By Ryan Lutz | Photo provided by REC TEC
Last Thanksgiving, my heart leapt at my older brother’s invitation. An outdoorsman and exceptional upland hunter, he had invited the family to his house for a meal that included his much beloved dove poppers. Though it is no small feat to prepare them ― brining the dove breasts, halving and deseeding jalapenos before filling each “boat” with cream cheese, and then bacon-wrapping half a breast on each ― it is, for him, a cinch to grill them. He puts the poppers on the grill and heads back inside to enjoy cards and cocktails with the family; then, 90 minutes later, he removes the scrumptiously smoked poppers ―voilà! – a culinary delight that even pitmaster Steven Raichlen would be proud of!
The primary reason my brother can grill at ease and with such mastery―nothing is ever over- or undercooked―is that he has a REC TEC grill.
An Augusta phenom, REC TEC Grills was born in 2009 and became official in 2011, when it sold its first grill. Since then, the local company has experienced exponential growth (between 30-40% yearly) and has been blessing the meat-and-fire world by a three-fold commitment―to making top-quality products, to delivering exceptional personal customer service, and to developing the culture (REC TEC calls it the “lifestyle”) of grilling.
To find out why REC TEC is rapidly becoming a household name among both neophyte grillers and pitmasters, I arranged to meet REC TEC’s Director of Marketing, Trey Enfinger, at the company’s new headquarters, located off of Evans to Locks Road on the sprawling parcel of land that formerly housed a manufacturing facility for Quad/Graphics. This campus is quite something: the driveway leads to a sliding chain-link gate, over railroad tracks, and to a fork where signs direct tractor-trailers one way and visitors another. I drove up the curving driveway overlooking a well-kept yard that trails-off to a handsome boundary of woods. The ascent levels at a very large parking lot that―via a clean, covered catwalk―connects pedestrians to the main building’s second floor.
It quickly became evident why Trey, rather than talk with me in his office, had planned to answer my questions while giving me a tour. He wanted me to have the visible proof that, in less than ten years, REC TEC Grills has done remarkably well in a very competitive market. The first proof was this new facility itself.
“We just moved here a couple weeks ago,” Trey said, “from 50,000 square feet to―well, to about 270,000 square feet.”
In light of both its steadily booming sales and its particular way of doing business, the company’s move to the larger space was a necessity.
“Everything has quickly evolved. Our staff has grown from an original six to approximately ninety, including three professional chefs [one is renowned Chef Greg Mueller] and an in-house marketing department. A lot of what many companies would choose to outsource―digital advertising, and copywriting, and website―we choose to hire the talent for and own it, so that we’re doing it our way.”
The clean and trim showroom displays almost the entire line-up of REC TEC merchandise, from the smallest ― spatula, rub spices, wood pellets, even T-shirts ― to the largest grill available. Currently, REC TEC’s fleet of grills consists of seven different models. By comparison to its primary competitor, that is considerably fewer options―seventeen fewer, to be exact. So, what’s their appeal? Why are these grills selling so well, especially since REC TEC is not the only vendor of pellet grills or smart-grill technology? While this story is not a “consumer report,” there is no shortage of online reviews that offer a point-by-point comparison of several grills.
It suffices to say that the most important point about REC TEC’s products came from one of the company’s two founders, Ray Carnes. (Ron Cundy, fellow co-founder, is based in Atlanta and runs more of the business side of the operation. You can hear both Ray and Ron’s story in an engaging three-minute video on REC TEC’s well-designed website.) As I sat in Ray’s office, he simplified the question of REC TEC’s product excellence.
“For the people who do their research, there isn’t a grill that can compare at our price point―not even close. Our biggest competitor’s [comparably priced] grill weighs 70 lbs less; it has a 3-year warranty, ours has a 6-year warranty; they have a 20-pound hopper, we have a 40-pound hopper; they have no stainless steel, we have tons of stainless steel. So, we just have more bang for your buck.”
And that’s to say nothing of the awesome aesthetic appeal of the grills. Talk about “more bang”: the signature bullhorn handles are, hands down, the coolest feature! Don’t be surprised if laying hold of one of those horns induces you to belt out the famous caveman grunt of Tim “the Toolman” Taylor.
Providing an excellent product, however, as critically important in business as it is, is not the only―perhaps not even the primary―reason REC TEC is one of Augusta’s best success stories. This is not to question the quality of its products at all, but it does hearken back to the “our way” that Trey mentioned above.
Another essential part of the REC TEC way is the company’s diehard commitment to personal customer service. The evidence abounds. As I waited for Trey to meet me in the showroom, I was greeted by Lauren, who sat behind a raised silestone counter and flanked by no fewer than three more staffers waiting to be of service; they were young, energetic and friendly―to me and to each other. Then I saw a man―an ordinary walk-in customer―approach Lauren, pull a small grill-part from his pocket, and ask her whether he could get a replacement for it. She took the part, turned it over in her hand, and said, “Of course, we can. Let me call downstairs.”
