It’s often said that baseball is the national pastime, so when four friends who played baseball together in college came back together years later to launch a baseball-related business, it seemed like the quintessential feel-good story. Travis Chock, Jonathan Jwayad, Jonathan Loomis and Kalin Boodman were on a club baseball team together in school in the early 2000s, and each one of them managed the team at some point during their overlapping years. During his senior year in 2005, Chock realized there was a need in the local market for a good youth baseball camp. He purchased an existing business to get the membership list, rebranded the company as Baseballism, and began his first camp in 2006, running it for two seasons before taking a break.
Each of the friends followed a different career path after graduation, and eventually they were all off doing their own thing, from teaching and the military to retail and finance. Chock continued to wear his Baseballism camp t-shirts and often got unsolicited compliments on the design. As people began asking about where they could get the shirts, he realized that a business opportunity was right in front of him. He wrote an email to all his friends asking if anyone was interested in starting a business, and as luck would have it, the original four college teammates are the only ones who committed. Baseballism began again as an apparel company in 2012.
Getting Baseballism off the ground was a slow process, beginning with a Facebook presence and a Kickstarter campaign to raise some initial capital. T-shirts were produced one at a time with Jwayad, Loomis and Boodman moonlighting in the evening while maintaining their day jobs. After about nine months and a steady increase in business, Jwayad joined Baseballism full time; Boodman joined in 2016 and Loomis joined in 2017. The business began as a strictly online entity selling shirts, hats, bags, accessories and more, all with original baseball-themed designs. Baseballism does not sell any official MLB-licensed merchandise, so it is not in competition with the league or any team.
Once the online business earned a reputation and following, the partners began looking for brick-and-mortar locations. Loomis explains that their focus is on “storied baseball locations,” ones with a rich history in the game. And because more team owners are looking to create experiential neighborhoods around the ballparks, Baseballism has been able to secure prominent locations in five cities already. In the early days, the partners used working capital and profits to fund expansion, but embarking on new construction projects in multiple locations required an outside funding source.
“KeyBank has been a part of my life since childhood, so choosing them to help with our business needs was an easy decision. I love being able to work with a local team, and I appreciate that they were able to truly understand our goals and guide us to the right options for our company.” – Jonathan Loomis, CFO, Baseballism
Loomis, Baseballism’s CFO, had been a KeyBank customer since he was a child. He knew some of the people at his local branch, so he went in and started a discussion about what options were available to help fund the expansion of the business through new construction. Together, he and the KeyBank team determined that the best approach was to open a construction loan for each new location and then combine all the construction loans into a single, fully amortized 10-year Small Business Administration 7(a) term loan as soon as the final projects are complete.
One of the priorities for all four partners throughout the process has been a commitment to not giving up any equity to help fund growth. By securing the needed loans through KeyBank, they are able to protect their equity and focus on the immediate opportunities for the business. According to Loomis, having the relationship with his local KeyBank branch and working with professionals who understand the SBA process have been instrumental in making it all work.
Today, Baseballism has grown to more than 100 employees, including 15 full-time administrative staff. The company also has five dedicated locations and an additional dozen or so microstores—displays that are set up inside another store with all the Baseballism branding and experience. They also work with a handful of targeted wholesale customers. They see the sweet spot for Baseballism retail stores to be about 15 and expect the balance between online and retail sales to tip a bit more toward retail in the future.
Baseballism is anticipating approximately $14 million in sales this year, a number that has grown steadily since the launch. Expansion is always on the radar for the partners. They have already secured the Softballism name and are looking at other sports and market segments as well. The company will have a fully branded 52-foot trailer at the College World Series this year and is talking with other leagues and events to identify additional opportunities. For Chock, Jwayad, Loomis and Boodman, this is a dream come true. Doing what they love, with friends, has been a home run.
To learn more, contact a local KeyBank Relationship Manager or visit key.com/smallbusiness.