No one could accuse the Steere family of playing it safe.
The family business got its start in a basement before its first big success: a small change purse. That product was parlayed into others, like bicycle grips and seatbelt sleeves. And just when the company had settled into a niche making automotive air ducts, the next generation decided it was time to change again.
And so, in 2020, the Steeres began marketing a new product: the Meltdown ice ball press.
Meltdown comes in three varieties, with the least expensive option starting at $895 and the most expensive starting at $1,495. The most expensive product — the Meltdown Mogul — is made of almost 99 percent solid copper; the least expensive option uses aluminum, and the option in the middle uses both.
The price tag on the Meltdown may be high, but the company sees the main customer as a "high net-worth individual" who's a fan of scotch or bourbon, said co-president Brock Steere. It's aimed at people who want to create an experience for their guests at home.
As the Steeres were looking to expand, the idea of an ice ball maker caught their attention. The competition in the market wasn't too strong, especially for a branded product. The Steeres saw an opportunity.
Marketing for Meltdown got underway last year. The company served as a sponsor for the Bourbon Pursuit podcast and got active on social media, most notably catching the attention of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson, who shared one of Meltdown's videos on Instagram.
That particular post took down Meltdown's website. Brock Steere happened to catch the crash early in the morning, and got the IT team on it. Half an hour later, the site was restored, and 185,000 people were accessing it, he said.
"It was just an incredible day that we'll never forget," he said.
And the company has grown from there. In the last nine months, Meltdown has sold almost half a million dollars' worth of product, Brock Steere said. And he thinks that will only improve as the pandemic wanes and people get back to socializing.
Meltdown is just part of the Steeres' portfolio. Today, the Steeres' main business is Steere Enterprises Inc. That has a subsidiary, Square One Engineering, which makes automotive tooling for Steere. And the Meltdown products are made by the Courtright Engineering Co., a standalone company also owned by the Steere family. Courtright is also home to the PULVR, a grinding product sold by the Steeres.
All of the companies, which employ about 250 in total, are based in Tallmadge, Ohio, and owned by co-presidents Brock and Brian Steere, along with their father, Bill Steere. Brian Steere has the additional role of CFO. They declined to share annual revenue.
Steere Enterprises got its start in 1949. Brock Steere said his grandfather, a chemical engineer, had moved to Northeast Ohio to work for BFGoodrich. He came across the material vinyl plastisol and was inspired to start a company. He had no business plan and no customers, Brock Steere said. He just saw the possibilities in the product and "took a leap of faith," Brock Steere said.
The company's first early success was the oval coin purse it made for Quikey Manufacturing Co. Brock Steere said more than 50 million of the purses were sold. From there, the company went on to make everything from toys to bicycle parts to hitch trailers. Seatbelt sleeves gave Steere its foothold in the automotive industry. In the 1970s, the company began making those sleeves out of polyethylene. That shift opened up other opportunities in automotive, particularly in air ducts, where the company began to focus its resources. It exited the vinyl plastisol business entirely in the mid-2000s.
Brock Steere returned to the family business in 2011, with Brian Steere coming back the following year.
They thought it was time to diversify the business again.
"We were very good at what we did, but we were very focused on just one niche market in air induction," Brock Steere said.
The company started Square One Engineering. Prior to that, Steere Enterprises was outsourcing about 95 percent of its tooling, Brock Steere said. Now, Square One makes all the automotive tooling for Steere.
But, tooling as a business is "feast or famine," Brock Steere said. The company wanted a proprietary product that it could make during the slower times, which led to Meltdown.
Companies with a "long-term mindset" always need to think about creating new products and services, said Brandon Cornuke, vice president of strategy and startup services at MAGNET in Cleveland and an adjunct professor of design and innovation at Case Western Reserve University.
"Because ultimately, any product over time becomes eroded by this idea of creative destruction, or some people call it disruption. This notion that, ultimately, you'll be competed out of what you do by technology or time," Cornuke said. "So you absolutely have to keep your eye on the next product, the next service, the next new value you can create for your customers."
Ultimately, Brock Steere said he views the family's businesses as an "engineering company." The companies aren't just focused on plastics or machining, and as the Steeres look to grow, they'll keep searching for new niches, he said. Brian Steere said having that engineering expertise and creativity helps the companies create full end products.
Throughout its history, the family business has continued to reinvent itself, said Brian Steere. And he expects that to continue.
"I think that's the only certainty," he said.