The practice of cooking with fire began over 250,000 years ago. I wonder if our ancient ancestors would be surprised to learn how this simple act of survival has evolved into a quintessential backyard activity and a booming industry? According to a recent Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association (HPBA) report, 80 percent of households own an outdoor barbeque, grill or smoker with a majority (60 percent) using their grill or smoker year round. And while Weber, Char-Broil and Traeger currently retain a lion’s share of the outdoor barbeque market, Strasburg, Colorado’s Pit Barrel Cooker Company is quickly gaining an appetite for disruption with its simple yet innovative design.
Noah Glanville, owner and president of Pit Barrel Cooker Company, said most of his customers were on the fence about buying a more expensive cooker, saw the rave reviews the pit barrel was generating or watched a few of the how-to videos on the company’s website and changed their minds. “We often hear feedback like, ‘I’ve never cooked anything before and you made me look like a pit master,’” said Glanville.
Rave reviews continue to heat up, and for good reason. The pit barrel cooker takes its simple design inspiration from the “Ugly Drum Smoker”, a niche, home grown product whose enthusiasts build their own cookers out of steel storage drums that produce “absolutely amazing” results, according to Glanville. “Everybody builds them in their garage and there’s never been a single manufacturer to hit the market that is consistent. I saw a huge window of opportunity.”
Glanville isn’t alone in his quest to simplify the customer experience. Companies like Apple, Google and SAP are eager to heed the call of their customers to simplify everything via user-friendly apps, devices and business processes.
Before Glanville could get cooking on mass-producing an ugly drum type cooker that can be pulled right out of the box that produces the same results as the pros, he still had to convince his wife on the idea.
“We invested every dime we had into it, maxed out every single credit card, did everything we could to get it going,” said Glanville who tinkered with 29 pit barrel prototypes before perfecting the final design. “Here we are, three years later and 100 percent debt free.”
From 2012-2013 Pit Barrel Cooker Company grew fives times in sales from $90,000 to $500,000. This year, the company is tracking to clear well over $2 million. Partnering with the likes of Kingsford, Amazon and other large manufacturers will help keep customers happy – and ensure Pit Barrel operations remain in the United States, an absolute must, according to Glanville.
“People are inspired by our product because we also provide a taste of real customer service. We have hundreds of e-mails from people saying ‘Wow, I can’t believe your customer service, it’s something you just don’t see anymore.’ That feedback has prompted me to make sure we protect that. If you call us and someone doesn’t pick up, we will call you back.”
Glanville’s passion for delivering top-notch customer service is powered by an unlikely ally: Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). As a proud veteran of the Iraq war, Glanville said coming home and adjusting to normal family life after experiencing the rigors and horror of war proved to be an incredible challenge. But when symptoms of PTSD started manifesting in his everyday life, he found that starting his own business was the best medicine.
“A lot of folks I talk to that struggle with PTSD are embarrassed to talk about it and you shouldn’t be,” said Glanville. “The trick is to find someone you trust, lean on them for support and give back.”
Glanville said his company is considering a few charitable options and may one day try to employ those having a tough time transitioning out of the U.S. prison system. “I am living proof that you can serve your country, come back from a war and be a successful entrepreneur.”
Glanville said the pit barrel cooker is all about keeping things simple and having a good time with friends and family. One of the biggest brainwashes in the outdoor cooking community is that you need to spend thousands of dollars to have food come off the grill that is cooked to perfection. “That’s just not the case. The Pit Barrel is a fraction of the cost and it will absolutely smoke the competition, hands down.”
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