Bob Eaton remembers well one aspect of his father’s approach to parenting.
“My dad was the guy that wanted our backyard to be the coolest backyard in the neighborhood so that all of the other kids would want to come there,” he said. “That way, he always knew who we were playing with and where exactly we were.”
The younger Eaton never forgot his father’s philosophy, and today, at age 65, Eaton’s company is working to help other families have the coolest backyard in the neighborhood.
Eaton owns Backyard Legacy, a one-year-old manufacturer of wooden backyard play for residential, commercial and public applications. The playsets range from designs with a few swings and a slide to complex structures with climbing walls, towers and more. Some even look like tractors, fire trucks or ships. Each structure is hand-built in the company’s Marion facility and then transported and installed by company craftsmen.
“We build it in our shops, assemble it, sand it by hand, load it up, deliver and set it up,” he said. “When we leave it’s ready to play on. We’ve heard a lot of nightmare stories about people who bought kits at retailers and the results were not great. They idea with our team is that they know what they are doing.”
Eaton said that most of those do-it-yourself playset kits are made from cedar or redwood that has been milled to thinner and lighter dimensions than what Backyard Legacy uses.
“Our southern pine is treated for 30 year ground contact, so if you bought a pirate ship playset from us for your child when he is 5 years old, when they are 25 and getting married they literally could be able to take their wedding pictures on it,” he said, adding that his goal is for the playsets to be that important to families and children for many years.
“Childhood is a big part of life and most people spend a great bit of the childhood in the back yard,” Eaton said. “When I was a kid, you climbed trees or jumped off the roof or whatever. People didn’t have a backyard playset, so this is a new thing for my generation, but there are so many studies that say outdoor play is critical to the development of children. Outdoor play has been linked to the maturation and full development of a child’s brain.”
Eaton says the business came from a desire of his to have his own legacy to pass down to his children and 13 grandchildren and took advantage of his son Rob’s knowledge of niche construction. The younger Eaton previously was chief operating officer of EZ Portable Buildings, a manufacturer of outdoor storage sheds.
“This was a sort of natural line extension and dovetailed with what Rob was doing,” Eaton said.
While Backyard Legacy has no formal affiliation with EZ Portable Buildings, many of the storage company’s dealers also represent Eaton’s firm.
“We have a dealer in Birmingham, Ala., one in Paducah, Metropolis, one in Tennessee and one in Henderson, Ky. as well as one in Eldorado,” he said.
In fact, Eldorado is the site of Backyard Legacy’s largest installation so far, a sprawling structure featuring ladders, slides, a pavilion and more. Eaton says a growing number of Backyard Legacy’s installations are for non-residential locations including parks, childcare centers and schools.
Price of the units range from $2,000 for some of the company’s standard offerings to tens of thousands for large, custom commercial structures. Eaton says whatever a client can imagine can most likely be built as a playset.
“We had a client that came to us with a picture of a fire truck and asked if we could build one like that, so we did,” he said, adding that the company is now building a much larger version for a school. Construction takes a couple of weeks, with installation usually completed in a day or two. Backyard Legacy has installed units throughout the Midwest.
Eaton said that the company is about to launch a new line of playsets inspired by the “American Ninja Warrior” television program.
“We already have a park district interested in a Ninja course,” he said.
Nicole Martinez of Paducah, a three-time contestant on the television show, is working with Backyard Legacy to design and promote the new line.
“She is a physical education teacher and she teaches on ninja warrior courses in her own gym,” he added.
Eaton says the new line of ninja courses will also help kids enjoy their backyards.
“What we are doing is creating a way for parents to provide a backyard that is safe, creative and challenging,” he said. “If your child develops the habit of being creative and inventive, it will benefit them their entire lives. This is a lifetime investment in children that encourages fitness, active play and imaginations. You can’t put a value on that.”