Today’s interview is with Joe Hardin of Texas Timber. Joe and his father, Wayland, started Texas Timber back in 1998 and have made a niche for themselves in the custom wood bat market. It’s a great story, keep on reading!
Can you give 50 BUILT readers some background on yourselves and how Texas Timber came to be?
Sure. I’ll start with my dad, Wayland; he grew up in a small farming community and has always approached life by letting hard work speak for itself. He is one of those guys that can implement anything – from woodworking, to welding, to mechanics– he still amazes me with what he is able to do. He is also the type of guy that if it you can get by on a task with 2 nails, he is going to use at least 4 nails to make it solid. We joke as a family that anything Dad builds is tornado proof.
I come from a sports family and I’ve played baseball since I was 5 years old. I also had the opportunity to play in college, so I’ve lived and breathed the game for over 30 years. Baseball has always had an influence on everything I do, including my class work. When I was in a marketing class my senior year at Abilene Christian University, the course included a requirement that was based on creating a product and developing a marketing plan. I ended up taking an old broken wooden bat I had in my apartment, and with my dad’s help, we created a table lamp out of it with the barrel of the bat being the lamp stand. We drilled a hole through the barrel to run the electrical wiring and created a wooden home base – it ended up being pretty slick. At the end the class, my marketing professor suggested it would be cool if we had our own brand on the bat. So the “ah-ha” moment was triggered and I spent the next 3 months that summer researching the wooden bat making process and the concept of developing a wood bat company brand.
Evolution of Texas Timber
Those who remember the late 90’s will recall that in 1998 the internet was relatively new; I leveraged AOL (America Online) member search to identify like-minded baseball players, baseball historians, wood workers and the such to piece this bat making process together. I ended up making a lot of connections and friends along the way. But I also ended up hearing a lot of, “You can’t do that” or “You can’t make money doing that”, but as a 21-year old college kid, those roadblocks just motivated me even more to succeed.
After discovering we needed a wood lathe for the process, I decided to try calling cabinet shops in Abilene, TX to see if anyone had one for sale. I remember about the 3rd shop I called responded with, “Sure, we have one in the back I have been thinking of getting rid of for $100.” My dad came in the next weekend; we took a look at it and bought it – it was an old 1950’s green Sears and Roebuck wood lathe. Now looking back on this, I could probably call 300 cabinet shops and this would have not resulted in procuring a wood lathe, so it seems the stars were aligned for us from the beginning. After first experimenting with some available pecan wood, we purchased our first 10 pieces of northern white ash and we started our first run of wooden bats.
At the same time we were developing our operation, I had also been researching names for our company, polling our AOL friends. I still have the list of the names we considered, but Texas Timber was the most favored name and was surprisingly more popular with out-of-state residents than with Texans themselves. We conducted a graphic design contest, and the majority of our logo was designed from those submissions.
We literally hand burned the logo and barrel information on the bats with a hand burning tool. Each bat took us about 3 hours to produce. Since I had played college baseball, I had an old teammate, TD Taylor, who was playing for the independent minor league team, Abilene Prairie Dogs. I had spoken with him about our bats, and we sold our first one to him for $40. I remember I actually went to the stadium and handed him the bat from the stands about 30 minutes before game began – it was actually a great feeling that something we had worked on for so long was in the hands of someone in a professional ball game.
TD ended up getting a 2 run double in his first at bat, somewhat of a Hollywood story for our small start-up company. Soon afterwards, several other Prairie Dog players were asking for custom bats, which we gladly made. Several all-star players from the Prairie Dogs were using our bats causing some buzz in their clubhouse, and in fact, the local sports writer referred our story to the business journal for the local newspaper. The story was published on a Friday and my apartment phone started ringing with orders beginning around 8am. A little early for a college kid, but I quickly realized there was an interest in what we had. The next day, we had calls from San Angelo; the next day from Lubbock, the next day from Midland; the next day from San Antonio. I finally asked the guy from San Antonio where he heard about us, and he said our story went to the Associated Press and was getting picked up regionally within Texas and New Mexico.
We’ve quietly made wooden bats completely by hand for our first 13 years. We relied on word of mouth and referrals for new business, but we always had a capacity constraint since our bats were made using a very manual process taking over 3 hours for each bat.
