Junior Achievement on a Major League Scale
By VINCENT M. MALLOZZI
Dustin Satloff walked into his Upper East Side apartment last Tuesday and called his sales representative in Indiana, his business partner, and a sporting goods store in Connecticut to check on inventory. He also reviewed paperwork from a factory in China.
Then it was time for Dustin to do his schoolwork.
“I’m pretty busy these days,” said Dustin, 13, an eighth grader at the Collegiate School in Manhattan. “I have homework to do, and two businesses to run.”
When Dustin was 10, and many of his fifth-grade classmates could not spell entrepreneur, he received his first patent. It was for a new way to play fantasy baseball with special trading cards.
“Dustin was actually 8 when he came up with the idea,” said James Satloff, Dustin’s father, who is the chief executive of Inform Technologies, an Internet company in Manhattan that helps organize content for media companies. “He was watching a Yankee game and playing with his baseball cards, and all of a sudden, he turns to me and says, ‘Dad, wouldn’t it be a lot more interesting if you could collect these cards as if you were drafting players on your own team?’ ”
Eventually, Dustin sold licenses to two trading-card companies. Last year, he used the money from that to start his baseball bat company, which he named SatBats. Dustin, a catcher at Collegiate and for a travel team called the Yorkville Eagles, chose to make his bats from bamboo.
“Bamboo is one of the strongest materials on earth, so my bats do not break as often as bats made from ash,” he said. “Besides, bamboo is a renewable resource. While it takes an ash or maple tree 40 years to grow, bamboo trees become harvestable in five years.”
Using contacts provided by his father, who is also an investor in a company that manufactures skis in Avon, Colo., Dustin found a factory in Ningbo, China, to produce his bats, which sell for $60.
In the past year, 380 SatBats have been made and 260 have sold. Dustin, who designed the weights, barrel sizes, knobs and other dimensions of his bats, hired a camp counselor he met last summer as a sales representative in Indiana. Many of the bats have been purchased by grammar school and high school baseball players, Dustin said. They are also available at Katz Sporting Goods in Meriden, Conn.
Dustin, a Yankees fan whose favorite player is catcher Jorge Posada, has one bat autographed by Derek Jeter. His mother, Emily, was sitting in a nail salon last September when Jeter walked past. Still wearing paper slippers, she said, she bolted out of her chair. Cotton wedged between her toes, she ran for her car, where she kept a SatBat in the trunk.
“I grabbed the bat and chased Jeter into a Starbucks for his signature because I knew Dustin would love it,” she said. “Jeter just looked at me and asked, ‘Do you always walk around with a bat in your hand?’ ”
The bat is on display in Dustin’s room, which is filled with autographed baseballs and pictures of his favorite athletes, along with two box seats from the Polo Grounds. Dustin keeps a notebook locked in a drawer, the pages filled with his ideas for other inventions and possible business ventures.
Shortly after receiving his patent in February 2004, Dustin teamed with his classmate David Connor to start a sports memorabilia business they named TCAC, for Trading Cards and Collectibles. They sell their merchandise at card shows while wearing T-shirts that read, “If you don’t buy from us, we both lose money.”
“Dustin is a great business partner,” David, 14, said. “He knows a lot about different cards. He likes the Yankees and I like the Mets, so we have the whole New York baseball scene covered.”
James Satloff said the boys “have made well over four figures buying and selling merchandise.”
“When they get a table at a card show, they are the youngest vendors there by at least 20 years,” he added. “But their stuff sells because they know what kids their age are interested in buying.”
As with any good businessman, some of what Dustin sells is a byproduct of smarts and long-range vision. Six years ago, at a Staten Island Yankees game he attended with his parents and his brother, Theodore, now 10, Dustin saw the potential in a young second baseman named Robinson Canó, who autographed a bat. The Canó bat was recently appraised at $250.
Dustin said he hoped to study business at Princeton. By the time he takes the SAT, he will have an M.B.A.’s worth of experience.
“I’m proud of Dustin and everything he has accomplished at such a young age,” James Satloff said. “When I was his age, I had a paper route. It wasn’t that complicated.”