Peter Beveridge always considered himself an “idea guy.” And about ten years ago, he had a big one. If he could find a way to emblazon team logos onto adhesive eye black—the black patches athletes wear to reduce the sun’s glare—Beveridge believed he could create a thriving new business. One business partner and three patents later, he is the CEO of Eyeblack.com, a Rockville-based company that manufactures the branded adhesive eye black licensed to Major League Baseball, Minor League Baseball, Major League Lacrosse, Little League Baseball and Softball, American Youth Football, and more than 120 universities. The company has also inked deals with professional athletes such as Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher and softball star Jennie Finch. Beveridge’s company sold more than 6.5 million pairs of eye black in 2011, bringing in revenue of more than $2 million.
Beveridge, a 52-year-old Sidwell Friends high school graduate, spoke to The Washingtonian earlier this year about the roots of his business and plans for the future.
Have you always been interested in sports?
Yes, I was a pretty decent athlete. We’re Australian—my entire family immigrated to the United States when I was a kid—so my brothers and I used to swim a lot. I grew up in Arlington, Virginia, and attended Sidwell Friends high school. I’ve always been a football and baseball kind of guy. I went to William & Mary college, and I would have played college football if I hadn’t hurt my knee in high school.
How did you come up with the idea for branded eye black?
I remember the exact moment. I was watching the St. Louis Cardinals play in 2004, and I saw that some players had switched from eye black grease to a plain black patch. I remember thinking, “How valuable would that be if it had a Nike swoosh on it?” So I tried to get a patent on putting a logo on the plain black patch. Turns out, Stephen Comiskey—a local lawyer and inventor whose sons went to the Landon School—already had a patent on that. I worked out a deal with him, and we went into business together.
How did you build the business?
First of all, I have saint of a wife who allowed me to do this. I didn’t pay myself anything for more than two years, and I worked out of my mom’s basement. We incorporated in 2005. We tested our first patches on the football players at University of Miami, Virginia Tech, and University of Maryland. Each patch had the school’s logo on it. When we gave the patches to the players, they acted like we’d handed them a hundred dollar bill. The response was great. Today we have licenses with Major League Baseball, almost all the college football teams, and Major League Lacrosse. We’ve even signed some NFL players, like LaMarr Woodley of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Marshawn Lynch of the Seattle Seahawks. Once the athletes start wearing them out on the field, the fans pick up on it.
How do you grow the business from here?
We’re trying to make Eyeblack.com a household name. Right now, fans and companies don’t realize we are the company with the eye-black license for all these college and professional teams. When our sales people explain that to them, they say, “Oh, you’re those guys?” We have some deals in the pipeline that will put us in Walmart and Toys “R” Us. Once we’re there and kids are picking up the patches, that’s when we know we’ve hit the motherlode.
How have you been affected by the recession?
It’s certainly hurt us—although not as badly as it’s hurt other businesses. We usually grow 30 to 40 percent in revenue every year, but last year we only grew 15 percent.
Are there any new markets you are looking to break into?
The possibilities are endless. We’re testing the international market and looking to cut a deal with the Indian cricket team. We’re looking into soccer. And sports patches are only part of our business. We’ve made patches for One Love—the foundation formed to honor murdered University of Virginia lacrosse player Yeardley Love—and other social cause groups. We get people who call us and want a personal message inscribed on their patches—maybe they want to honor their mother who died in a car crash, or a father struggling with cancer. It’s a humbling business at times.
Do you think the company would ever go public?
At this time, we need a couple of big years before we could think about that. Ideally, I would sell the company. But honestly, I work with great people who are smart and motivated; I could do worse things than this for the next ten years.