Side Hustle: Building a baseball bat empire
PENSACOLA, Fla. (WEAR) —
Each time Eric Ritchie makes a baseball bat, he's eight years old all over again.
"Every bat gets at least one practice swing," he said with a grin.
If that swing doesn't feel right to his inner Little Leaguer, he makes adjustments immediately.
He explained, "I make changes. I make slight modifications, finishing touches all the time. If I'm not satisfied, it goes back to the drawing board."
Three years ago Ritchie began designing and making bats to see if he could.
"They went from ugly, to not as ugly to decent," he said with a laugh.
Ritchie plays in Pensacola Men's Baseball League and started using his homemade bats.
He continued, "A lot of my teammates said, 'Where did you get that?' And I said, 'I made it."
Many of his player friends wanted a Ritchie original.
"Next thing you knew, we had four or five orders, turned into 10 or 12 orders," said Ritchie.
The more his teammates used them, the more they liked them. Ritchie said he began to think he was onto something with his homemade bats. He took his idea to his wife Sara.
"She said, 'You want to do what'", Ritchie laughed.
Together, Sara and Eric have made and shipped thousands of custom bats to every state in the country. He designs the patterns and oversees the cutting process. Ritchie hand sands each one and custom paints them.
Sara's job is to engrave and ship the finished goods. She's very proud of what they're building together. Sara said the feedback she gets from players and customers is very encouraging.
"The product, the uniqueness, the durability, the wood," she said.
Ritchie Bats are made out of high-quality Maple and Ash timber. Ritchie said a wooden bat makes for a better hitter.
"With an aluminum bat you don't know you're doing something wrong, 'cause you don't feel your mistake," explained Ritchie.
When the Ritchies aren't with their little sluggers and working as middle school teachers, they're making bats.
"Our weekends are out here. Four a.m. we're out of here, 8 p.m. we're out here," said Ritchie. With one common goal, "To be in the Major Leagues. We want to get to the Bigs."
With a sales growth of 250 percent from last year to this one, neither Ritchie has a doubt. The couple also makes novelty items like trophy bats, custom wedding ones and baby bats cut to the length of the newborn.
Ritchie's so consumed with his bat business he said he smells sawdust in his sleep. That's his main tip for starting up a side job, be passionate about your product and be willing to sacrifice for your new company.
"If you're willing to put in the time, you're 'gonna make it," Ritchie said.