For Tyson and Kevin Bowman of Bowman Fine Cabinetry in Lima, Ohio, all it took was one job and an off-chance reference to turn their company in a new direction and toward an untapped market.
“We’ve been in business since 1954, and cabinets were our sole focus, but we did our first athletic locker project a few years ago and it got some attention,” said Tyson Bowman. “The coach of the team referred us to a friend who was impressed with our quality. Next thing I knew, we went to a national trade show, and four months later we did work for The Ohio State University. We found a niche.”
The result of this newfound visibility is a stand-alone subsidiary, BSport Lockers, that launched in 2013 and focuses on custom dressing areas and other athletic-related furniture such as treatment tables, taping stations and equipment storage room cabinetry.
The driver of BSport Lockers’ growth in the market has been football, according to the Bowmans. The sport requires a large number of lockers and dressing stations, and scales the job to a more profitable one.
“Football is king because each team needs 120 to 130 lockers,” Tyson said. “That’s why we exhibit only at football-related trade shows. Our business model is to land a large football job and then bid on the other sports, like soccer and basketball, that require a smaller number of units. With our CNC equipment and knowledgeable employees, the lockers flow seamlessly through our production facility.”
One recent job completed by BSport Lockers was an install of new football lockers at Ohio Dominican University, a successful NCAA Division II institution. For the project, BSport Lockers constructed 132 individual lockers out of ¾-inch Red Oak hardwood plywood from Timber Products Company. Ordered from Frank Paxton Lumber in Cincinnati, the material went into producing 24-inch-wide locker areas that included lockable storage compartments, three hooks and a hinge-lid seat as well as custom seat cushions with the school’s logo.
“The Timber Products hardwood plywood that we use for all of our projects is excellent to work with,” said Tyson.
Currently, BSport Lockers accounts for about 20 percent of the Bowmans’ business. With projects in the works for Illinois State, Youngstown State and local high schools, they see future growth on the horizon.
“Most of our projects are around $100,000, but some of the bigger schools have much more to spend on locker room facilities,” Tyson said. “One locker could be as high as $3,000, depending on materials. If we could generate $500,000 in business in 2015 from lockers and athletic facilities, I’d be happy. In fact, I just quoted one locker room project that was $500,000 by itself, so the business is there.”
The Bowmans’ work has also garnered attention from states as far away as Washington and internationally from Japan.
“As a whole, I’d rather stay close to home because travel complicates the projects,” said Tyson. “But we can work with local shops to get the parts made.”
In addition to the woodwork, BSport Lockers also takes the lead on the cushions and the embroidery, side ventures that also have potential for future growth.
“We put together all of the pads for our projects and partner with a local company to do the embroidery work for the logos,” Tyson shared. “Right now I’m working with a company on a new way to put logos on the cushions. We’re developing a resin logo that will stand up to all types of cleaners.”
Because of the new business, the Bowmans have found themselves invited to dinners at the schools where they have developed relationships. In fact, through the Ohio Dominican project, Tyson attended a fundraising dinner where he sat with former boxer Buster Douglas and Olympian Butch Reynolds. Former NFL star Joe Theismann was the guest speaker.
“This locker business has allowed me to meet some very interesting people,” he said. “I enjoy it.”
*This article was originally published on Woodworking Network's "Panel Talk".