce everything? are you gonna have to bring some staff on? How many bats are you producing a month? Do you have help or is that the next step for you?
Mark: So far, no. I do everything myself. I can turn approximately a few dozens a month because I still work another job right now. I won’t be able to just do bats for now but it’s definitely in the process of switching out and making bats full-time eventually. Once I made that move, I’ll be able to turn a lot more. I’m able to maybe, roughly, I’ll say turnover 6 dozens a month. That’s plenty for now. We’ll see where it goes from there. Next step will be to do that full-time which will deal into more bats. Basically, that’s it. I got my wife that’s helping me out in the process. She’s really doing all the graphic designs. She’s an architect. All the graphic designs – the logo, she designed the logo which was crucial. Were kinda finishing bats together – applying the logo on it, doing the paint and all that. She’s really helpful but I also got a few sales representative going around cities and players. I like to do it all but at some point you got to delegate.
Matt: Definitely. It’s tough to do it all especially if you’re not at the level yet where you can quit whatever your day job is and commit all your time to it. so, delegation is definitely good. I have to say your wife might have a career in –
Mark: Hello? Sorry. I had a fake phone call entering. Sorry.
Matt: Did I do that?
Matt: No, what I was saying was your wife may have a career as a graphic designer if she wants to give up architecture because I think you guys have one of the coolest websites I’ve seen in a while and a really cool logo. As you were saying, it’s kinda got that image of power and strength. It’s definitely a tool. Nobody’s gonna mistake for I don’t know.
Mark: Definitely. We’re looking at to have one of our friends helping out with the website given the wholesale here in Montreal. He’s also an architect. Him and my wife, they were amazing at throwing all together. It’s a major aspect. I mean, all the business is online basically. So, it’s got to look sharp. It’s got to look the way that you wanted to feel. It’s really important.
Matt: That makes a lot of sense. In terms of how far you’ve come so far, is there anything that you’ve kinda learned along the way that either in hindsight, you would’ve done differently or just sort of lessons you would share with somebody else who’s getting started in their own thing?
Mark: I would say, try to get someone on board with you earlier in the process in the way – let me explain here. Me and my wife, we’re in this together almost full-time after our day jobs where we’re in full-time. But in the beginning, I was just basically alone in my bubble. It was hard. I felt like a had a hard time with communicating to anyone basically because I was in it 24/7 but then I had like no partner in crime basically. I would say, get someone involved early in the process, from the get-go basically, or else you just kinda drive yourself nuts just talking to yourself almost about it. Now, I came to an understanding that we’re in it together. She wants to know all that goes on. That’s a major plus.
Matt: Yeah. It’s hard to be just a one-man show because you are the only one that you’re asking the opinion on. You don’t have any feedback on “is this a good idea? Should I do this or that?” So, I mean, if you don’t have a spouse or a partner, you can at least get an adviser or a mentor or anything along those lines just to have at least one more voice in your head besides your own.
Matt: Alright! Let me ask you this. Are these bats primarily for the higher level guys or for somebody who’s playing in high school or they just kinda want an after work league for fun? Is this something they would even consider or find? Or is this really just a precision instrument for a high level professional?
Mark: Well, you can look at it both ways basically. It is a bat aimed and geared toward the elite player in the way that it’s gonna perform as best as it’s available out there. But, in the same way, when you play recreational baseball and stuff, you like to treat yourself with the bats that looks the best out there that feels great. That the beauty of baseball. You can use the bats that major leaguers are using even if you’re still playing locally. It’s so gonna help you perform better and feel better at the plate. I’ve got clients that ranges from high school to recreational to professional. So, no. it’s really not segregating the level that you’re playing.
Matt: Anybody can use it and do better with it and it’ll opt to anybody’s game. I guess that’s the answer.
Mark: Absolutely. Yes.
Matt: Okay. I don’t know if that would do much for mine. I maybe the exception there. But I’m the weird Southern Californian that actually played a lot of hockey growing up.
Mark: There it goes.
[cross over 0:25:32.9]
Mark: Do you want to switch countries, man?
Matt: You’re welcome to visit and I’m happy to visit there but I think I’m gonna permanently stay here. Well, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me today, mark. For people who are interested, what’s a good way for them to find out more and get a hold of you?
Mark: Just basically go on the marklumber.com. all the info is there – the content information as well. I’m really reachable by e-mail or phone. People in the US might want to just drop an e-mail if they don’t want to do a long distance call. But I’m really responsive. All the information is there on the different sections of the website. We’re also on instagram, @mark_lumber. Check out the pictures and see what’s going on. We’ve also got a Facebook page. Again, its mark_lumber. Any of those 3 really it’s just kinda, you’ll see what we’re about and what we’re about to do next.
Matt: I mean, I would encourage people just to check out the website because it’s just a good looking website. If you got products to sell, this would not be a bad example to use for displaying your own products. But, Mark got lots of good pictures on there of the bats and all the other information about the company. So, definitely check it out! again, mark, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me. I really appreciate it.
Mark: Thank you, Matt! Again, I’m the one who’s thanking. I appreciate it.