Utah outdoor cookery giant Traeger Grills filed paperwork with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Tuesday marking the first step toward a public stock offering.
The company, based in Salt Lake City, is coming off a year that saw sales skyrocket amid pandemic-induced isolation that drove a slew of new interest in home cooking. In its SEC filing, Traeger reported $32 million in net income on revenues of nearly $546 million in 2020, blowing by 2019’s $363 million in revenues and $29 million in net losses.
The stock event will mark the second time CEO Jeremy Andrus, a BYU and Harvard Business School grad, has helmed a Utah-based company into the public markets. The first was for Park City’s Skullcandy, the onetime hipster-favorite maker of headphones and consumer electronics. Andrus joined the company in 2005 and helped grow the startup, founded by Rick Alden in 2003, from less than $1 million in annual revenues to almost $300 million in sales in 80 countries ahead of taking the company public in 2011.
While notching a huge win for Skullcandy and its investors, the IPO benchmark turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax for Andrus.
In a 2017 Deseret News profile, Andrus said the business model and leadership responsibilities change dramatically when a company becomes a publicly traded entity and, for him, that took some intrigue out of the challenge.
“There’s no question, when you’re the highest shorted stock on the NASDAQ and in an industry notorious for declining margins and Wall Street is beating you up, it does take some of the fun out of it,” Andrus said. “When you’re smaller and private, you obsess over product development and customer experience and growth, not quarterly reports.”
After eight years with Skullcandy, ready for a change and looking to reengage that pre-public, business-building vibe but without a new project to engage, Andrus joined Boston-area private equity firm Solamere Capital, a company with Utah ties through founders Tagg Romney, Eric Scheuermann and Spencer Zwick. But that would turn out to be a stepping stone to Traeger, a three-decade-old company founded in Mt. Angel, Oregon, and grown by two generations of the Traeger family into a brand that, according to Andrus, had a little-recognized but highly passionate following.
“I was doing customer research and had a guy tell me, ‘Traeger changed my life,’” Andrus said. “I looked up from my notes and asked him to say it again ... I’d never heard this about a consumer product and was not expecting to hear it about a backyard barbecue.
“This brand is an absolute gem, the fact that it was so small relative to its potential and had so much history, and second-generation ownership of people who loved it so much, showed me it was meaningful opportunity,” he said.
Andrus and investment partner Trilantic North America acquired the company, moved its headquarters to a new building in Sugar House, and Andrus took over the helm as CEO in 2014. Since that time, heavy investment in product innovation and a multichannel marketing campaign has borne fruit, with annual revenues growing from $70 million at the time of acquisition to over $500 million today.
That meteoric rise in revenues has also helped the company attract investment interest and, according to business analytics site Crunchbase, Traeger has brought in $180 million in venture capital to date.
One of the outcomes of the focused, and well-financed, effort has been the development of the top-of-the-line Traeger Timberline grill, a smoker/indirect heat cooker that can be controlled and monitored via a smartphone app.
“We’re not looking for simple improvements like better handles or a nicer paint job,” Andrus said in the 2017 story. “We’re working to disrupt and innovate in an industry whose most recent benchmark was the advent of propane in the ’70s.”
And the company appears to be doing just that while showing a knack for leveraging social media tools, and its own enthusiastic customer base, in building an actively engaged group of devotees. Traeger reports it has over 1.5 million social media followers and its online cooking/recipe videos earn 144,000 views each week.
While old-school grillers and outdoors types still represent the majority of customers who buy Traegers, Andrus told the Deseret News for the profile story that the company’s fastest-growing demographic is the much-vaunted millennial generation, a group now old enough to be investing in their own homes and the trappings that go with them. And they’re into cooking and food in a much different way than traditional customers.
“We think there is massive opportunity in what we call the culinary consumer segment,” Andrus said. “A lot of millennials are approaching food as an experience more than a function. They’re using our grills in new ways, cooking ingredients that go into a salad, smoking salts, smoking fruits for their cocktails.”
The company, currently headquartered in Sugar House, is also in the process of renovating a historic building in Salt Lake City’s Post District that once housed printing facilities for the Deseret News and numerous other regional and national publications. In a 2020 press release, Andrus likened the project, set to open for business in 2022, to the same process he and his team have embraced at Traeger, breathing new life into a longtime icon.
“There’s something invigorating about taking an original and innovating on it,” Andrus said in a 2020 statement. “The opportunity to collaborate and breathe new life into the historic Newspaper Agency Corporation building is so in line with Traeger’s DNA, we couldn’t help but jump in and be part of this new reimagined space in downtown Salt Lake City.”
While the S-1 filing by Traeger parent TGPX Holdings on July 6 marks the beginning of the initial public offering process, it typically takes three to six months to progress to the actual stock sale. Traeger has filed to trade on the New York Stock Exchange under the “COOK” ticker.