Gina Bourret and her son Jacob launched Tappecue, a smart meat thermometer, in 2013.
The idea for the cloud-connected, WiFi and internet enabled thermometer came from collaborative conversations during Gina’s stint in a UMKC eScholars’ cohort. The business heated up after she launched a quickly cooked Kickstarter campaign and offered Tappecue for pre-sales at the American Royal World Series of Barbecue.
“We started by manufacturing 100 units,” she says. “We sold 200 units that first year, at least based on our manufacturing figures, which is how I count our progress.”
There are two unique elements to the Tappecue smart thermometer: the probe, which gauges the temperature of the meat being cooked or smoked; and the electronic recording device which records and reports in real time the temperature captured by the probe. The units start at $111.
Because the monitor is web-based, a cook can track the heat and cooking progress of the meat without being physically tethered to the grill or smoker. The data Tappecue collects is retained in the cloud for up to a week, unless the chef opts to save the information longer.
The business has burned slow and steady since 2013. Gina produced 400 Tappecue units in its second year, and 800 in its third.
One year, Gina sold 2,000 thermometers. She estimates the company has produced a total of 10,000 units over six years.
Initial growth was dictated by demand, finances and production limitations.
“Early on, I was sealing the probes by hand, hoping to keep the heat and water out,” says Jacob, who is vice president of marketing. “These were Grade A, handcrafted probes.”
The company is committed to local technology development, manufacturing, packaging, plastics and more. It now uses eCircuits, located at 2305 NW Jefferson St. in Blue Springs, for its manufacturing and assembly.
Lonnie Smith, eCircuits’ sales manager, says while his company seeks medium to high-volume runs, it frequently works with startups.
“You never know who’s going to be the next Garmin,” he says. “There’s a lot of value in manufacturing locally. Before you make 100,000 of something you want to make sure the first 1,000 are good.”
“It’s amazing what you can get locally,” says Mark Vogt, president of Cargt, an electronic and mechanical design consultancy at 9753 Widmer Road in Lenexa. “No runs — even 50 units — are too small for many local manufacturers.”
Mark, a software engineer, began collaborating with Gina during their shared time in the UMKC eScholars program. Their early conversations about Tappecue eventually evolved into a client-vendor relationship.
Tappecue’s steady business pace has been by design. Gina says she hasn’t sought any outside investment, although she admits progressive manufacturing needs may require more money. Tappecue is sold only to end users, such as backyard grillers and restaurant chefs. Profits have been reinvested into the development of new units and innovation.
“(Tappecue) enables an amateur to actually cook safe food. It turns you into a professional,” says Richie Bickle, an assistant director at Hope City, 5101 E. 24th St. in Kansas City.
Hope City feeds the souls and hunger of people who live in Kansas City’s urban core. The organization serves 6,000 meals every 90 days.
“Tappecue enables us to broaden our selection of meals,” Richie says. “Volunteers cook the meals and Tappecue makes sure everything is on the up and up.” The smart thermometers Hope City uses were donated by Tappecue.
Tappecue has remained true to its consumer base, selling directly to customers online through its website, tappecue.com, and on Amazon. While other commercial opportunities have arisen, Gina prefers a singular sales and distribution strategy.
A 2017 survey commissioned by the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association reported that seven out of 10 Americans own a grill or smoker. They represent a significant segment of the $3.5 billion global barbecue grill industry.
That’s obviously good news for Tappecue. But it’s the meaningful local connections that fuel this business.
This month, 10 percent of tappecue.com sales benefit Susan G. Komen Kansas and Western Missouri. Additionally, one of only two pink Tappecues will be auctioned on eBay this month to raise even more funds for the breast cancer organization.
Mark Vogt credits Tappecue’s success to Gina’s commitment to her product and the people who use it.
“Gina drives a market need,” he says. “She provides good customer service, and she’s stuck with it. She’s just a good person.”