The Jaykco guitar strap company is tucked into a quiet residential neighborhood in suburban Johnson County. It's no exaggeration to say the company's entire operation is about the size of a child's nursery. It occupies one of three bedrooms in a split-level home in Overland Park.
Don't let the modest trappings deceive you. Some of Jaykco's products have shown up in auspicious places, such as on late-night network television and around the shoulders of famous musicians, including a recent Grammy winner.
Jaykco recently turned a year old, but its brief story already affirms one or two truths: Sometimes the person you need most to launch a dream is someone who has been with you all your life. And sometimes the answer to a big question — what should I do with my future? —is something that has been around you, literally, for most of your life.
Patrick Deveny is a vintage-guitar geek. He loves everything about guitars and anything associated with them — amps, pedals, vacuum tubes, pickups, custom bridges — and is an expert in each. Deveny is a freelance dealer in used and vintage guitars, working through Midwestern Musical, a store at 19th and Locust streets. He is also a fairly accomplished guitarist.
When he was 15, Deveny saw the L.A. band Blasters at an all-ages show at a place called the Regency in Overland Park. It sparked another epiphany.
"I stood right in front of Dave Alvin and watched him play," he said. "I started shaking. I'd messed around with guitars before that, but that show was a huge event for me. It changed everything. I went out and bought a guitar with my next paycheck."
A rolling stone
Music and guitars became a hobby and a lifestyle. After graduating from Shawnee Mission East High School, Deveny jumped in and out of college and started flirting with careers in the music industry. He worked at City Spark recording studio in Kansas City, then in retail and record stores. By the time he was 23, he was managing the Streetside Records at Watts Mill shopping center.
"That job was so much fun I could barely stand it," he said. "I had money and a nice car, and I was partying with record-label reps."
But he wasn't confident he could make a living for the long haul in the job. He moved to Lawrence and enrolled in some architecture/design courses at the University of Kansas. He paid the bills by tending bar, a job that led him to an opportunity in Eastern Europe and a career far away from music.
"I was invited to Poland to do the alcohol inventory for a new disco," he said.
He stayed until 2008, then returned to the Kansas City area: back to his old house, back to his old room and, though he didn't know it at the time, back to a career in the music world.
Janet Beasing's only sewing experience was distant and brief: one class in junior high. But she figured it couldn't be too hard to sit down at a machine and make her son a gift.
"He's so hard to shop for," said Beasing, Deveny's mother. "I'd noticed that his guitar strap was tattered and beaten up. It's actually a strap from an old camera bag. I told him I was thinking about making him a new one."
It was December 2008. Deveny had moved back home with his mother. Neither was working, and Deveny was selling some of his prize vintage guitars to make money. When his mother mentioned the guitar strap, an old plan resurfaced for Deveny: to make guitar straps.
"In Europe I learned that niche is fantastic. You find a market that is underserved and underdeveloped, and you go in and do something very well. I asked myself, 'If we build guitar straps, where's our niche? What price point will we be?'
"I learned that there are plenty of mass-produced straps out there. And there are some high-end straps that start at $150 and go as high as $500. There were very few making $50 to $80 straps that looked unique and were well-built with a good, fitted feel. There are some, but not many."
Beasing was no seamstress, yet, but that fazed neither of them. They bought a sewing machine and developed a prototype: a 2-inch strip of double-suede backing covered with fabric. After working out a few kinks and making some adjustments, they produced some market-ready straps. In February 2009, Deveny took some straps to an event at Midwestern Musical and laid them out on a counter.
"Right away, people loved them," Beasing said.
One of Jaykco's first customers was Steve Tulipana, co-owner of the Record Bar and a member of the bands the Roman Numerals and Thee Water Moccasins. "They were all the things I love," he said. "They were classy, not too flashy; sturdy and local."
Deveny would eventually start hearing similar testimonials from people who had traveled from afar and who would take his straps to big places.
Deveny and Beasing have benefited from the advice of others, especially the crew at Hammer Bros., an embroidery and sewing supply company in Kansas City's garment district.
"When we first started, we had a lot of questions about fabrics, and someone at Missouri Sewing Machine Co. suggested we contact Hammer Brothers," Deveny said. "Mom and I looked at each other like, 'duh.' We've been good friends with the Hammer family for about 25 years. So we went down and talked to them. They've done us some big favors."
The biggest favor has been the use of a die cutter, which Deveny uses to punch the keyholes in the strap's head and tail.
"It's much cleaner and way faster and more professional-looking," he said. Before that, he was pounding a hole in each strap with a hammer.
Jaykco has been well-represented at several conventions, including the Nashville Guitar Show in February and at a vintage guitar show during the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Texas, in March, which "went very well," Deveny said.
In addition to retail outlets, Jaykco continues to get its straps in front of potential customers via the Web. One successful online portal has been the site Etsy.com, which calls itself "Your place to buy and sell all things handmade."
The company's straps are available in 11 guitar stores in five states.
One of those stores is Midwestern Musical, which is one block south of Crossroads KC, the outdoor music venue attached to Grinders. Consequently, many of the touring musicians who play at Crossroads stop in the store.
Several of them became instant Jaykco customers, like Ryan Newell of Sister Hazel, who bought several straps. Another was guitarist Nels Cline of Wilco, who came to Crossroads in October.
"It was great to see Nels get genuinely excited about our straps," Deveny said. "He's one of the best guitarists out there, and he was going, 'Oh, oh, man. I want that one and that one ...' "
In June, Deveny showed a few straps to the band Phoenix before its show at the RecordBar. Guitarist Laurent Brancowitz bought a strap for bass player Deck D'Arcy, who was wearing his when the band performed on the Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson late-night shows. Phoenix won a 2010 Grammy for best alternative album.
In July, Deveny handed a strap to the woman in charge of merchandise for Neko Case, who was performing at the Uptown Theater.
In November, a Web search produced a stunning photo of Case in a blood-red dress wearing a sky-blue/turquoise Jaykco strap on her TV yellow Gibson tenor guitar during a show at the Beacon Theatre in New York.
"Neko's 'Fox Confessor' album was like the soundtrack to my mother's life for a while," Deveny said. "So it's really gratifying to see her wearing one of our straps."