Barbeque and a Business Degree Are a Smoking Combination for Alumnus Aaron Kirchner
Summertime is the happiest time of year for Aaron Kirchner, ’09 KA, co-founder and co-owner of Grillheads Supply Co. in St. Louis, MO ― and not just because of increased seasonal sales.
Kirchner launched his grilling supply and meat rub business with business partner and friend Josh Anderson, because both would rather be behind a grill or perfecting one of their dry rub recipes than anywhere else.
“It got to the point where I had virtually all of the grilling supplies from Ace Hardware, and my wife, Heather, said, ‘You don’t need more of those!’”
He and Anderson subsequently began toying with the idea of starting their own barbeque business.
At the height of COVID-19, the Kirchners were eating all of their meals at home. Grilling became almost a daily habit for the St. Louis resident who grew up in Russellville, MO. His Russellville childhood pal was back home doing the same.
The two began to conspire, knowing the time was right to launch their dream business: A shift in consumer habits from restaurant consumption to home cooking, coupled with extra time on their hands because of the pandemic, allowed the friends to develop a solid plan.
“We tinkered a bit and then decided to rip the Band-Aid off,” Kirchner jokes, referring to their June 2020 entrepreneurial endeavor as “a lockdown daydream.”
He says his approach was founded in a natural curiosity for success that he attributes to his business degree from Westminster College in Fulton, MO.
Kirchner further emphasizes that he learned much of what he is doing in his Westminster business classes.
“There are so many super successful people and connections I made at Westminster,” he briefly reminisces. “Really, it was a 50/50 mix of Westminster’s education and connections which really drove me to do more and gave me a burning desire to succeed.”
In order for Grillheads Supply Co. to succeed, Kirchner and Anderson funded the startup 100 percent by themselves, first selling products such as heat-resistant gloves, meat claws, and grill brushes on Amazon.com. Eventually the duo perfected their Damn Good Meat Rubs in their own kitchens, contracting with a co-packer in St. Louis to produce and package the rubs in large quantities.
Today rubs with catchy names such as OMG – Oh My Garlic, Queen Bee, and Jack of All Rubs are found in 83 Schnucks grocery stores in Missouri as well as five other small businesses throughout the state.
And while their creations continue to be sold on Amazon and the Grillheads’ website, the two plan to concentrate primarily on growing the business in local stores, with the goal of becoming one of the top grilling supply companies in the Midwest.
Meanwhile, Kirchner remains employed as a medical sales regional director while continuing to place all profits from Grillheads Supply Co. back into the business as he and Anderson look to rapidly scale.
“I mail out every single order from St. Louis while Josh manages the site and marketing back in Russellville, and we still respond personally to each person who reaches out,” he explains, adding, “The business is truly being built shaker by shaker.”
Although a full-time job and new business keep Kirchner on the move, he is a firm believer in downtime and food bringing people together.
Grilling outside with Heather and their 2-year-old son, Logan, is a natural extension of his appreciation of food and fellowship. The same goes for Anderson, who experiments with the grill along with his wife, Hannah, and two children.
Kirchner also enjoys reading and says he recommends Pappyland by Wright Thompson, which chronicles a legacy family in the Kentucky bourbon industry. It is easy to see why he recommends the New York Times bestseller: It concentrates, in part, on the inevitable rough patches business owners face as well as the tenacity required succeed on their own.
Which brings Kirchner to advice he would give to Westminster business majors.
“My advice would be to do the absolute hardest thing, and just start. It sounds like ideas are abundant, but it takes courage to put a plan on paper and then try to execute it,” he says, explaining that Grillheads experienced challenges but grew from one order to many per day, exceeding short-term expectations. “Life is too short not to at least try, which is something Westminster instilled in me many years ago.”