We are pleased to have the opportunity to speak with Mr. Bob Ehmke, the President of Sunset Bay Outdoor, a manufacturer of innovative outdoor products that’s based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
Mr. Ehmke, please tell us a bit about your company.
Sunset Bay Outdoor has been in business for fourteen years. We’re a manufacturer of affordable outdoor kitchens, buffets, outdoor grill and beverage carts, and fire pits. We have standard models but can also create custom designs for our customers. Our Fiesta Grande series of customizable barbecue grill carts, beverage carts, and outdoor buffets has been very popular. In fact, we’ve won more awards in our industry than any other outdoor kitchen manufacturer.
How did you get into the business of outdoor furniture?
I developed a fireplace store in 1978. I sold that business in 1992 and began to do product design and consulting for other fireplace manufacturers. I was going to tradeshows and became interested in the outdoor products I saw. At that time, what they called the “outdoor room” was becoming extremely popular.
There was a company from California that was making outdoor kitchens, but their products had one-piece construction. In many locations, the buyer had to get a crane to lower the kitchen in place after it was delivered. I know of a case where one of their customers had to get a helicopter to lift his kitchen and place it in his backyard.
I used my design background and developed a totally modular outdoor kitchen system that could be assembled on location like kitchen cabinets. Over the years, we’ve worked hard to continue innovating our design. We now offer the Heritage line of outdoor kitchens that can be shipped in kit form via parcel service and assembled on-site in around 15 minutes without the need for any tools. It’s a fully expandable kitchen system, so you can add as many modules as you like in the future.
What were some obstacles you faced when you first started out?
Well, within our first 6 months of starting the business, we secured a large contract with a nationwide grill supplier. We were very excited about that. Unfortunately, the stock market crashed within a week of us getting our first purchase order. We lost half of our sales force almost immediately and within a month we had lost the rest. At that time, I could offer dealers our displays for free and they wouldn’t take them because no one was buying outdoor products. The stock market crash was a set-back that ended up costing me close to a million dollars overnight. It took us five years to get back on our feet and regain dealer confidence again.
What made you decide to do business with Reliant?
I was on the Internet and noticed your company had great reviews. I didn’t know much about what I was looking for, but your folks were extremely helpful. Reliant was very responsive, whereas other companies we spoke to were not. The equipment looked good, the service and responsiveness were there, so it was an easy decision.
How did purchasing Reliant equipment impact your business?
One of the reasons we wanted to get into powder coating was so we could control more of our process from start to finish. We were outsourcing our powder coating to other companies in the area and we couldn’t rely on their quality of work or their lead times. We often didn’t hear about shortcomings in the finish quality until the products were delivered and in the field. We were also having an issue with the coaters’ prices fluctuating, so we couldn’t accurately price our product. This was made worse by the fact that they would improperly store our powder, so a great deal of it would become unusable and get discarded at our expense.
Bringing powder coating in-house allows us more control over the quality of product we’re able to deliver to our customers. The cost savings of not having to pack and ship our parts to another shop and wait on them has been immense. We’ve also been able to take on some contracts from other businesses in the area and we can turn out a good quality product for them in only a day or two.
Bob, thank you again for choosing Reliant and for taking time to tell us about your business. We’re glad to hear that you’re getting good results from your Reliant powder coating equipment and enjoying success with your business!