Co-owner and general manager
Phoenix Bat Company
Plain City, Ohio
How did your company get its start?
Back in the early 1990s, our founder, Charley Trudeau, was remodeling old houses in Columbus, Ohio. And when you need to replace a staircase spindle or column in a house from the 1860s, you don’t go to Home Depot or Lowe’s. You have to recreate it by hand, as Charley did on a hand lathe. At the same time, he was playing 19th century vintage baseball for a team with the Ohio Historical Society. Needless to say, finding a bat from that era does not involve a trip to Dick’s Sporting Goods. So, Charley started making vintage bats – big honkin’ bats much larger in size and weight than today’s models, as pitching was underhanded, slow-pitch, and the ball was softer. By 1996, he was doing so many vintage bats for vintage teams across the United States that he followed his passion and made Phoenix Bats a full-time endeavor. It all started out of his garage. The Phoenix name is an ode to the mythological firebird. Like the phoenix rising from the ashes, Charley was bringing back bats to life, some that were originally used almost 150 years ago.
In 1999, Charley was approached by a pro player to make him a bat. This led to Phoenix Bats becoming pro-approved in 2000. In late 2003, Phoenix Bats moved to its current location, where it runs the most advanced bat-making machine in the world, one of only two companies to have this level of precision crafting (and the other is not that “little” company down in Kentucky.). Phoenix now finds its wood bats being swung by pro and amateur players, softball teams, hitting coaches, vintage leagues and Little Leaguers. And out of these interactions came demand for award and trophy bats.
What led your company to enter the promotional products market?
Making wood game bats for pro and amateur players, coaches and teams; trophy bats became a logical extension of the business. As these groups started having success with our bats, requests for ways to recognize the achievements were brought to Charley. A laser-etched wood bat made for a beautiful keepsake. It’s very complementary to what we do on the field and opened up a new business pathway, with less seasonality to it.
There was also a practical side to deciding to enter the promotional products market. When we get wood in from our mill, not all pieces meet our stringent requirements for what can become a game-usable bat. Many of those pieces that don’t meet our specs are still beautiful pieces of wood; typically, they’re just too heavy or too light to make a properly spec’d game bat. As our business grew (and more and more wood was ordered), so did the number of pieces needing to find a home off the field. With that, we knew we could make a bat anyone would be proud to display at work and at home.
What’s your favorite thing about being in the promotional products industry?
It’s definitely the fun of each project being different and the creativity that goes in to each project. We get to take a client’s branding or recognition need and translate it on to a different medium: a wood bat or super-sized golf tee or night stick—or even a shovel bat for a ground breaking ceremony. We craft something that most recipients are not used to receiving—something that stands out, is kept out and is appreciated by the recipient for not being the same-old, same-old. The good part for our clients is that we’re not bashful about speaking up when we see opportunity for improvement or in crafting the right message. Contributing to the success of the project has its own rush.
Why did you join PPAI?
We were introduced to PPAI by one of our customers, the head of a promotions firm in Columbus, Ohio. At our first meeting, upon seeing our full-size presentation bat and the mega-sized golf tees, his exact response was, well, not printable but extremely positive. He said, “You have to get these in front of more people ASAP!” Upon his advice, we checked in to PPAI and saw it as a tremendous opportunity to expand our reach. Here was an association that has a rich history and is of the caliber we want to be associated with. Each interaction along the way has been everything we were told it would be. Thanks to PPAI for allowing us to join! It is already making a difference to our business.