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Softball bat maker plans to double workforce, add baseball bats

The owner of Pure Sports has his eye on the ball — baseball — as he expands his bat manufacturing business.


Chris and Lindsay Osborne moved their softball bat-making business from South Carolina to Palmetto.
Chris and Lindsay Osborne moved their softball bat-making business from South Carolina to Palmetto.
Photo by Mark Wemple
  • Manatee-Sarasota
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Entrepreneur Chris Osborne took a swing moving his carbon fiber softball bat manufacturing business to north Manatee County. Now established there, the company is knocking it out of the park.

The business, Pure Sports Technologies, plans to double its staff in the coming year, surpassing 25 people. It also plans to expand its product line to include baseball bats — a challenge that involved significant investment and a significant risk. 

"The baseball bat market is expansive, fiercely competitive, and offers higher profit margins compared to softball," says Lindsay Osborne, head of operations for Pure Sports. (The Osbornes are married.) "With a diverse player base ranging from youth leagues to the professionals like MLB, the opportunities for market penetration and growth are abundant. To succeed in this environment, we invested heavily in research and development to stay ahead of competitors."

This new challenge comes after the company got past another big obstacle: moving more than 450 miles from Charleston, South Carolina, to the fast-growing patch of Palmetto in Manatee County, halfway between Bradenton and St. Petersburg. 

Challenges aside, the couple is glad they moved the business. “We love it here,” Lindsay says. “Everyone is very welcoming.”


Make a move

Since its inception in 2016, Pure Sports has created more than 5,000 different softball bats, Chris Osborne says. Some of the bats champion causes like autism, while others showcase special features like color-changing or glow-in-the-dark designs.

“We developed a really good softball bat, and initially it was primarily for guys going and playing after work or with church," Chris says of the company’s first concept.

Pure Sports has also developed a bat for fastpitch softball and is working on a baseball bat “right now,” Chris says. The first baseball bat will go out for testing this year, he says. 

“Baseball is such a big market that we wanted to make sure that we made all of our mistakes and growing pains in the slow-pitch softball side,” Chris says. “Once you get into the baseball side, that’s really where the big volume is so we wanted to be well prepared.”

Some work on the bats requires airbrushing.
Courtesy image

Preparation also includes increasing its staff.

Headquartered on 12th Street East, Pure Sports currently has a staff of 13 with plans to expand to 26 as it adds baseball bats to its repertoire.

The company relocated from South Carolina to Manatee County in summer 2023. Part of the reason for the move, Lindsay says, was the plentiful local labor force. 

Moving a company to the west coast of Florida for its labor force has been a trend for years — though not as much in the recent past. One of the most common refrains from a business owner today is some variation of "it's hard to find good people," so coming here for the labor pool today is something of a counterintuitive move. 

Yet Lindsay says South Carolina was a “transient state” where they "couldn't get people to work." Many people wanted to be at the beach, then moved back home after six months once they had been trained, the Osbornes say.

The Osbornes spent a lot of time at the Space Coast stadium in Viera, on the state's east coast, with Pure Sports Technologies. So they began looking for a new base of operations in the area. To find workers, Lindsay posted a job listing on Indeed within a three-hour radius of Viera.

“My biggest concern was: Can we find the manufacturing labor to support what we have here?” Lindsay says. “The Palmetto area just blew us away with the number of applicants and the quality.”

People who worked in aerospace or boat manufacturing applied for the manufacturing jobs, while seasoned, competitive salespeople applied for sales and customer service positions.

"It was a good mix of younger people who were just kind of starting out their careers and people who are looking for a second career," Lindsay says. "We felt like it was a good mix of the two to provide a good, solid team."

Local officials also offered some assistance.

“Manatee County is doing a pretty good job of incentivizing sports-based businesses to move,” Chris Osborne says.

"We made a number of connections for them," Sharon Hillstrom, CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., says in an interview with the Business Observer. One was with CareerSource Suncoast, which helped Pure Sports with recruitment.


Carbon footprint 

Chris Osborne founded Pure Sports as his second business. His first – LeapTech – makes carbon fiber parts. He started that one while he was in high school.

When he was 17 years old, the self-described “computer nerd” recalls tinkering with cars and being involved in Autocross and racing.

He says he “really just wanted a better deal” on parts so he started buying them wholesale. “I made a website and put a bunch of different products on there and people started buying it all of a sudden,” he says. When he received a $1,300 check in the mail from a Ferrari dealership buying a carbon fiber hood, he says, “I thought, I better get a business license.”

Primarily, the business centered on contract carbon manufacturing, which it still does. Customers included “everybody from Russell Athletics to Boeing to Chanel” (he did the walls for every Chanel store), Chris says. Today LeapTech makes welding face masks, military solar panels and shoulder pads. Recently, he started talking with someone about making carbon spearguns.

Pure Sports Technologies has created more than 5,000 varieties of bats.
Courtesy image

Proceeds from Leap Tech helped Chris put himself through college at Clemson University in South Carolina.

From carbon fiber, his next business started to take shape. He became “focused on the sports side of things” and “discovered that was a really fun engineering challenge,” Chris says.

The timing was also right for the business to take off, as the company gained a prominent investor.

Businessman Dan DiMicco, former CEO of steel industry giant Nucor Steel, “was helping small American manufacturing businesses get going” around 2016 and “he was kind enough to provide some mentorship and a whole bunch of capital,” which launched Pure Sports, Chris says. He declined to say how much DiMicco contributed.

DiMicco "still owns some of the company but he's much more hands off these days and enjoying his retirement," the Osbornes say.


Keep it local

One thing Chris would like people to bear in mind about Pure Sports is his products are made locally — at a time when many of his competitors are looking to China for labor.

“Baseball is America’s sport. It is the most American sport, and almost none of our bats are made in America,” Chris says. “It’s gotten progressively harder to manufacture in the U.S. It costs me roughly $30 to paint a bat. That same bat to have it painted in China costs $2.”

He wants his clients to know that as much as possible, his products are made in-house rather than overseas.

“It’s concerning to see it going in that direction and we’re working our hardest to make sure that we’re able to continue making the best bats that we possibly can in America,” Chris says. “We still import stuff, but I think it’s important to do the most we can [in the U.S.] with the way the economy is right now.”

 

author

Elizabeth King

Elizabeth is a business news reporter with the Business Observer, covering primarily Sarasota-Bradenton, in addition to other parts of the region. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University, she previously covered hyperlocal news in Maryland for Patch for 12 years. Now she lives in Sarasota County.

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