Ben Jenkins is a collection of conflicting stereotypes. He’s a retired baseball player with a degree from the Art Institute in Chicago. He’s a southern gentleman who occasionally cusses. He loves to smoke a pipe but is a total health nut. He’s intimidatingly cool, but just wants to hang out with his wife and three sons. “There’s a stigma that you can’t be creative and an athlete,” he laughs, “but both sides always appealed to me.”
“I’m like a design monkey”, says Ben Jenkins who is currently hard at work in his Dallas, Texas studio with his headphones on and his mind on his work. He’s working on projects for his own eCommerce company, Warstic, but also finishing up client projects for his strategic brand design firm, One Fast Buffalo.
One Fast Buffalo has grown into a business with a solid reputation where he can afford to be picky. He now only takes on around six projects a year. And he takes summers off.
When his business signs off for the summer, Ben and his wife pile their three sons into the RV and take off, usually out West “because it’s too damn hot in Texas.” It’s the annual Jenkins family migration and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
How does he manage the work year of a teacher as a sought-after branding expert? He and his business partner look at what they need to earn to pay for their lives and find the projects that will pay the bills, but also energize them creatively. It’s a great position to be in as a designer and business owner. This year, he only has one slot left and is just waiting for the right phone call.
“I gave myself permission to make it a real sabbatical. It feeds my creative energy to be doing it. Creative people need to rest. If we get burned out, we’re no good,” he says.
His kids are getting older and he wants to enjoy the time to be with his family. “When I come back in the fall, I’m so full of creative energy that I’m ready to pop.”
Ben first started freelancing when he was 22 and on the road as player for the Philadelphia Phillies minor league team. “At that time, I didn’t even know what branding was. I just knew I liked graphic design and I had some success getting paid to do it.”
A few years into it, he started his own creative design firm and continued to take on any jobs, from brochures and marketing campaigns to website and graphic design. “That’s what young firms do. They do anything they can get their hands on,“ he says.
When he stepped back and took a look at the things he most liked to design and what he designed best, his a-ha moment pointed to branding.
“Helping a client invent what they want their company to look like, that’s the part we geek out about,” he says. “It doesn’t take an army of people. It’s more about my creative brain and the strategy brain of my business partner Christine. We can put our heads together and come up with a really great idea.”
Helping a client invent what they want their company to look like, that’s the part we geek out about,” he says.
Though branding was an organic fit, Ben’s experience with eCommerce came into light in the late 90’s when if you could build a website, you were in demand. His first website was built using a book and some guesswork. Once he had a few under his belt, they just kept coming.
“We’ve built hundreds and hundreds of sites over the years,” he says. He saw firsthand that eCommerce was becoming a real thing and eventually, the eComm bug bit him too.
When Ben sought to create a product he could sell, he wanted it to be something that made sense to him and that he was knowledgeable about. He landed on the idea to create American-made baseball bats with a simple logo in a variety of colors. His bats have since been featured in GQ and The Wall Street Journal and he rolls out one or two new models each year.
He splits his workweek into either “making” or “marketing” days, and is currently trying to take most of Warstic off his plate. “The idea is for me to launch something, incubate it for a certain period of time and prove that it works,” he says. “I’m in the middle of looking for the right investors to install a president or maybe a team – I’ve got to get it mostly off my plate as a full business. But I always want to be the creative director.”
But that doesn’t mean the novelty of running an eCommerce business has worn off. “My wife thinks I’m crazy because the first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is check to see if I’ve sold a Warstic bat!” he says. “I get paid more for client work, but when I make a $40 sale, I practically do back flips.”
For Ben, designing something that can sell over and over is an exciting thing as a designer. When he creates a logo or website, it’s done for a fee and it’s finished. But with Warstic, he sees his design reach new customers every day.
I get paid more for client work, but when I make a $40 sale, I practically do back flips.
Ben’s simple philosophy to enjoying life applies to his work as a branding expert too. “I don’t believe that branding is marketing. I think branding is the skin of the product. When you’re designing a product and a brand, I think it’s one and the same. When you do that well, you get a lot of free awareness,” says Ben.
eCommerce has given Ben the flexibility to be a better work partner, a better designer and even a better Dad. “I take my kids to school and have coffee with my wife every morning. That’s the best part of my day,” he says. “You’d have to drag me back to a real office. I don’t really care about work being fun. I care about life being fun.” But luckily for Ben, he finds joy in both.
As far as the future, he plans on always evolving. And Warstic isn’t the last product he’ll ever design. “I’ve got a fly-fishing brand I’m working on with a buddy, a lifestyle brand I’ve been working on for a few years behind-the-scenes and a few other things lined up. It’s just a matter of asking, ‘Is it time for that one yet?’”
And with that, he gets up to walk the several steps from his office to the backyard. His kids are home from school and it’s time to toss the football around.
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Photos by Maigen Sawyer / RV Photo courtesy of Ben Jenkins