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Football and the
American Dream

December 22, 2014

Nobody knows when it all started except that it happened during a football game between Ole Miss and Mississippi State when a cow wandered on to the field while the game was being played.  Ever since Mississippi State has used the Cow Bell as a noise maker that drowns out the opposition!  But for two graduates of “State” the cow bell has become more than just a noise maker or trinket.

John Howell and Stephen Caples got to know each other while in the “State” band, became friends and, after graduating, considered going into business together.  The question was what kind of business.  As they contemplated this question there it was, hiding in plain sight right in front of them.  They were having dinner together and the idea hit them out of the blue: make “Battle Bells” (cow bells to the uninformed) and to sell them to students, alumni and other fans.  

This was a no brainer for two “State” graduates!  The challenge was how to do it.  They started by buying cow bells from a Chinese manufacturer but they were cheaply made and the bell’s sounds just weren’t right, probably because of the cheap metal they were made from.  So they started looking around.

They took their plan to the Mississippi State Entrepreneurship Center Advisory Board which is in the business of advising local startup companies.   After the boys presented their idea, a member of the Board -- who was also part of a non-profit company promoting economic development -- pulled them aside and suggested they consider talking with a steel fabrication company, Long Branch. 

Long Branch had been producing boiler components for 35 years and was interested in branching out into new areas.   They were looking for new products and Howell and Caples were looking for a company to make their bells.  It was a match made in heaven!  The boys brought the excitement, energy, and vision to the table and Long Branch had the experience to make the product in the USA, but not just in the USA but in the State of Mississippi!  

As Mississippi State’s team grew in the football standings, so did the demand for “State’s” merchandise.  The “Battle Bells” no longer had a tinny sound.  They were made of steel, were a quality product, and even sported handles made of mahogany or oak.  In the beginning they were lucky to sell three bells per week but in just two years they were selling over 50 per week and some weeks the demand was so much the “Battle Bells” were on back order!

So what does this story say to us? 

Here were two guys with an entrepreneurial spirit.  They were willing to take risks with what little money they had.  They came up with an idea and ran with it, seeking help to be sure, but determined to make it work.  They weren’t relying upon others or handouts from the government.  Along with their partner they offered a quality product that was in demand for a price buyers were willing to pay and their business took off!  This is an example of football and the American dream all wrapped into one and one other thing, they also proved that Made in the USA still works!

Bill, Mark and John