The new owners of BBQGuys.com plan to launch a multimillion-dollar campaign in the next year to build awareness of the brand, one that could include appearances from former NFL greats such as Peyton Manning, LaDainian Tomlinson and Eli Manning, who are now investors in the Baton Rouge-based company.
Officials with Brand Velocity Partners, the private equity firm that bought BBQGuys.com and Blaze Outdoor Products in a deal that closed in August, said they will keep Baton Rouge as the headquarters for both businesses, with the best, highest-paid jobs in the company remaining based in the market.
Russ Wheeler, the new chief executive officer of BBQGuys, said he sees the company doubling its workforce “every couple of years,” based on sales projections. Wheeler said he was basing those projections on what happened with his former business, Build.com, an online home improvement retailer. During his tenure with Build.com, it grew from $250 million in sales to $1.2 billion.
“We like to say the backyard is the new living room,” said Drew Sheinman, founding partner with Brand Velocity Partners. He said BBQGuys is a “very successful e-commerce brand” with a tremendous potential for growth. “It’s not just a grilling company, it deals with lifestyle, entertainment. There are a lot of great possibilities and it overlaps on so many levels.”
Sheinman and Steve Lebowitz launched BVP about two years ago. Before that, Sheinman worked for the global talent firm WME IMG, where the late basketball great Kobe Bryant was one of his clients. Lebowitz owned a toy company. Their goals were to bring brand marketing and innovation to private equity to help companies grow to their full potential.
“You think about the great businesses and they’re all consumer-oriented,” Lebowitz said. “It’s almost never the case that the company made great, great spreadsheets. It has to do with product marketing and people.”
BVP has bought two companies since the start of the year: Magma Products, which makes barbecue grills for boats and recreational vehicles, and Original Footwear Co., which makes boots for the military and law enforcement but has branched out into footwear for civilians. There are no plans to merge BBQGuys with Magma, but Wheeler has talked to company officials and the businesses will work together to guide and support each other.
A company that BVP works with to find acquisition targets brought BBQGuys to its attention. That led to a meeting with BBQGuys founder Mike Hackley in January. Over the years, Hackley had received multiple offers to sell his business, but had rejected them.
The fact that BVP had marketing expertise appealed to Hackley.
“The fact we were growth-oriented and people-oriented resonated really well with him,” Lebowitz said
Despite delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic and the fact that BBQGuys had to quickly move 160 of its employees to working from their homes, BVP by the end of August had reached a deal with Hackley to buy the company. The price was not disclosed.
Blaze, which engineers and manufactures grills, smokers and drawers, was also included in the deal.
BBQGuys posted $130 million in revenue for 2019, while Blaze had $41 million in revenue. BBQGuys has made Inc. magazine’s annual list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the U.S. for 13 consecutive years, with the company generating 58% growth in the past three years. Blaze also made the 2020 list, as BBQGuys Manufacturing, with 106% revenue growth for the past three years.
Because Hackley wanted to step back from the business he started in 1998, Wheeler was brought in to run BBQGuys. He had lived in Baton Rouge about 20 years ago, and plans to move back from Atlanta after his daughter graduates.
Hackley wanted to make sure the employees at BBQGuys were protected in the deal, so getting Wheeler onboard was crucial, Sheinman said, because his principles align with the company and his background in running a successful online business. Hackley has remained involved with the business, introducing Wheeler to meet with major suppliers and helping Blaze with product innovation.
“We have the right management in place that’s capable of taking us forward on our growth plan,” Sheinman said.
Since the start of the pandemic, Wheeler said BBQGuys has hired more than 100 employees, including 10 new people for sales and customer service. “We have benefited from this hard time,” Wheeler said.
BVP brought in several football greats as strategic investors in the BBQGuys deal. Former Saints quarterback and broadcaster Archie Manning and sons Cooper, Peyton and Eli are part of the team, along with Tomlinson and Steve Hutchinson, both members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Hutchinson’s wife Landyn, a popular lifestyle influencer and blogger, is also an investor.
How much of a role they will all play in the marketing of BBQGuys has yet to be determined. The Hutchinsons own eight grills, Wheeler said, so they have authentic interest in the business.
“They all have a vested interest in the company,” he said. “We have a lot of great plans to do more things. The barbecue grilling space is a lifestyle that leads to a lot of great connectivity.”
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