8300 Good Hope Road, Milwaukee
INDUSTRY: Bar and beverage, kitchen appliance
EMPLOYEES: 370 (250 in Milwaukee)
For years, Milwaukee-based Perlick Corp. has been focused on the business of keeping things cold, but this year the company is launching its own line of ovens and ranges as part of an expansion of its residential offerings.
The addition of a range with every burner capable of holding melted chocolate at temperature for hours or boiling a gallon of water in eight minutes is an extension of Perlick’s focus on innovation. It’s also required the company to expand beyond its Milwaukee roots, opening a factory in Monterrey, Mexico in 2016 and an engineering and design office in southern California last year.
“The last four years, we’ve basically doubled the size of the business,” said Tim Ebner, Perlick vice president of marketing and business development. “We basically ran out of space here in Milwaukee.”
The 300,000-square-foot facility on Good Hope Road remains home to Perlick’s brewery fittings and bar and beverage businesses. Ebner isn’t exaggerating by saying the Milwaukee facility is out of room. Around almost every corner there’s work in progress, everything from cocktail stations to coolers, ice chests to beer lines.
The commercially-focused bar and beverage business is the family-owned company’s largest segment, with products installed in sports venues like the new Milwaukee Bucks arena, Miller Park and Wrigley Field, along with large national chains like Buffalo Wild Wings, Olive Garden and Red Lobster.
With 1.6 million different possible versions of a back bar cooler alone, Perlick doesn’t carry any inventory, but the company also has a 10-day lead time for customers to expect products to be delivered.
Each beer system is engineered to the specific situation. If the beer lines cover a short distance, using only carbon dioxide will work. For longer distances – Perlick can do up to 800-foot beer lines – using only carbon dioxide will over-carbonate the beer and send foam out of the tap.
“In the bar business, pouring foam is pouring money away,” Ebner said.
Ebner said growth in the commercial portion of the business has been driven by understanding customer needs and continuing to develop innovative products. He pointed to the company’s Tobin Ellis cocktail stations, designed to have everything a bartender needs within reach, as an example.
“We don’t go out trying to be the least expensive, but we try to make it the most profitable for operators,” Ebner said.
Perlick has redesigned all of its refrigeration equipment within the past five years and continues to search for more environmentally-friendly refrigerants. The company’s engineering staff members all have substantial industry experience and while finding new talent can be difficult, Perlick benefits from a number of other refrigeration companies located in the state.
“Fortunately for us, Wisconsin is a hotbed for refrigeration companies, as odd as that may seem,” Ebner said.
A similar depth of talent in southern California for ranges and ovens prompted Perlick to open an engineering center there in January 2017 and a year later, the company launched its ranges at the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show.
Perlick didn’t set out to push into a new category. The company only entered the residential market 15 years ago and primarily made high-end under-counter refrigeration units.
“In a very short period of time, we’ve gotten a reputation for having the best product out there,” Ebner said, adding that customers began to also request full-size, upright refrigerators.
The only problem was consumers often want their refrigerator and range to be the same brand and launching one without the other would put Perlick at a disadvantage, Ebner said.
“I think where we surprised ourselves was the level of innovation that we built into the cooking products,” he said. “The initial thoughts were we were just going to have a high-end cooking appliance, probably buy it from whomever.”
But as the company designed the upright refrigerator – which has plenty of innovation of its own – Perlick realized the range needed to be at the same level.
Perlick’s residential products don’t face the same pressure for short lead times or level variation as the commercial lines, which made residential a better fit for the company’s Mexico plant.
“We need to be able to get the complex stuff out quick and we felt that (Milwaukee is) a better facility and a better workforce to make that happen,” Ebner said.