The Family Torch
By Bill Sendelback
Most of us are lucky to have just one really good idea in our lifetime. First, the Shimek brothers – Ron, Dan, Steve and Gerry – started and later sold Heat & Glo, which became one of the cornerstones of the present industry giant Hearth & Home Technologies (HHT), the other being Heatilator (the Shimeks played no part in creating Heatilator).
Dan Shimek’s second creation was The Outdoor GreatRoom Company, (OGC) an enterprise dedicated to the Outdoor Room concept, revolving around outdoor fire features, and offering upscale products.
Today (OGC) offers electric and outdoor gas fireplaces and fireplace inserts, fireplace cabinets and surrounds, vented gas logs, gas fire burners and burner controls, fire pits, fire tables, outdoor furniture, Outdoor Room decorative accessories, patio awnings, outdoor kitchen islands, pergolas, and custom products for residential and commercial outdoor applications.
L to R: Joey Shimek, Renee Schmitz , Gerry Shimek, and Eric Hawkinson.
Photo: ©2020 Jeffrey Schmieg Gamut One Studios. www.gamut1studios.com.
All of this is still under the ownership and leadership of the Shimek family, now with second-generation family members.
Ron Shimek, a technical director for Sperry Rand (Unisys) and a lead engineer on the Minuteman guided missile project, and brother Dan, then a research chemist and purchasing manager for 3M Corporation, formed Heat & Glo in 1975 in Ron’s garage. The company featured their then-revolutionary Spin-a-Fire circular glass, wood-burning fireplace.
The other Shimek brothers – Gerry and Steve – soon joined Ron and Dan in their new venture. In 1985 the brothers patented the nation’s first direct-vent, gas, zero-clearance fireplace. Then, in 1996, the four brothers sold Heat & Glo to HON Industries to form HHT, and in 2003 Dan Shimek moved on to create The Outdoor GreatRoom Company, (OGC ) later to include his brothers.
The company initially was named Fire Stone Home Products, but, as one could expect, the Firestone tire company quickly forced the fledgling company to change its name. That’s when OGC was born.
“But that change turned out to be a great thing, because OGC actually better defines what we do,” says Joey Shimek, vice president of Sales and son of Steve Shimek.
Ron and Dan Shimek have since passed away, while Gerry is now CEO and president of OGC. Steve Shimek, former vice president of Sales before passing the torch to his son Joey, remains a sales consultant to OGC as he prepares to retire later this year.
Kay Shimek, wife of the late Dan Shimek, is majority owner. Gerry’s son Ryan is OGC’s controller, and his son David is OGC’s Western U.S. Sales manager; the second generation of Shimeks continues to cement the legacy of the original four Shimek brothers and patriarchs.
Photo: ©2020 Jeffrey Schmieg Gamut One Studios. www.gamut1studios.com.
Keeping things in the Shimek family, Jeff Hanel, OGC’s new Construction and Builder Business manager, is the late Ron Shimek’s son-in-law. And, yes, OGC does have non-Shimeks in its management team. Renee Schmitz is vice president of Business Development, Eric Hawkinson is vice president of Operations, and Ross Johnson is OEM and National Accounts manager. Both Schmitz and Hawkinson were employees at Heat & Glo and later at HHT.
“The Shimek brothers started OGC with the concept of selling the whole Outdoor Room package, including outdoor kitchens, patio furniture, and pergolas, to make the Outdoor Room an extension of the home with an outdoor fire feature as a main gathering place,” Joey Shimek explains. “We want to create alternative experiences through fire features, where consumers can really enjoy being outside in the comfort of their own backyard.
“Three to five years ago, we were experiencing double-digit sales growth. Much of our success can be attributed to our family background in the outdoor fire category, and the expertise of our 41 employees. The last couple of years our sales growth has slowed somewhat due to more people joining this market, particularly with lower-end products. That has made sales growth more challenging.”
While the OCG offers an extensive and growing line of fire features and Outdoor Room products, its fastest growing category is its gas burners, for fire pits and fire tables. “This line has had strong sales growth every year,” according to Shimek. Called Crystal Fire Burners, the line includes linear models up to 120 inches, round, rectangular, square, and custom versions in high-grade stainless steel with suggested retail prices ranging from $339 to $2,898.
Intrigue Tabletop Outdoor Lantern.
Stone Arch Freestanding Gas Fireplace.
Lyndale Highback Swivel Rocker with Cast Ash and Sunbrella Cushions.
Custom Outdoor Kitchen Island.
OGC recently expanded that line to now include its upscale Crystal Fire Plus Burners, featuring higher Btu capacities and re-engineered and upgraded construction for brighter, taller, fuller, and more yellow natural flames. Crystal Fire Plus Burners include glass ember media.
“We developed this line as a result of feedback from our dealers and consumers,” says Shimek. “People want to have the best and most real flame presentation, and they want to know that the burners will last a long time. We think these are the best gas burners on the market.”
OGC makes quite a few of its products right in Minnesota. “We make the majority of the outdoor gas fire pits, all the outdoor kitchens, and other ready-to-finish pieces, including pergolas, says Shimek. “We used to import 100% of our products, now we make 50% to 70% in-house.”
With its headquarters and 60,000 sq. ft. manufacturing and warehousing facilities in Burnsville, The Outdoor GreatRoom Company sells through independent manufacturers’ representatives to hearth products, casual living, pool and spa dealers, landscapers, and homebuilders in the U.S. and Canada, and also distributes its products in Australia. Thirty percent of OGC’s sales are through hearth products dealers.
“Our products are priced toward the higher end of the middle range,” says Shimek. “We have always sold a lot of finished fire tables, but we also offer the individual components and even custom items.” Shimek says OGC is expanding its offerings to include ready-to-finish fire pits, outdoor kitchens, and outdoor fireplaces. “We want to be a full service provider of finished products, or any part of an outdoor project for a consumer, a DIY customer, or a builder.”
Highland Gas Insert with traditional front surround.
Havenwood Fire Table.
White 30-inch Cove Fire Bowl.
White Onyx Beacon Dining Height Gas Fire Pit Table.
Hospitality and commercial uses of OGC products, such as in restaurants and lobbies, has grown by double-digit percentages for each of the last four years, and now totals 10% of the company’s sales, says Shimek. “We want to be more than just a retail-type company,” he says. “We really are getting into the commercial and component sides of the business. And we expect those sales to double in the next year or two.”
While The Outdoor GreatRoom Company has focused on products for outdoor living, it does offer products for the inside of homes. “We offer electric fireplaces, non-combustible mantels, and gas fireplace inserts, as examples. Indoor products are a smaller part of our business now, but we are putting an increasing emphasis on these products for our hearth product dealers.
“We look for hearth product dealers who are experts in hearth products, have some experience in outdoor products, or have the desire to sell both indoor and outdoor fire features. We want dealers who will ask customers, ‘What are your plans for your outdoor space?’” he says.
To assist and grow its dealers, OGC offers “constant education” on the company’s many new products, its Crystal Fire and Crystal Fire Plus Burners, and its new commercial products.
“We travel with our sales reps to our dealers to make sure both are educated on our products,” he says. “We look for better ways to communicate with them, whether it’s face-to-face or through training webinars. We want to make sure our dealers are experts when it comes to outdoor fires.
“And we listen to our customers. When Dan Shimek founded this company, his vision was to provide the whole Outdoor Room. Many of our new products are the result of direct feedback from our dealers and our customers. We really try to put that feedback into each product we make,” he says.
Cortlin Linear Gas Fire Pit Table with linear glass wind guard.