A faint smell of leather washes over customers when they enter Sandlot Goods’ new Crossroads space at 2125 Washington St. But the most recent buzz comes from owner Chad Hickman’s side venture with his brother: Coaster Oven.
In the back corner of Sandlot’s workshop, where the Kansas City-born company specializes in leather and stitch work, an industrial laser cutter is redefining Hickman’s entrepreneurial vision through custom-engraved wooden coasters.
“I never thought coasters would be such a big deal,” he said, still bewildered by their popularity. “It’s this weird thing where people hear that you have this capability and they just start coming out of the woodwork.”
Customers can select from between four styles of coasters and two finishes, using designs uploaded through Coaster Oven’s website. Photorealistic images are even available on the polished, durable products.
Hickman’s laser cutter originally was purchased to ease production of Sandlot Goods’ more traditional creations, he said. Eventually, however, his brother, Trey Hickman — who pitched the name Coaster Oven as a joke — started printing customer-created designs on laser-cut pieces of plywood.
“It’s one of those things … It never felt like it was on-brand for Sandlot,” Chad Hickman said, referencing the decision to draw a line between the two maker endeavors.
Back to the ballfield
Coaster Oven’s inception isn’t the first time success has found Hickman by accident, he said.
Sandlot Goods itself is the result of a helping hand he extended to a friend who once struggled to make rent while trying to keep her handbag business afloat. Hickman allowed the entrepreneur to move into the garage of what was then his photo studio, he said.
“We just basically pitched the idea, ‘Hey, you can stay free of rent and we will make baseball field leather goods,” Hickman said. “The original idea was taking all baseball gloves and making wallets and things out of them — just sort of a side hobby that would maybe sell enough to pay the rent that she was paying before.”
Years later, as Sandlot carries a range of leather goods from key fobs and wallets to belts and bags, baseball remains a source of inspiration Hickman and his co-workers — several of whom are family members.
“With Sandlot, we started out with just a simple [leather] coaster that was sort of a generalized baseball field shape and those do really well,” he said.
“We’re trying to get to the point where we have every city’s major league ballpark outline,” the business owner said as he laid out his vision for Coaster Oven. “It doesn’t say ‘Kansas City Royals’ on it, but you can look at the shape and it just kind of makes you feel … that’s my city.”
Hickman hopes consumers will take to the products as collectors items, he said.
Viral startup culture
A main source of support so far for the Coaster Oven brand has come from nonprofits, ad agencies and breweries — like Kansas City’s own Boulevard Brewery: a fitting partnership for Hickman, a Kansas City native, who said he couldn’t imagine building his businesses elsewhere.
“There is definitely a startup culture in Kansas City that is real and it is sort of viral,” Hickman beamed. “It’s like I can’t stop, you know? Now I drag my family into it.”
He also credits much of his success to the support of his wife — who occasionally finds herself pulling double duty at home.
“She’s been super cool about me being this entrepreneur,” Hickman said. “She’s been amazing on that front.”
The ever-evolving entrepreneur said he envisions Coaster Oven ultimately expanding its production to include a workshop of its own full of laser cutters that leave an even greater imprint on the Kansas City maker scene.