Meet Our Alumni: Ryan Eftink ’95

Ryan Eftink (‘95) has a passion for barbecue. He loves eating it, he loves cooking it, and he loves manufacturing tools to make the American pastime the best it can be through his family’s grill company, Smokin’ Brothers.

It Runs In The Family

As a kid growing up in Oran, Missouri, Eftink remembers shadowing his dad at the grill for many a summer gathering. When his parents started a grill distributing company in 2002, what was once a hobby became a business for the whole family.

Three years later, Eftink and his brother-in-law, Craig, decided to compete in a barbecue contest, what with their extensive knowledge on the cooking method. On a fall day in 2005, the two headed to Hermann, MO for the “BBQ and Brats” Festival. Thus, Smokin’ Brothers was born, and they were hooked on efficient grilling.

“We started creating our own sauces and rubs, and we sold them through my parent’s company,” said Eftink. “As we grew, we modified the grills we were selling, trying to make them cook better.”

In 2011, they began manufacturing their own line of wood pellet grills, grill accessories and, of course, sauces and rubs.

“We were tired of dealing with some of the companies and products we were receiving that were from overseas, and they were not the quality that we liked,” said Eftink.

Boasting the slogan “Your family BBQ will never be the same,” neither were the Eftinks’. They have since found great success in Smokin’ Brothers, Inc, evolving to have a presence in 38 states and working with more than 350 dealers. Their headquarters are located across southeast Missouri with a retail store in Cape Girardeau, a factory in Chaffee, and a warehouse in Sikeston.

Grills, Sauces, and Customer Service

As the company grew from a sales force to a manufacturer, many tough decisions had to be made on what products they would sell, specifically the type of grills. After doing their research, the Eftinks found two to be popular among local consumers.

“One was a traditional steel grill that was more of an economical purchase, and the other was a top-of-the-line, premiere grill. Think of a Chevy Cobalt versus a Cadillac,” said Eftink. “And we knew there were clients for both of those grills.”

Honing in on accessories, the family considered it all – side shelves, bottom shelves, top grids, bottom grids, grate cleaners, grill cleaners, and more – but they made sure to focus on types that hadn’t been made before.

“Last year, we came up with an insert for a pellet grill with another company,” said Eftink. “We’ve also got some other accessories we’re coming out with this year that will really revolutionize the pellet grill industry.”

Some of their newest innovations include the “Heat Wave,” a tool which allows consumers to sear their meat without the threat of flare-ups, and a small work station called the “Grill Companion.”

For sauces and rubs, Eftink likes to keep it simple by sticking as closely as they can to their original recipes. They started with a sweet rub, one they now call “Butt The Kitchen Sink.” The other two in the Smokin’ Brothers shop – “Plus The Kitchen Sink” and “Udder Than The Kitchen Sink” – are spicy rubs that were created during the brothers’ competitive streak. Their four sauces on the market were named after the men in the family: Craig, Adam, “JR,” and Ryan himself.

“Not everyone is a sweet barbecue guy. There’s a hot barbecue guy, and there’s also a steak guy. So there’s something for everyone,” said Eftink. “We also believe there are no secrets in barbecue. So we give our recipes out to anyone who asks.”

Products aren’t the only aspect of the business they offer with care in mind, though; quality service ranks equally as high. This in itself, Eftink said, is a “24/7 job.”

“When you run your own small business, you’re always on call,” said Eftink. “And if there’s a problem, it’s up to you to solve it.”

And to be successful in the manufacturing field, Eftink emphasized the importance in being available, having your product available, and being able to answer questions at any hour – day or night.

“For some people, your two in the afternoon is their two in the morning,” said Eftink. ”Most of the time the public is understanding, but you still want to be able to give the best customer service possible.”

Made In The U.S.A.

One of the core principles of Smokin’ Brothers is for all of their products to be made in the U.S.A. Eftink knows it sounds cliche, but he’s glad to join a wave of businesses bringing manufacturing and its jobs back to the states.

“Not everyone wants to go to college, and not everyone wants to sit in an office,” said Eftink. “For example, I’ve got a guy welding on the grills, and he’s perfectly okay with not sitting in a cubicle. Now, in a few years, I might need someone sitting in a cubicle answering questions about service, looking at reports and sales statistics, and what market we’d want to attack next.”

To sustain these jobs in the market, Eftink said they’re always looking at ways to be more efficient in production. One recent upgrade – a fiber optic laser – allows them to add an additional revenue stream while cutting production time.

“It used to take 20 hours to cut my grills out for one week’s worth, but now we can do it in less than eight hours. So there are 32 more hours that machine can be cutting parts for other companies, or other accessories for me,” said Eftink, calling the new process their “manufacturing kickoff.”

Growing Pains

The company’s ownership is split among Eftink, his brother Adam, his brother-in-law Craig, and his mom and dad. Having five people in charge is helpful in the decision-making process, Eftink said, since there “can’t be a tie.”

“When we come up with an idea, we all fill out a form. It’s kind of like a checks and balances where we try to see a product all the way through from the manufacturing to the selling, and to the repurchasing of that product,” said Eftink. “It basically outlines: ‘Does it meet our principles for Smokin’ Brothers? What’s the product? What’s the cost of the product? What’s the marketing scheme? What’s the return on investment? And, what’s the worst case scenario?”

As for communication, Eftink said they have an “interesting” dynamic among the family.

“We don’t all live in the same area,” said Eftink. “My brother lives in Nashville, my brother-in-law lives up in St. Louis, and I live in Cape, so we have a conference call every two weeks.”

But the distance doesn’t change much in terms of the typical woes that come with running a family business.

“If you’re doing [business] with your family, you better have a strong relationship,” warned Eftink. “Everyone has their opinions, and you know them well enough to know what buttons to push to get them upset.”

At the end of the day, though, Eftink said everyone understands when it’s time for business, and when it’s time for each of them to be present at home.

“I’ve made Smokin’ Brothers more of my life than what my wife would like for me to do,” joked Eftink. “There are sacrifices. I have to travel a lot with my business, so I miss things.”

But when he walks through the door, he makes sure to set his phone down and focus on his family.

“Family has got to be your focal point. You’re working to give your family a better life,” said Eftink. “And that’s what I do this for.”