WKU student creates drum company

Eric Thomas, 21, is the founder of Hillside Drum Company, a company that produces Cajon hand drums. Thomas said he began making drums when he broke one he currently had and was thinking of a less expensive way to replace it. Thomas is a senior majoring in marketing with a music minor.

Andrew Critchelow

When word got out that senior and marketing major Eric Thomas started making his own hand drums, percussionists in the area started to take notice. Soon, Thomas received requests to make hand drums for others, and a business was born.

Which started in February, Hillside Drum Company specializes in creating hand-made cajons  that are built based on customer needs. Cajons are box-shaped percussion instruments that originated in Peru. Though cajons are often used in forms of traditional Latin music, they are often used in accompaniment for contemporary acoustic performances.

Thomas originally founded the business out of an interest in playing the instrument with friends. Originally a music major, Thomas has been playing the drums for over 10 years. He has played in the WKU Marching Band, Pep Band and Steel Drum Band.

“It started as kind of one of those DIY projects,” Thomas said. “I played one for a while because I like using them for acoustic sets or any time I wanted to just play the drums without having a full drum set. I had broken my old one and then instead of buying a new one, I decided I would try to build one.”

Thomas said he posted a video of himself demonstrating the sound of the drum on Facebook, and he soon received requests to build more of them. Thomas has made 21 cajons since the business’s inception.

Senior Gavin Knies, a Music and Animal Science major who has helped in providing a woodshop for Thomas to create his drums, said that Thomas’s background is great for the nature of his business.

“Combining his love of music and business is a flawless way to drive ‘Hillside Drums’ to success.” Knies said.

In addition to starting his own business, Thomas also works as an intern at CrowdSouth, a marketing agency located in Bowling Green. Thomas said his experience working in and studying marketing has helped him in aspects of creating his business, such as the creation of the business’s website.

“It’s been really helpful knowing a lot of that nitty gritty advertising stuff because I didn’t have to really pay anyone,” Thomas said.

The cajons created by Hillside cost $130 and are built to order. Thomas said it took him until about March to perfect his craft of building the instruments.

“I’ve got it down pat to a science now where I can get a certain sized sheet of wood,  and I know exactly how many I can make  and how much everything costs,” Thomas said. “It’s been an ongoing thing,  and most of the learning process with it has just been figuring out how to maximize the supply.”

Thomas has taught a class on the performance of the cajone at the recent Creative Ministries Festival in Shelbyville and will donate one of his products to a raffle for ChiOchella, a sorority-hosted music festival happening Thursday benefitting the Make a Wish Foundation.

As for the future of the business, Thomas said he hopes to reach out to music stores to consign his products as well taking part in missions to the instruments origins in South America. Thomas also wishes to expand his products and one day build entire drum sets.

Thomas said he hopes people are drawn to his cajons due to their craftsmanship and accessibility.

“It really is kind of a hassle to lug around all of those drums just to play in a bar for 50 people when they can have one of these and carry it, set it up, mic it up and then you’re ready to go,” Thomas said.

Reporter Andrew Critchelow can be reached at 270-745-6288 and [email protected]