Bob and Kerrie Tucker expanded their precision metal shop, MAK Metals, from 6,000 to 30,000 square feet as the recession spread in 2008. They launched their first consumer product, MAK grills, in July 2009. Next they had to convince people to spend $2,000 on a barbecue in a terrible economy.
It worked. Their 35-employee Dallas company is selling grills as fast as it can build them while refining a prototype for a super-grill large enough to cook a 100-pound hog. Their best-selling product, the MAK Two-Star General grill, recently won the 2011 “Best in Show” Vesta award from Hearth and Home magazine.
The Tuckers, both 40, are succeeding in spite of the recent flood of huge, fancy-looking man-toy gas grills made in China. Rather than trying to compete on price, they went after the growing craft segment of wood-pellet grills. “We weren’t in the barbecue industry, so we didn’t have that ‘this is how it’s always been’ attitude,” says Bob Tucker. “We just wanted to make it as great as we could.”
Out on the production floor, workers feed sheet metal into $330,000 laser cutters that make pre-programmed cuts and screw holes with extreme accuracy and speed. The grill contains 158 separate parts. Its most complex feature is a control panel that enables users to program precise cooking strategies, using temperature sensors inserted into the meat to relay information. A wireless remote version sells for $400.
Every part on the grill is made in the U.S., with the exception of several components on the circuit board. “Those companies are just gone,” says Tucker. “It’s really sad.”
Others have shipped jobs to China to survive, including MAK’s chief competitor, Traeger Grills. Traeger finished shifting production from Oregon to China in 2009, shedding about 200 local jobs. One Traeger veteran, KXL Radio’s “Mr. Barbecue,” Bruce Bjorkman, joined MAK in 2010 as director of sales and marketing. Bjorkman says: “When I took the job, I kept hearing, ‘Can you really sell grills for $2,000?’ Well you can.”
The combined revenues for MAK Metals and MAK Grills grew to $3 million in 2010 and are on pace to reach $4 million in 2011. About 20% of revenues come from the grills, and that share is growing. The hefty new “four star” grill is due out by the end of 2011, targeting restaurants and caterers, for about $6,000. Tucker recently tested out a prototype at a big party where he grilled 32 half-chickens simultaneously.
“It was fun,” he says. “And man, did that chicken taste good.”