Outdoor GreatRoom Co. has moved much of its engineering and production to its Eagan headquarters.
Dan Shimek, CEO of the Outdoor GreatRoom Co., helps design upscale pergolas, outdoor kitchens and fire pits that can transform a patio or deck into new living space.
Now the business is getting a boost from a key, if less stylish, addition to the Eagan-based company's back yard: manufacturing.
In the past year, the company has moved engineering and production of many products from overseas to its new headquarters in Eagan. It also moved a small manufacturing operation from Salt Lake City to Eagan.
"Having had experience in China and India, our goal would be to have everything made in the U.S.A.," said Shimek, who added that the company he started in 2003 still buys some finished products and components from China. "Not just because of the experience, but because it's the best thing to do for the country."
The company now has 15 manufacturing employees and another dozen in office positions. Shimek expects this year's sales to be close to $5 million, about the same as in 2010. Product lines for outdoor living and entertaining also include gas and electric grills, fireplaces, weatherproof outdoor furniture and lighting and heating.
Sales have rebounded in the past two years, Shimek said, but have yet to reach pre-recession levels. Customers these days are less likely to buy an entire package, and instead often start with a pergola or kitchen island and add pieces over time. The company modified some higher-end products to broaden their market appeal.
Shimek is drawn to the business the way most of us are drawn to a warm, crackling fire. Indeed, creating ways for people to gather and enjoy fires has been central to most of Shimek's ventures.
He and brother Ron Shimek, who has since died, founded indoor gas fireplace maker Heat-N-Glo in 1975. Dan Shimek joined brothers Steve and Jerry Shimek, who helped run Heat-N-Glo, full time in 1986 after leaving 3M.
Dan Shimek stayed on as president after Heat-N-Glo merged with Heatilator in 1996 to form Hearth & Home Technologies, the Lakeville-based hearth products manufacturer.
His 2002 retirement proved shortlived. In addition to buying Hearth & Home Technologies' grill division, which he expanded into the Outdoor GreatRoom Co., he also launched two restaurants -- Enjoy! in Apple Valley and Paradise Landing in Balsam Lake, Wis. -- both run by St. Paul's Morrissey Hospitality Cos. -- and a winery, Chateau St. Croix in St. Croix Falls, Wis.
"I failed at retirement," Shimek joked.
Today, Shimek has no shortage of new product ideas, including some that could boost counter-seasonal sales or reach commercial markets. The goal, he said, is to introduce new products using proprietary technology that ideally can be produced locally and can drive sales of other products.
One of the newest products is the Inspiration, a ventless, indoor-outdoor fireplace that uses a clean-burning gel fuel that serves as an alternative to natural gas.
The Inspiration fireplace incorporates the company's patented Venturi Flame technology, developed by Shimek and son Kent, which produces a rising, swirling fire inside a glass cylinder.
One challenge, Shimek said, is selling to distributors and retailers across multiple channels, from the hearth industry to pool and spa, landscape and gardening, casual living and online.
"There's no 'outdoor room channel,' so we have to create them within existing channels," Shimek said. The company encourages retailers to sell a broader range of its products, to sell counter-seasonally, and to increase, in the case of brick-and-mortar stores, their online offerings. It's also looking to lift its own counter-seasonal sales by pursuing growth in such Southern Hemisphere countries as Australia, New Zealand and Brazil.
Fireside Hearth and Home in Roseville represents the Outdoor GreatRoom Co.'s entire product line and displays products such as outdoor fireplaces and fire pits, manager Joel Ginsberg said. The company's Crystal gas-burning fire pit tables gets the greatest "wow factor" from customers.
"It's a very modern style, and most customers just don't realize such a product existed, Ginsberg said. "I've sold quite a few to my own neighbors. It's a very innovative company. We're very familiar with the owner ... and his business style. We like the fact that they're local and have local distribution and inventory."
Shimek doesn't have a retail store and doesn't plan to open any. Fireside Hearth and Home and Condor Fireplace and Stone Co. will display some of the company's products at the State Fair.
The expert says: Lorman Lundsten, professor and chair of the marketing department at the University of St. Thomas' Opus College of Business, said Dan Shimek appears to be a "classic entrepreneur" who enjoys both starting businesses and in accepting or perhaps even enjoying the risk involved.
One challenge Shimek faces with the Outdoor GreatRoom Co. would appear to be building relationships with dealers willing to learn to sell the sometimes "wildly new" products.
The uncertain economy is a much greater challenge. Shimek appears to have addressed this by covering all the textbook growth-through-marketing bases, Lundsten said: selling more of the same products to existing dealers, selling them new products, selling to different dealers, and diversification, or "selling stuff we don't make to people we don't know."
"He's marketing bravely forward," Lundsten said. "One of those has to pay off. His gamble is if the economy recovers in time, he will be very well off. We'll have to see."