Texas Timber Today
We are proud that we built our brand slowly and the right way. Within the last couple of years, we started leveraging a production process that creates additional capacity for us, while still allowing us to customize each bat. Since my dad just turned 70 years old this year, I didn’t want to turn his retirement years into hard labor! We want to ensure our brand continues to offer quality and customization we are known for, but without the dependency on any one person, so today we are starting to manufacture and market our custom-made products to see what the appetite is for Texas Timber at a larger level. We enjoy what we do and want to share our passion for baseball with America.
Texas Timber works in an industry that is quintessentially American. What does it mean to be an American Made product in the baseball market? How important is the Made in America process to your brand image & integrity?
We really take pride in being made in the USA. Our brand lets you know where we are from, and the concept of our company was based on an idea that tied a father and son to working together. We make bats for America’s pastime, and it’s simply a requirement for us and to the integrity of our company to be based in the USA. There is something special about producing a tangible product that is arguably the most recognizable tool in sports.
We just announced our Texas Timber Bats across America Project. We are developing a photo collection of loyal customers with their Texas Timber Bat in each of the 50 states of their residence. We are tracking our progress and hoping this will be a fun project to unite players, our brand, and the baseball community across America. This aligns with our core values, and we believe this project is bigger than us; it is about sharing our passion and engaging baseball players across the country. It was a kitchen table idea, but so far it has been well received and people are excited to participate.
Texas Timber was founded by father and son, both craftsmen, that take great pride in their craft and product. Why is the process of making so important to the Texas Timber brand?
We don’t stock bats; 100% of our bats are made to order.
Even though we have moved to a production process, we are still also creating and offering our “Bat Maker’s Reserve Limited Edition” hand made bats because we think it is important to continue the process of how we started our company. We only produce 4 of these per year, and they are historically numbered for tracking. The “Bat Marker’s Reserve Limited Edition” bats are 100% handmade: each turned on a wood lathe by hand; logo and barrel engraving burned by hand; hand stamped knob and hand stained. These bats take us hours to produce, but we value the process of how original models of wooden bats are made.
We take pride in our high quality and finish out; we’ve learned our craft over the 15 years we have been doing this. Since I played baseball in college, I understand the high expectations players have when they spend money on a bat. They want quality, but they also want something that looks good and gives them confidence when they are at bat. In fact, many of our customers state they don’t want to use their bats in a game because they look too pretty to use, and we take that as a compliment. But we tell them to use it, or buy two – one for game and one for show.
To people in the market for a wooden bat, what is Texas Timber’s greatest asset/what can they expect to get from Texas Timber?
People can expect a high quality, custom-made wood bat made with passion for wood working and doing things right. We’ve seen a lot of other wooden bat companies’ transition to stickers or watermarks for their logos, but we have chosen to stick to our original design and burn our logo into each bat. We are certainly not the only bat company that does this, but it seems to be becoming a lost art that we are proud to keep alive for baseball and America’s Pastime.
Do you feel you’re fulfilling a sense of duty by continuing your craft and manufacturing your products in the USA?
For Texas Timber, outsourcing our manufacturing process offshore has never been a point of conversation; it’s simply not an option because it doesn’t align with how we built our brand or with the core values of our company. To be able to adjust quickly to market demands and customization for our customers, we must have a quick and nimble operation so we can move fast – it’s the heartbeat of who we are.
What changes have you noticed most in your industry, since you started the business 15 years ago?
The fundamentals of the wooden bat industry have not changed significantly over the last 15 years, but we have seen more companies entering the market, maple become much more popular, and additional standards being implemented. Another change within the industry is the emergence of social media as a marketing tool. Both Facebook and Twitter have proved to be valuable platforms for connecting Texas Timber with baseball fans across America.
If you could tell our readers one factor that is the greatest threat or advantage to keeping things made in America, and allowing companies like Texas Timber to succeed, what would it be?
I think the desire for American made products is making a comeback. Most people realize there is a direct correlation between buying American and supporting the US economy. If companies would focus on their long-term philosophical and economic goals, as opposed to short-term cost cutting initiatives, that would help keep things made in America. I’m hopeful we can make a positive impact by focusing on long- term goals and decisions that will benefit our company, our country and our families.
Great, thank you for your time and insight, Joe!
Be sure to check out the Texas Timber x 50 BUILT bat in the shop!