The art of hitting: Ben Jenkins’ hand-forged bats are labor of love
07/08/2013 7:44 PM
07/08/2013 7:45 PM
As a former professional baseball player, Ben Jenkins knows the art of hitting.
Now, as a professional graphic designer, he has made hitting an art form.
It’s his business.
The mission of the Warstic Wood Bat Co. is to make a high-quality bat that also looks good.
His mantra: “Design matters.”
In a little more than two years, Jenkins said he’s succeeding, with a growing reputation and sales as proof.
“We make design important to us,” said Jenkins. “I would have no interest selling novelty items. People say, ‘These bats look so good, are they used in games?’
“Absolutely. There’s no reason something can’t look good and be used in games.”
Warstic started as a “fun side project” for Jenkins, the founder of a design branding company, OneFastBuffalo, in 1998.
The business was an ideal venture for the Lake Highlands native and former Philadelphia Phillies prospect who played collegiately at Mississippi State.
“It’s not very glorious,” Jenkins joked about his professional baseball career that ended in Class A after a season and a half because of an arm injury. “I’m a much better designer than I was a baseball player.”
He left baseball to pursue his new career in design, earning a master’s in fine arts in art and technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
He continued playing baseball in adult amateur leagues, though now in his late 30s, the focus of his ball playing is on his three Little League-age boys.
Baseball, though, remained his passion. Warstic was born when Jenkins began tinkering with the idea of what he thought a bat should look like.
“I knew from experience working with clients that, when you make a product, it’s best to go to something you know and have a passion about,” Jenkins said.
“I could make a difference in the industry through design. People don’t make design the core focus. For me that was a no-brainer.”
The bats of Warstic are all hand-forged and made from the buyer’s choice of American White Ash, Hard Sugar Maple or Dense Yellow Birch.
They then take a coat of any color, a half dip or full, depending on the hitter’s preference, and top it with a personal engraving.
Jenkins spends his time with the company designing in his Dallas studio. Three employees at a shop off-site make the bats. One turns, one paints and the other engraves.
It’s a simple, streamlined business model that Jenkins plans to keep.
He said the business is profitable, having eclipsed his wildest expectations, and he will reinvest in the product, not in marketing or sales strategies. His clients range from Little Leaguers to minor-leaguers.
So far, he’s had success through word of mouth. His sales are online and many are made while he sleeps.
Talk about living the dream.
“I wasn’t sure I would sell a single bat. I sold a bat and couldn’t believe it. You put something online and someone buys it ... I just couldn’t believe it,” he said.
“I’m a designer. It wasn’t a copy-cat thing. Many [bat companies] emulate the others. I decided I’d just do what I want. That turned out to be the trick.”
Sales, he said, continue to grow.
Jenkins said major-leaguers know about the bat, but he’s not certified to sell to them.
Major League Baseball requires vendors to carry a large liability insurance policy in the event a bat injures a spectator. For Jenkins, it’s cost prohibitive.
It’s a business decision many small bat manufacturers probably wished they had made. Many wilted under MLB’s new regulations instituted in 2003.
Jenkins, though, is unconcerned about his major league prospects, much like he was as an aspiring player so many years ago.
His business is and always will be about the sanctity of the game ... and the bat, not whether Ryan Braun is using it.
The big leagues was never the goal, he said. “It just matters if people love them and use them.”
“I don’t want to get stupid and greedy,” Jenkins said. “Investors come to me and want to put money in it. I’m like, ‘Why?’ It already does great and makes a profit. People find them, like them, use them, tell their friends and and it keeps growing.”
“My goal is to continue to make good stuff.”
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