Dugout Mugs hits a home run

This Winter Haven-based company has seen major growth through e-commerce.

Randall Thompson owes a lot of his major life moments to a baseball field.

Born and raised in Orlando, Thompson grew up near a field, an intentional decision on his father’s part. He wanted his son to play ball.

Once he stepped onto the field, he realized that it was where he would spend his free time up until, and into, his adult years.

Thompson, president and founder of Dugout Mugs and the mastermind behind the wildly successful product of the same name, came up with the idea while coaching at Florida Institute of Technology.

His career as a professional baseball player had run its course and he saw a baseball bat cut in half.

The rest is Dugout Mugs history.

Dugout Mugs has had collaborations with Budweiser, Fox Sports, DraftKings and Bodyarmour Sports Drinks.

The company made about $60,000 in its first six months. After Thompson brought Kris Dehnert on board in 2017 as chief executive officer and partial owner, revenue skyrocketed. The company made $1.1 million that year and $2.2 million the next year, this year it has the goal of $22 million, but Dehnert is confident it will hit the $25 million mark.

Now with a new line of “aluminum” mugs, the company is ready for another home run.

A baseball diamond

Thompson grew up on a baseball field.

“We moved into a new home when I was about four years old. And the story goes that the house was picked because it was right around the corner from a baseball field,” Thompson says. “That was the field that I ended up growing up and playing baseball on.

His parents divorced at an early age and Thompson says he, and his sister, were raised by a single dad.

His dad later remarried.

“His story is that when they would do a draft for Little League, he would always draft kids whose parent checked “single” and was a mom. He would prospect the single moms. I think that’s where I got a little bit of my genius from,” Thompson says and laughs. “They’ve been together for 20 years. They got married on the baseball field in which they met.”

Thompson went on to play baseball in Little League and then high school. He ended up playing ball at the Florida Institute of Technology, in Melbourne, after graduation.

It was a decision that he and his father had different ideas about.

“I fought my dad over that. I wanted to quit baseball. I didn’t want to go play at Florida Tech. I wanted to go to a big college and have a big college experience,” Thompson recalls. “He pleaded with me and pleaded with me. He brought out a yellow legal pad of notes, sat me at the dinner table and gave me all the reasons why he thought that I should go and take at least one semester of playing college baseball.”

Thompson finally relented and called the coach to accept the offer. “I’ve never seen my dad so emotional,” he says.

It was for the best.

“I’m better in simpler, and smaller, environments. When I got to this smaller college and I got to be a part of this team, I felt much more at home,” he says.

By the time Thompson was a sophomore in college, he started getting attention from scouts. As a junior, it was expected for him to be a higher draft pick. But the pressure got to him and he, admittedly, didn’t handle it well.

“My draft stock plummeted,” he says.

He went undrafted his junior year. Two weeks after the senior draft, in which Thompson was not picked up again, he received a phone call from the Toronto Blue Jays where he played for 1 1/2 seasons.

He laughs when asked what led to him being released. He admits, ultimately, he thought he just wasn’t that good. But he also recalls an, rather hilarious, incident on a bus and a rap song he wrote and delivered.

“I can speculate and say that my freestyle rap got me released. But ultimately, I just wasn’t good enough,” Thompson admits.

In 2012, after his release from the Blue Jays, he held a few jobs but ended up coaching in 2014 at his alma mater, the Florida Institute of Technology.

“The hitting coach was cutting baseball bats in half in the dugout, creating his own training tool, and I saw loose barrels in the dugout. I thought to myself, I could probably turn that into a pretty cool drinking mug,” he says.

Dugout Mugs

In 2015, he brought the vision to life.

A particular set of skills

Dehnert, born in Winter Haven and raised in Central Florida, has been a hustler since elementary school he says.

“I would drive down to AT&T and get the old wire, go home and strip it, and take out all the color while rolling it up to sell to girls for $1 apiece to make bracelets,” he says. “I would talk my mom into letting me go with her to Sam’s Club so I could get bulk pencils and then go sell them for a quarter apiece at school. I would buy candy in bulk and sell it for 50 cents apiece.”

While earning high academic marks, Dehnert did not quite fit in with the college setting. He lasted a little over a semester.

He ended up working at a Gold’s Gym, where he met his first mentor, Dave Gurnsey.

“We’re still very close to this day. He always hates when I say he was my mentor because he feels like we learn a lot from each other,” Dehnert says.

Dehnert quickly rose in the industry, through social media and gamification. He thought outside the box and created marketing strategies that resonated with the gym’s customer base.

“I brought dump trucks into the gym and dumped sand to build a beach and put a tiki bar up where girls in bikinis were giving away protein shakes for member appreciation days,” he says. “Everything I do. I just make sure it’s memorable. It’s not who you know, it’s who knows, and remembers, you.”

Dehnert had moved up as much as he could at the gym, so he moved on to real estate, which he did for a while. But his true talents were evident in sales and communication, notably using the new platform, at that time — Facebook.

“I realized that I could do what I do best, which is interaction communication, belly-to-belly sales, relationships, one to many. I started leaning heavily into that. And social media, that’s kind of a common denominator across all the ventures I’ve had,” Dehnert says. “After that, I had a lot of fan pages, where I sold apparel online. We did a little over $20 million in sales of t-shirts through Facebook.”

He established his own agency, Dehnert Media Group, allowing him the freedom to really flex his media muscles. “If there’s even a glimmer of opportunity, I snatch it,” he says. “I ran some of the largest, unofficial pages for Duck Dynasty (Sadie and Uncle Si) because I knew how to scale pages through gamification. My media agency managed social media for a number of large companies in the MLM space, real estate and reality show stars.”

