/ Entrepreneurship

Why Is Wood Good? Because Traeger Grills Says So.

We’re a disruptive solution in a market that is big and boring and old and slow moving.

Most of us find a hidden gem of a product, buy it, maybe tell a few friends about it, and enjoy having something relatively unknown to the rest of the world. Then some of us find a hidden gem of a product, decide all of humanity needs to know about this product, and buy the company from whence the product originated. Or at least one of us does that. Jeremy Andrus does that.

After Andrus purchased a Traeger grill in 2013, he was surprised by the superior flavor of his grilled food. “When you use a wood pellet grill, your food tastes better. That’s just a fact,” Andrus says, then explains that while cooking with wood has traditionally been a difficult process, Trager had built a wood pellet grill that was easy to use. “If you talk to someone who owns a Traeger, it’s their favorite product every time,” he says. Andrus was also surprised to learn how few people knew about the Traeger brand. Andrus, having successfully led Skullcandy and helped the company reach $550 million in revenue value, knew he could elevate the Traeger brand. “[Traeger] was so unknown that it felt like there was an opportunity to build something great,” Andrus says. So, seizing on that opportunity, he and a private equity firm bought the 30-year-old Portland company and Andrus became CEO of Traeger Grills.

“Having spent a lot of time in the startup business, I came away with an appreciation for the level of magic it takes to really blow up a small business,” Andrus says. “There are a lot of colliding events that have to happen to build something that is really really unique.” Andrus knew that the colliding events and appropriate level of magic would be found outside of traditional TV and print media, so Andrus focused instead on PR and social media. “We sell hardware, but what we really sell is an experience, emotion, and connectivity,” Andrus says. ”We have the ability to create a community and content that teaches people about the grill and how to use it. Social media is the perfect tool for that.” Andrus hired an executive chef, a sous chef, and a culinary director to create and share recipes on social media. In less than 12 months, Traeger was attracting more than 45,000 Instagram followers (50 percent more than Weber Grills) and more than 180 million earned media impressions through PR efforts in 2015 including earning “Top Grill Of The Year” honors in multiple media outlets. ”People in the field evangelizing about Traeger is far more effective than us doing it ourselves,” Andrus says. “I really think great brands are built through influencers that have a lot of credibility.”

There’s another aspect to building a great brand, one that was a little messier for Andrus and the company he hoped to elevate. “You ultimately build a brand by creating the culture at ground zero,” he says. Building at ground zero is difficult for a company with thirty years of history. “When you buy a business that has nearly 30 years of experience, you don’t understand the issues until you’re inside the business,” Andrus says. Many of those issues, as it turned out, could only be solved by saying goodbye to many employees and relocating the company to Salt Lake City. “Rebuilding became the most important thing and the hardest thing,” Andrus says.

However hard that rebuilding process may have been, it was worth it for the new energy of the brand. “When you walk around our office you find a whole bunch of entrepreneurs,” Andrus says, explaining that their organization is flat and allows every member of the team, most of whom have only been with the brand less than two years, to rise up and build. “We really are builders and we’re growing fast for that reason,” Andrus says. “In 24 months the whole trajectory of the business has changed.”

In addition to a new marketing focus and rebuilding brand culture, Andrus has also found success in good old product innovation. He describes the market space as being “ripe for disruption.” Andrus says, “We’re a disruptive solution in a market that is big and boring and old and slow moving.” The original Traeger grill was a great solution but an underwhelming product. The new Traeger grill is still a great solution but an even better product. “We’ve spent a lot of time really evolving the solution,” Andrus says. “It goes back to this need to disrupt. You lead with and win with great product.”

Andrus is an EY Entrepreneur of the Year finalist. Finalists will be recognized and the 2016 winners will be announced at the EY Entrepreneur Of The Year Awards Gala on Saturday, June 4, at the Grand America Hotel. If you’re interested in attending, you can purchase tickets here.

Published 5/11/2016