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Customization is the name of the game, whether it's drumsticks (upper right) or pens.

Hot Sticks has the looks and licks drummers want

By LISA MONTI

Wooden dowels come in by the truckload to the Hot Sticks manufacturing plant in Hancock County and thousands of drumsticks and wooden marketing items go out every week to customers worldwide.

Hot Sticks founder Kevin Pokallus, a mechanical and electrical engineer and a drummer himself, started developing the process of making high quality sticks in Bay St. Louis in 1979.

Pokallus said some of the best drummers in the business have used Hot Sticks on stage and in recording studios. Their names just aren’t as familiar as the lead singer.

“Some of the names of the best drummers you wouldn’t necessarily recognize,” he said. Fans of Elvis Presley, Cindy Lauper, the band Alabama and numerous performers in the jazz and progressive rock world among others are Hot Sticks fans, he said.

“We also provide to a lot of clinicians hired by large name artists,” McArthur said.

From the beginning the sticks, made of high grade USA hickory, were painted in bright colors and eye-catching designs, making them a favorite of drummers performing on MTV and other highly visible venues. Amateur drummers liked what they saw and became customers as well, buying the sticks from a growing network of retail outlets.

Jason McArthur, director of operations, said the process starts with cutting and shaping the dowels to the right length and diameter, using equipment designed by Kevin and built by Hot Sticks employees. “We make the profile shape we want for a particular model. They have either a wooden tip or a nylon one, which is glued on later.”

The grinders that shape the sturdy wood help make the sticks smooth as sort of a byproduct to the process, McArthur said. Hickory is open grained and as the wood goes through the shaping process, it seals itself. A knife-like lathe doesn’t produce the smooth effect.

The well-refined manufacturing process Pokallus developed over the years uses four machines that McArthur describes as “very large and pretty high tech.” When Hot Sticks expanded into the smaller marketing products, the process for making drum sticks was scaled down.

The company operates in a 20,000-square-feet plant at Stennis International Airport Industrial Park and produces anywhere from 2,000 to 4,500 products a day, depending on the size and model.

McArthur said about half of the products are made for the music industry and the other half are promotional or souvenir items. Disney World buys Hot Sticks drumsticks and the company does special printing on Louisville Slugger bats. Local baseball leagues are among Hot Sticks’ customers as well.

“We also make souvenir products for Universal Studio Florida’s Blue Man Group and for Hard Rock Cafes all over the world,” said McArthur.

Hot Sticks has remained an industry innovator over the years, even as Pokallus said he has seen government rules and regulation make doing business more difficult. “I would say I feel very fortunate that we did start so long ago because it would be very difficult to start now,” he said. Without the contributions of his employees and others involved in growing the business, he said, “We are still able to be successful nowadays.”

Pokallus said when an entrepreneur starts a business, there is a drive to produce something of value that people want and to become successful at it. Then the focus shifts to employees, retailers and the end users, he said.

“Once a business is alive, you have employees that are depending on your business for their income and to help support their families,” he said. “There’s a responsibility to continue to keep the supply, the quality and the reputation up because they (retailers) represent you. It’s their reputation on the line by saying yours is a good product.”

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