By Tom Ballard, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurial Initiatives, Pershing Yoakley & Associates, P.C.
“A good guitar becomes the extension of your body,” local businessman Alan Baker says emphatically. In fact, he believes in a specific brand of guitars so much that, to paraphrase of an old television commercial, “I bought part of the company.”
Baker is a native of Great Britain who arrived in this region – Roane County to be exact – in 1978. He’s lived off and on here since then, returning for good in 1992 after stops in several countries working for large international corporations.
Today, his mostly day job is as managing Principal of Crown Point Consultants, a firm he founded in 2002, after declaring, “This (Knoxville) is home.”
The management consulting firm spends about 75 percent of its effort in proposal management and writing and the remainder of its time helping small businesses with services like business planning, organizational structure, succession planning, and finding capital.
Yet, Baker’s passion is clearly helping to bring life to a company – BML Inc. and its distinctive electric guitars that are being marketed under the J. Backlund Design™ and RetronixTM brands. The former are true customized, one-of-a-kind instruments, while the latter are less expensive guitars, made to BML’s precise specifications. These guitars are currently made in South Korea, but get a final, 55-point quality-control check at the BML shop in Hixson, TN.
The instruments, conceived by self–taught visual designer John Backlund, are already used by a variety of bands and players, including “Boston”, Joe Walsh, Mark Slaughter, Alice Cooper and, from a local perspective, the Chillbillies, and Groove Evolution. Many more trials are underway, notably, for example with Lee Greenwood’s guitarists.
How a guy with a degree in Applied Mineral Sciences and years of experience in international general management and business development ended-up trying to accelerate a musical instrument start-up is a story of a post-college passion rekindled.
Baker says his first overseas job after graduation was in Perth, Australia where, after learning to play at the university, he joined a local band.
“We were not very good but had a lot of fun and opened for some top Australian bands,” he says, adding that he was much better at cricket and soccer. During one tour of duty in the United States, Baker auditioned for a band, but after that, he “shelved it (guitar playing)” for about 20 years.
During one of his consulting gigs in Chattanooga in 2008, Baker was introduced to BML which occupied a 1,200-square foot space in the Chattanooga Business Development Center.
“I bought one of their guitars and thought it was the best guitar I had ever seen,” Baker said. He bought six more of the instruments and decided to help the young “niche company in a niche market” not knowing America was on the cusp of the great recession.
Standing-up a company has been a challenge for the team. In addition to the protracted recession which has made fundraising difficult, there’s also the matter of available hours.
“Every time I have time, I ramp-up efforts on behalf of BML,” Baker says.
Today, he and his partners are seeking funding to build inventory, develop new models, increase its sales effort, and eventually move manufacturing back to the states.
“We have high quality, playable works of art,” says Baker. “Now, if we can get just get the funding . . .”
In just days, the company will launch its second Kickstarter campaign for its RetronixTM line of instruments.