Dehnert was in the midst of his hustle game when life came abruptly to a halt.

“I had to have this meeting. On the way there, I ruptured my appendix,” he says. “I decided to go to the meeting anyway and not go to the hospital. Because that was what was most important. I was so busy being so busy. And then on the way home, it became so bad that I ended up on the floor of the Starbucks bathroom.”

When Dehnert starts this story, he’s a little comical in his delivery. And then his eyes tear up and, despite his jovial demeanor, it’s apparent this was a real, life-changing moment for him.

“So I thought to myself that the more important thing was to go to this meeting and then the Stanley Cup [game] the next day. My 6-month-old was at home. I hadn’t even seen her walk,” he adds. “I think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me. And it really changed my perspective on things.”

He had all these deals going on and to him, none of it mattered anymore. Not the money, not the people, not the fancy cars. He had a new outlook on life. He wanted to find something, a person or an opportunity, that deserved what he had to offer. And he wanted to focus on putting family first. To make every moment count.

But as he said earlier in the conversation, “It’s not who you know, but who knows you.”

Thanks to social media. A former baseball player, and coach, knew Dehnert. And he had a venture that would spark his interest.

A diamond-in-the-rough idea

Thompson was looking around for help in the e-commerce space. Somehow, some way, neither Thompson or Dehnert recall, Dehnert had found himself mentioned on a Facebook group for former minor and major league baseball players.

“Somehow, [Dehnert] is always where he needs to be,” Thompson says. “I saw that he’d been in business. I saw that he was in Tampa. And so that’s how I ended up searching his background. I was trying to sell [the Dugout Mugs] online in a much bigger way.”

Randall Thompson and Kris Dehnert hang out in a suite at George M. Steinbrenner Field, in Tampa.

Thompson wanted to pick Dehnert’s brain on expanding Dugout Mugs sales in the online space.

“I’m right in the middle of saying ‘no’ to everybody, right? And I said, ‘No, dude, not going to happen.’ He’s like, ‘I’m driving through St. Pete.’ I was sitting in a St. Pete bar on a break. And he’s like, let me just pop in there. And I said, bring me one of these mugs. So he brought me one, it’s still on my desk,” Dehnert says. “I thought it was a weird idea but he told me to carry one and to tell him what people thought about it. So I did that. And I got a really good response. We circled back around maybe four, or five, days, later, and started the conversation.”

The company, according to Dehnert, needed to be capitalized, but the timing was off for Dehnert as he had just lost everything. He had a restaurant that closed and he had lost a lot of investment in the cannabis space, in Denver.

“I was all over the place, as you could imagine. And I said, ‘I don’t have [capital]. But I have time. And I have a very particular set of skills,” Dehnert says.

A simple plan

Dugout Mugs has had collaborations with Budweiser, Fox Sports, DraftKings and Bodyarmour Sports Drinks. One of its most successful verticals is corporate gifting.

The company has turned down offers to carry its patented mugs in box retail stores. On the day of the TBBW interview, Dugout Mugs launched on Zulily. “We’re probably crushing it right now,” Dehnert says as he reaches for his phone, then puts it back down on the table.

In July, it launches a line of stainless steel mugs that Dehnert says, will open its venture into a whole new market.

The unlikely duo of Dehnert and Thompson has succeeded in the business and there doesn’t seem to be plans of them slowing down anytime soon.

“Chris and I, we’ve grown a great relationship over the past five years,” Thompson says.

Spending an afternoon with the two “Dugout Boys” proves it’s a business match made in heaven.

“If you’re good at profit,  that’s the easy part, right? That’s what it’s like with us. I mean, there’ll be triple digit growth five years in a row, through a pandemic, and no baseball going on. We did it. Because we’re us,” Dehnert says. “We create a place that our tribe, and our people, want to be. We are authentic.” ♦

THE DUGOUT BOYS’ FAVORITES

Charities and giving back: Dugout Mugs donates $1,000 each month, through Cheers to Charity, an initiative that has helped numerous foundations and organizations in the baseball community including the David Ortiz Children’s Fund, Mariano Rivera Foundation, Lance McCullers Jr. Foundation, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum and more. “We also run a mug for the month, of which its profits go toward the charity,” Dehnert says. The company has donated more than $40,000 to charities in the past 12 months.

Thompson also looks for opportunities to support children in the sport. “I keep my eyes wide open for opportunities to help people out,” he says.

Things to do: “I collect experiences, not things,” Dehnert says. He enjoys fishing, boating and shooting — for sport. Where he does indulge is travel. “I’ve had the opportunity to see a lot of the world.” Italy was his favorite. His dream is to own a tiki bar where he can play guitar on the beach.

“I’m a beach guy. I told my wife, my vision of making it is I have my two daughters, Giuliana and Isabella, and a tiki bar. And I’m drunk on the beach playing a guitar. And they can’t tell me not to because I bought the damn thing. So I get to play music and hang out with my daughters. And then I can fish and chill,” he says as he laughs.

Not bad Kris, save us a seat.

Photos by Michael McCoy. The photos were taken at George M. Steinbrenner Field

ABOUT GEORGE M. STEINBRENNER FIELD

George M. Steinbrenner Field is the spring home of the New York Yankees and home of the Class A Tampa Tarpons.

For more information regarding premium seating at George M. Steinbrenner Field, please contact Jennifer Magliocchetti at 813.673.3026 or jmagliocchetti@yankees.com

Tags:
1 Comment

Post A Comment