business

Small-Business Success Story: KettlePizza

This duo figured out how to turn a charcoal grill into a wood-fired pizza oven.

Kiplinger's spoke with George Peters, 59, cofounder and owner of KettlePizza, a Groveland, Mass.-based maker of at-home wood-fired pizza oven grill attachments, about how the business got started. Read on for an excerpt from our interview:

You've always been an inventor? I worked full-time as a property director for local YMCAs, but I spent evenings and weekends developing my ideas and going to trade shows to sell them.

How did you and Al meet? Al is an engineer, and he was running his family's manufacturing business and trying to develop a different type of gas grill when I read about him in a local newspaper in 2008. I called him up, and we met. We sat for two hours, drinking coffee, talking and drawing ideas. It felt like two minutes. My wife was thrilled I had found someone else to sell my ideas to.

Why KettlePizza? For good pizza, it's important to cook the top and bottom at the same time. You can't cook pizza evenly on a grill because when you open the lid, you get an overcooked bottom and an undercooked top. We didn't think people wanted to spend thousands for a wood-fired pizza oven. So Al looked at charcoal grills and learned that Weber's popular kettle grill offered a ready market for a portable and affordable solution. We created a sleeve that installs between the grill top and bottom and creates a consistently hot cooking chamber.

You built your own prototype? Yes, nights and weekends in Al's workshop, where he had a slip roller [used to form sheet metal]. We settled on a high-grade stainless steel that's corrosion-resistant and has that "Wow!" factor. It doesn't hurt to have some skills for making things and a willingness to keep at it until you have in your hands what you see in your head. The patent is pending.

Now you outsource production? We found a small company in New Hampshire that could laser-cut the steel in small batches of 50 or 100 units. Initially, we rolled the steel, cut the wood handles and assembled the basic kit ourselves. We started selling the kits in mid 2010. When we got bigger and busier, we couldn’t do it all ourselves, so the factory forms the steel and assembles the kits. A company in Ohio makes the handles.

How did you finance your launch? We spent about $250,000 of our own money, and then we worked from cash flow.

How did you market your products? We sold the first few on eBay and then sold from our website. We went to a lot of hardware shows. Now, we're on Amazon.com and in Crate & Barrel, Target and Walmart. We'll be online soon at the Home Shopping Network.

What do the pizza sleeves cost? We have six kits that range from $140 to $430, depending on accessories.

Has the business grown? In 2011, we had gross annual sales of about $150,000. In 2015, we had $1.5 million in sales, and in 2016 we expect close to $3 million. Al and I work full-time and take salaries. We have three full-time employees and two part-time employees.

As partners, who does what? Al grew up in business, and he works on our road map. I grew up in the projects, so I figure out how to get in the door to get an answer from someone. Al points to the door, and I go kick it down.

Most Popular

Why Are Gas Prices Still Going Up?
spending

Why Are Gas Prices Still Going Up?

The cost of a gallon of gas is heading back toward its March highs. What’s driving the resurgence, and will gas prices go down anytime soon?
May 23, 2022
Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
Retirement Income Shouldn’t Depend on the Market; It Should Depend on Math
retirement planning

Retirement Income Shouldn’t Depend on the Market; It Should Depend on Math

The math isn’t as tough as you might think. It all starts with dividing your assets into three different buckets.
May 23, 2022

Recommended

2 Strategies to Reduce Taxes from the Sale of Your Business
small business

2 Strategies to Reduce Taxes from the Sale of Your Business

Long before you sell your business is the right time to explore ways to protect your proceeds from harsh taxation. Two possible strategies: the Qualif…
May 15, 2022
The Key to Employee Retention? Compassion!
small business

The Key to Employee Retention? Compassion!

If companies want to hold on to their best employees, they have a powerful (and free) tool at their disposal. They need to connect with empathy but le…
May 14, 2022
Could Diversity Hiring Efforts Endanger Your Company?
small business

Could Diversity Hiring Efforts Endanger Your Company?

Sometimes trying to do the right thing backfires, ending in an expensive lawsuit. Here are some thoughts on how business owners can protect their comp…
May 3, 2022
Preparing Your Family-Owned Business for Sale?
small business

Preparing Your Family-Owned Business for Sale?

Even if you’re not ready to sell right away, it’s smart to always operate as if your business were on the market. The same techniques that boost your …
May 2, 2022