Huntington Beach, California
Industry: Consumer & Lifestyle
Products: Cooking grills
Founder and CEO Jeff Straubel balances domestic and offshore manufacturing to create a notably broad catalog.
Straubel transformed his personal passion for grilling into a career. "I love the barbecue business and I had an opportunity with some people in the business," he says. "I actually started out just building for other brands as an OEM provider, and importing for them. As things evolved, we went from building a few things to importing a lot. We then began importing our own brand and now we're building our own products in-house."
Summerset Grills manufactures grills for every style and price range, with the lower-level lines currently being imported from China and Taiwan. "I feel very proud that we're now bringing a lot of the work back to California," says Straubel. "It's a big risk and a big undertaking as it's like starting a whole new business again. We invested a couple of million dollars a few years ago, bought automated equipment, and began bringing a lot of our stuff back."
According to Straubel, manufacturing grills in the U.S. has changed a lot over the years. "Back in the '90s, I manufactured gas logs and grills," he says. "I've always enjoyed it because you have a lot of flexibility, and you can express your design and engineering. You can't do that very well when you're just importing a product."
The company has two locations in Southern California: Summerset's manufacturing facility in Huntington Beach focuses on the metalwork of the grills, while a second operation in Corona specializes in building outdoor kitchens.
In keeping with his pride for manufacturing in California, Straubel tries to source the company's materials from the U.S. "All of the stainless steel is American-made," he says. "With the new tariffs, we weren't so much affected because we don't buy Chinese steel. Because we were buying American already, the people being hurt by the tariffs are behind us in line as we have a priority with our provider. If there's a shortage, we get ours first because we're grandfathered in. Some of the parts like knobs, and such, we import, but the bulk of our grills is all American."
Summerset Grills has two retail outlets of its own, but the bulk of its sales are through a distributor network covering the U.S. and Canada. The company's marketing efforts concentrate on industry exposure, rather than end consumers. "Consumer advertising is just too expensive for a company of our size," says Straubel. "We're going to keep our toes in it, but most of our advertising is going to go to the trade, to the architects and designers."
Outdoor grilling is certainly a seasonal activity in many parts of the country, but Summerset is able to maintain a fairly steady workflow by building up its inventory during colder seasons. "With growth, you'd think that cash flow improves, but it actually does not, because you have to invest every time you grow," says Straubel. "We have all the support we need through our banks and financial partners, so we've been able to grow without financial stress."
Challenges: "The challenge is always going to be competition," says Straubel. "The economy is better, people are buying more, and what that means is that you get more players jumping in. Our first line of defense has always been the breadth of our line. We started out with a lot different series so you didn't have to go anywhere else. You can go all the way from $1,000 to $10,000 in our line. At this point, it's all about innovation. Going forward, our entire company goal is to innovate something that people think is cool, and that they just have to have."
Opportunities: "We're looking for more higher-end, American-made product that we can get out there," says Straubel. "The cheaper stuff is always going to sell. It's quality, all stainless steel, but it's not the same as a $6,000 or $7,000 grill. For the pride of ownership, people like having nice stuff, and that's where we're going to go. We still have an affordable product, and we've got a couple coming down the chute, but they're different and innovative."
Needs: Continuing to profitably manufacture more products in the U.S., says Straubel. "We do a lot of our accessories, and all of our high-end products in the U.S.A. You cannot get down to the lower end in the U.S. and be competitive, so we still have an import line."