When a survey stake breaks as you hammer it into the ground, it’s inconvenient. But if a wooden stake breaks when you hammer it into a vampire, it could be worse than deadly; it could be un-deadly.
So, for such crucial tasks as vampire killing, the residents of Bon Temps, La., in HBO's "True Blood" series turn to BlackBat Trueline stakes. The stake company is hoping the endorsement will help it capture the less exciting but more voluminous business of surveyors and builders who use wooden stakes to mark the paths of roads and the footprints of homes.
Even without HBO choosing the stakes for the series the Fort Smith, Ark.–based BlackBat Trueline was taking market share in the stake business. To be truthful, it doesn’t have much competition. As far as anybody knows, it’s the only stake maker to brand its product. Typically survey stake manufacturing is a sideline for lumber companies which make their stakes out of scrap lumber.
Two years ago, Bob Reeves went to his friend Howard Bagby, an oil and gas exploration executive, with the idea that they buy a small lumber company that was making higher quality survey stakes. After doing some research, the pair found that survey stakes break a lot in the field, as often as 25% to 40% of the time. So they decided to make them out of top grade pine or hardwood lumber rather than scraps, hone them to sharper points, and create smooth sides so surveyors could more easily write coordinates on them. They also had a machine designed and built to produce the better stakes in an automated fashion at the rate of 15,000 an hour, compared with the couple of thousand a day the former owner was turning out. And they are far higher quality than the typical stake of yore. The company advertises that their stakes break less than 5% of the time.
The new company’s marketing person, Cameron Clement, owner of C3 Brandworks, came up with the name BlackBat Trueline Stakes as a nod to the idea that you could kill a vampire with a stake through the heart. And then around March 2011, about eight months after they bought the company, they implemented the new quality-first business model and began marketing the product to companies that provide equipment to surveyors.
Business jumped quickly, climbing to 20 times what it was under the former owner. Bagby estimates the company has sold somewhere around seven to eight million stakes. And there are two accounts pending that could double the company’s current business, said Bagby.
“We are very busy, sending out stakes by the semi-truck load,” he said. “We want to be the No. 1 stake seller in the country. That’s the goal.”
Already the business has expanded beyond Arkansas into Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and Texas. “And we are starting to get phone calls from Louisiana, New Mexico, and Tennessee,” Bagby said.
And now BlackBat’s operators have set their sights beyond the survey market. They are looking into making vegetable stakes and stakes for vineyards as well. And, of course, there’s the vampire-slaying weaponry niche.
Clement said that BlackBat worked directly with True Blood’s set design team to produced polished vampire killing stakes as well as other advanced vampire-killing weaponry such as a “flying cross” made of two stakes connected into a cross shape that includes four sharp points that can be thrown at vampires. And there are decorative objects as well, including a coffee table made of 122 stakes, points up, with a one-inch-thick piece of glass on the top shaped like a bat wing. There’s also a poster.
BlackBat expects to have a website up and running in a couple of weeks where fans of the show can buy some of the items BlackBat created for the show as well as hats, T-shirts, and other merchandise.
So far the company’s products have appeared a few times in the series and Clement is expecting them in a big season finale scene coming up soon, but the show’s producers aren’t very forthcoming about how the products will be shown.
“My understanding is that they are going to be used to get some vampires,” said Bagby.
“They are very, very secretive about when and where,” the products will show up in the series, says Clement.
Teresa Burney is a senior editor for Builder magazine.