Yes, downstairs from the showroom is the warehouse, another essential component of the REC TEC way. For customers in the CSRA, having access to REC TEC’s showroom and warehouse obviously means that the wait for a replacement part or for an answer to a question, or for a grill, is incredibly short. Of course, not everyone can make the drive to Evans to Locks Road, a matter that Ray gladly addressed.
“We found our niche with ‘factory direct.’ We don’t have dealers [think distributors]; that’s why we’re a smaller company. But shipping is so fast these days. And, by not having dealers, we control the customer service, so [customers] never have a bad experience. They’re calling us. To give people the confidence to pull the trigger on a $1000 purchase [the RT-700, the most popular model, is $1199], we have to be the best at customer service.”
n other words, REC TEC wants to help customers directly, not through a “middle man.” By doing this, REC TEC can maintain its “customer-first reputation” and keep its prices free from dealer mark-up.
When Ray said, “They’re calling us,” he meant it literally, and Trey showed me the proof by taking me back upstairs to the call center, a large room of comfy cubicles that occupy, as of now, about 20 employees, all of whom own a REC TEC. Trey said that although the “website is [the] number one salesperson,” the call center’s role is incalculably important: “Last Friday we took 500 calls.” Customers call for a number of reasons, from how to cook beer chicken to how to replace a blower fan, but they don’t call to be coaxed.
“Most are not calling to be persuaded to buy,” said Trey. “With as much content as we’re putting out there, customers can kind of do their homework, so if they’re calling, most of the time they’re calling to order.”
But customers are calling not just the call center. They’re calling Ray himself, and not by mistake. Years ago, when the company was just getting off the ground, Ray regularly gave out his cell phone number to customers.
“We were selling five [grills] a week. It resonated with customers that the guy they were talking to on the phone had a grill, was talking grills with them, and [had given] his cell number to them. To this day, even though it’s now hundreds of customers, they still get my cell number. In fact, a guy in Texas called me 30 minutes ago. He said, ‘my friend gave me your number.’”
And as far as Ray is concerned, this defining characteristic of REC TEC’s identity will not change; customers will never be answered and directed by an automated phone system. “I will never let it change,” he asserted. “I’ll always want somebody to answer the phone. People are sick of not getting a person on the other end of the line.”
People are sick of so much more, actually―and of things more significant than substandard customer service. REC TEC is not alone in its commitment to being accessible to its customers, to offering excellent service; many top-tier businesses share that commitment. Perhaps not many of them, however, identify, much less promote, a particular lifestyle with their product. REC TEC does, though.
“We have a T-shirt that says, ‘This isn’t a grill. This is a lifestyle,’” said Trey. “We’re not just selling a product. We’re selling what you can do and who you can be with the product.”
The “Lifestyle” page of its website hints at the characteristics of this lifestyle, but unless your inductive reasoning skills are particularly acute, you may miss the forest for the trees. The “trees” are the grills, grillers, and the grilled―the tangibles. The “forest” is the intangibles: the laughter of friends lounging around a grill, waiting for the brisket to reach 190° internal, or the slow-burning excitement that prompts 250 participants to come from 42 states to REC TEC’s first “academy” event at the Evans Town Center park to bond over food, fire, and fun. That’s about as specific as the recipe for this lifestyle gets―food, fire, fun, and (not infrequently) friendship. “For me, it’s family, friends, memories,” said Ray, before adding, “But we say, ‘What is your REC TEC lifestyle?’”
Whatever its particular expression, adopting this lifestyle assumes that the grill is more than merely another culinary tool; it is a social tool. In fact, Ray told a story that suggests that the grill could even be a therapeutic tool.
“We have customers tell us all the time that we’ve changed their lives. You wouldn’t think that’d be the case―over a grill. But a lady came in here crying and told us we changed her brother’s life. He was an introvert, a bit socially inept. Then he got a REC TEC and suddenly he was a part of this community, and he could talk about grilling. He became more responsive; he’s got friends now; he’s posting about his food. She said it’s really brought him back to life.”
Doubtlessly, the cynic will want to prune that rosy story of its illogical suggestion―that what changed that man’s life was not the use of a REC TEC grill in particular, but only his taking-up grilling in general. That’s probably true. Yet, in his logical accuracy, the cynic often misses an important point: the existential need to thank somebody. It doesn’t make much sense to thank grilling or even a grill.
So, to all who work at REC TEC Grills, thank you for doing your thing! In the absence of the golf tournament this year, I suspect your grills have enabled many to be masters of the smoke pit.
Appears in the May/June 2020 issue of Augusta Magazine.