Devise a plan, work hard, stay true to yourself. And let the chips fall where they may.
Some believe that it’s enough, that if you execute the process, that fortune will smile on you. Others take a more proactive approach, that one is responsible for making his or her own good luck.
While Jared Smith’s success story features elements of both ideological camps, he’s certainly wired for going that extra mile
Smith, a 2003 graduate of Palmyra High School, is the CEO and one of the co-founders of Victus Sports, a high-end manufacturer of baseball equipment located in King of Prussia. Victus Sports is also one of the top makers of wooden bats for players in Major League baseball.
“We’ve always been honest with ourselves,” said Smith. “Being objectively honest, we weren’t going to stop working until we had the best bat. We didn’t want to become complacent. We had a plan and stuck to it, as far as how the brand should be. We wanted to change the game.
“A lot of times, success happens with some luck, but it’s also that extra ten percent you put into it,” continued Smith. “I feel all the luck comes from when we went that extra mile. The work we put into it is the fun part. We’ve created a culture where we have a lot of ball players and a lot of creative people.”
Initially, Smith and one of his co-founders, Ryan Engroff, a graduate of C.D. East High School, learned the art and science of making wooden bats at D.S. Wood Bats in Hummelstown. They took that knowlege, honed it and refined it, came up with their own unique process and founded Victus Sports in 2012
Today, Victus Sports is recognized as one of the country’s leading producers of wooden bats and supplies bats for dozens of major league players. Among the major leaguers currently using Victus bats are stars Bryce Harper, Jose Altuve, Tim Anderson, Rhys Hoskins and George Springer, just to name a few.
“We’re either the number-one or number-two bat used in the big leagues, depending on what day it is,” said Smith. “The brand is definitely growing, with a focus on quality and on some forward thinking. You can’t turn on a major league game without seeing a Victus bat, which is really cool. It’s an awesome feeling.”
“The moment we felt like we sort of made it came at the home-run derby in (Washington) D.C. (in July of 2018), when Bryce Harper won it with one of our bats,” Smith continued. “He called me right after and said, ‘We did it kid’. It was one of those moments when all the hard work paid off. From there, I felt like there was a rocket-booster put on the business. We have players who represent our business really well. They’re part of our DNA.”
While wooden bats may be Victus Sports’ fastball, over the last nine years, the 25-employee company has developed other products to enhance its aresnal. Victus Sports also makes aluminum bats, batting gloves, hats and apparel.
“Aluminum bats are still being used in college, high school and little league,” said Smith. “I wouldn’t say it’s on its way out. But if you want to be a big-league player, you need to learn how to swing wood. The number of games people are playing is greater now than when we were little. Baseball is a traditional game in a lot of ways.
“From little league to the big leagues, people are using wood more,” Smith continued. “We encourage people to train with wood. If you’re going to reach the higher levels, you’re going to use wood. You’ve got to practice with wood. That market is from six-years-old to over 65. It’s cool for us to be able to service anyone who plays baseball.”
Not unlike many thriving businesses, Victus Sports evolved from Smith’s love for baseball and his playing days at Palmyra in the early 2000s. Smith played the game year-round, then went on to play baseball at Lebanon Valley College and Liberty University, before a shoulder injury ended his days as a player.
He never completed his college degree.
“I went to college to play baseball, sort of,” said Smith. “But I ended up back in Palmyra three years after I started. I worked at the steel mill in Palmyra, before starting Victus. At the time, I was helping someone make bats in Hummelstown, with a couple of friends. My mom had a liver transplant, and after that I came home, quit my job and came up with a business plan with an investor. I’ve been making wood bats for ten years.
“My mom had worked the night shift to give us every opportunity, and I felt like I was squandering it,” continued Smith. “I didn’t feel like I was living up to my potential. I was 25, and I thought if I didn’t do something new that I’d never do it. It was definitely a leap of faith to try it. I think it put our backs against the wall and that helped us to work our butts off and to be creative. The first two years were an incredible struggle. But we were fortunate enough to have a unique plan. It hasn’t really stopped. We truly are setting the standard for what a wood bat is in this market.”
Some would say that Smith has enjoyed a lot of success for a young man in his middle 30s. That success can be traced to his upbringing and his formative years in Palmyra.
“Thirty-five doesn’t feel that young any more,” said Smith. “There has been a lot of sacrifices, a lot of late nights. I’ve dedicated a lot of my life to Victus, but it brings me a ton of joy. The actual experience of doing it and watching it grow is more rewarding than any monetary end of it.
“There are hundreds and hundreds of wood bat companies out there,” added Smith. “It doesn’t require a ton of start-up costs. It’s about how much you’re willing to put into it, time-wise. There’s not a big margin on it. At the end of the day, you’re cutting down a tree and turning it into a product. There are a lot of things that go into it. But only two or three (wood bat companies) have gotten to the point where we are.”
The word ‘victus’ is latin in origin. As an adjective it means, beaten or defeated, and as noun it refers to living, livelihood or sustenance.
“Honestly, I was thinking what we should name the company, and all I could come up with was the letter ‘V’,” said Smith. “I didn’t know what we should call it, but I was adamant that it had to start with the letter ‘V’. So I was talking with a group of people and I said, ‘Let’s look at V-words.’ Then I just blurted it out, ‘Victus’. And everybody said, ‘That’s perfect. Let’s roll with it.’ We were Victus.
“I think we still have room to grow,” concluded Smith. “I think there’s more markets we can expand into. We may get into fielding gloves at some point. We’ll keep expanding as long as the market continues to ask us to. I think there’s room for growth in categories we’re already in, and I think there are other categories we can grow into. It’s trial and error, just like any other business.”