Reinventing the backyard BBQ through chemistry

  @Money September 5, 2012: 7:14 AM ET
How GrillGrate is cooking up profits
(MONEY Magazine)

Brad Barrett knows a good business idea when he sees one. As head of product development for a rubber and chemical company, it was his job to "scour our divisions for new technologies," he says.

Scour he did. It was at work in 2005 that he discovered a coating material for metal that had been shelved for years.

"I dusted it off and thought, 'This is cool,' " recalls Barrett. An avid backyard cook, he realized that aluminum covered in the substance could be used in grilling: Resting panels of it between a grill top and a slab of meat, he figured, might keep food from burning or drying.

So he began experimenting with alloys and even invented a tool (a spatula-fork combo) to sell with the product.

When Barrett showed the results to his CEO in 2007, the boss, a longtime friend, told him that the company wasn't interested in consumer products, but he offered Barrett warehouse space and help finding manufacturers. Plus, he gave Barrett 90 days to work himself out of a job.

Despite inexperience, "I felt confident -- overconfident, maybe," Barrett says.

By April 2008, his sureness was shaken. Though he'd gotten his GrillGrate into some 50 stores, "it wasn't jumping off the shelf," he says. Meanwhile, folks who tried the grate complained that wire brushes wiped off the coating.

Related: An artful transition from employee to business owner

Unwilling to give up, Barrett sought out a hardening process to improve durability.

He worked around retail challenges by getting on QVC, where his first appearance yielded 1,800 sales -- well over the channel's minimum. He also created an infomercial for outdoor and sports channels. As a result, revenue rose from $200,000 in 2009 to $850,000 in 2011. This year he hopes to break $1 million.

Saving for retirement in your 50s

Meanwhile, he's enjoying the breadth of the work: "I like handling all facets, from making spreadsheets to creating marketing videos," says Barrett. "It's fun to know how to do all the jobs."


Total investment in GrillGrate: $300,000

Barrett put in $100,000 from his liquid savings. But rather than hit his 401(k), he looked for investors. He raised $200,000 more from three people, including a former boss. He pays them 5% interest a year and sends them quarterly reports.

Time before he paid himself: 2½ years

Barrett and his wife, Susan, who have three grown kids, spent much of the rest of their nonretirement savings on living costs. In 2009 Susan, a homemaker, got a job to help pay the bills. Brad took his first salary in 2010; last year he brought home $70,000.

When he expects to match his previous pay: 2015

Barrett projects that GrillGrate's sales will reach $3 million in three years, as a result of amping up Internet marketing and targeting caterers. He'll then pay himself $150,000. "I've put my heart into this business," Barrett says. "I'm looking forward to selling a lot and making serious money." To top of page

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