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Proctor Academy senior builds lacrosse stick business from field up

  • Proctor Academy senior Cortland Begor, who started TimberStix, a company that makes wooden lacrosse shafts, sits for a portrait in the wood shop at the academy on Saturday, January 25, 2014.<br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

    Proctor Academy senior Cortland Begor, who started TimberStix, a company that makes wooden lacrosse shafts, sits for a portrait in the wood shop at the academy on Saturday, January 25, 2014.

    ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

  • Finished TimberStix in the wood shop at Proctor Academy on Saturday, January 25, 2014.<br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

    Finished TimberStix in the wood shop at Proctor Academy on Saturday, January 25, 2014.

    ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

  • Proctor Academy senior Cortland Begor, who started TimberStix, a company that makes wooden lacrosse shafts, sits for a portrait in the wood shop at the academy on Saturday, January 25, 2014.<br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff
  • Finished TimberStix in the wood shop at Proctor Academy on Saturday, January 25, 2014.<br/><br/>ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff

Like a lot of small businesses, TimberStix started at home, in owner Cortland Begor’s Sunapee woodshop.

Unlike a lot of small businesses, TimberStix grew at school, since Begor is an 18-year-old senior at Proctor Academy in Andover who has spent the past year building his inventory and his brand – the only high-performance wooden shafts designed and built by a lacrosse player, for lacrosse players.

“This fall and winter, it has been pretty hard, with applying for college, running a company in its early stages, going to classes and playing a varsity sport,” Begor said.

“It’s definitely been tough to do the time management, but I just try to get my homework done early,” he said. “This is more fun

than doing AP statistics homework.”

Begor and his two brothers began learning woodworking in their dad’s shop in their home in Sunapee. The family gradually stopped doing projects together, and Begor started experimenting with making lacrosse shafts for his own use once he arrived at Proctor; trying first one type of wood, then another, until he found ash had the strength, grain and flexibility he was looking for.

Friends and teammates requested the shafts, which Begor would make when he had time between classes. He started building inventory last spring.

To make one shaft would take about 15 minutes, he said, but now he works in batches of several hundred at a time.

He drives his dad’s pickup truck from the house in Sunapee to a lumber yard in Exeter, picks up as much lumber as he can fit in the bed of the truck, cuts all the sticks to size, then sands and brands them.

He sold 400 over the summer by bringing his inventory to tournaments, or selling them to friends and teammates.

When he got back to school, he asked if Proctor would allow him to take an independent study course, under the direction of school CFO John Ferris, focused on entrepreneurship.

The two meet twice a week, and Ferris advises. He doesn’t have to teach much, he said.

“I really expected it to be more an instructional situation, where I talk about, here’s how marketing works, but all of that comes naturally to him,” Ferris said. “He’s a self-starter, which is terrific.”

They’re working on a new logo, which Ferris expects will be done this spring, and then working on search engine optimization.

“He sets his own deadlines, but that would be an example of quote-unquote homework,” he said. “I hesitate to call it that because it’s not like I’m assigning it. We sit down as if we are partners, and we talk about how are we going to expand the business. It’s a really collaborative situation, not much different than other businesses I’ve started and co-owned.”

If Begor is ever looking for a business partner or capital investor, he already knows Ferris is interested.

“I have offered several times to personally invest with him, but to his benefit, he’s declined,” Ferris said, laughing. “I have also advised him that the last thing an entrepreneur wants to give up is equity. So he’s listening.”

Other students, seeing Begor’s success, have inquired about taking a similar independent study next year, Ferris said, and he hopes the program becomes a regular part of campus life.

Without formal homework, there really isn’t a final exam coming, but Ferris is working with Begor to create a business continuity and sustainability plan, for when he graduates this spring and moves on to college.

They are looking to place the actual manufacturing into the hands of a professional woodshop somewhere in the state, so Begor can check in daily or weekly but concentrate on his studies and his sports at college. He’s waiting to hear from his first choice, Dartmouth; he also applied to Boston, Colby, Bates and Middlebury colleges.

But next on the syllabus for the spring: expanding the market share available to the company by promoting the product’s high-performance capabilities, instead of just its novelty.

“People think right now of wooden lacrosse sticks as a novelty item, not a performance item,” Begor said. “They think, ‘We’ve moved on.’ Now metal and composite are what everyone uses; it’s progress and improvement. But it’s like baseball. Baseball went to metal bats for a while, but they went back to wood because it has a unique feel and unique benefits.”

Wooden sticks offer better torque and more menacing blows to opponents, and are more durable than metal or composite sticks, he said. He’s played lacrosse for Proctor with a TimberStix shaft for three years and has only broken one; metal and composite sticks might break every season, he said.

Begor has recruited his friends and teammates to serve as brand ambassadors, using the sticks and writing testimonials for the website and Facebook page, and talking the sticks up to their friends, their teammates and others.

“The hardest part is to get the shaft in the hands of the athletes,” he said. “Once they try it, they love it.”

Spoken like an A-plus marketer.

(Sarah Palermo can be reached at 369-3322 or spalermo@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @SPalermoNews.)

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