Custom Bat Manufacturer Hits Home Run as Entrepreneur
Swansea resident Todd “Dutch” Eschman is batting a thousand as the first-place winner of a regional business plan competition that is driving his entrepreneurial venture toward success.
Eschman, 44, is the sole proprietor of Old Dutch Classic Bats (www.dutchbats.com), a manufacturer of custom bats for vintage baseball players. Vintage baseball is a rapidly growing sport that recreates the game as it was played in the 1860s by replicating rules, period uniforms, style of play, language and equipment – including bats.
The entrepreneur’s business idea to manufacture and sell custom-made bats came from his passion to play vintage baseball, which began three years ago.
“I’ve always played baseball and have coached my kids’ teams,” said Eschman, whose day job is as general manager of community publications for the Belleville News-Democrat and who began his journalism career as a sportswriter. “In August 2011, I got wind of a vintage baseball game between the St. Louis Unions and Lafayette Square Cyclone BBC and decided to check it out. After watching one game, I was hooked.” A year later, Eschman and friends formed a team and started competing in local leagues.
Eschman and his friends were not the only ones fascinated with vintage baseball. The game’s quick growth led to the formation of the Vintage Base Ball Association with 161 member clubs across 26 states, most of which include multiple teams of 15 to 20 players each. This surge in popularity motivated Eschman to take his passion for the game to the next level.
“There was something unnatural about players using modern bats with the logos sanded off,” Eschman said. “To be true to the sport, I purchased a basic lathe in 2012 and started making my own authentic bats. Before long, the word got out and my friends’ wives began asking me to custom-manufacture bats as gifts to their vintage baseball playing spouses. A year later, I’d sold enough to buy a high-quality, diamond-tipped lathe and have been busy ever since. I love playing and making bats. Each bat is very personal because every player has a unique swing and feel for their own bat,” he added.
Seeking assistance with the state-required paperwork to officially launch his company, Eschman found the Illinois Metro East Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Center Director Patrick McKeehan and School of Business grad student Luther Cameron provided expertise not only on the paperwork but also on how to forecast and manage the growth of Old Dutch Classic Bats.
“The Illinois Metro East SBDC had a lot of valuable advice for my start-up,” Eschman said. “Through their experience and objectivity, Patrick and Luther provided a vital business perspective and encouraged me to consider the important, strategic questions along the way.”
McKeehan also suggested Eschman consider entering the Metro East Start-Up Challenge, a brand new regional business plan competition. Despite being a newly formed company without a business or marketing plan, Eschman submitted a first round executive summary for Old Dutch Classic Bats. Two rounds later using the guidance and support of SBDC staff, Eschman walked home with the $10,000 first-place prize.
“Todd is a classic garage startup entrepreneur translating his passion into a business success. In four months, he went from what he thought was a hobby to a viable startup with real potential to capture a sizeable market share of the growing demand for vintage baseball bats,” McKeehan said.