Smoke ’n’ Fire keeps family close in growing business

BY RUTH BAUM BIGUS

Special to The Star

Jim Cattey is a barbecue aficionado who gets to spend every day promoting the elements — smoke and fire.

Cattey spent his youth working in the family’s farm and feed business in northern Missouri and learning some lessons that later transferred to his business, Smoke ’n’ Fire, a retail operation in southern Overland Park.

“I grew up grilling but didn’t have much experience smoking,” said Cattey, who owns the store with his wife, Joan. “It was more of a hobby in the beginning.”

The store is an A to Z outlet for all things barbecuing, grilling and alternative heating. It has everything from cookbooks and condiments to grills and fireplaces.

Q: How did you start the business?

Cattey earned a degree in animal science from the University of Missouri and opened his own feed and farm business.

“We got into alternative heating,” Cattey said. “It allows you to lower your heating bill and out of pocket costs.”

Cattey said with three “hungry” male children, he decided to sell the business and go to work for another company in the Kansas City area that focused on the barbecuing and smoking business.

“That’s when we married the idea of bringing smoke and fire together,” he said. In 1999, the Catteys opened Smoke ’n’ Fire in the Stanley area; the store has been in its current location on West 151st Street for about eight years

“We found Stanley to be a good place,’ he said. “It was something that was not covered by anyone else.”

Originally, the Catteys went to the Small Business Administration in search of financing but decided against it. “So we took a very small amount of our own money to start the business,” Cattey said. “We’ve grown the business one step at a time. We’ve never borrowed money.”

Q: What’s different about your approach to this business?

“Our retail store is all things about family,” Cattey said. “Our mission is keeping the family warm and well fed.”

Cattey and his team focus on service, listening to customers to learn their needs.

“Our mission is not to just sell you something but to sell you something for the right reason,” he said.

In the beginning, it was just the Catteys and their sons running Smoke ’n’ Fire; today the store employs up to 12 people during its busiest times of the year.

“The barbecue season doesn’t ever die, but it does slow down,” he said. “Alternative heating really picks up in the fall.”

While Cattey is in charge of the business, he does the dirty work as well as including installations of fireplaces, grills and wood stoves. The Catteys’ son Arthur is currently store manager.

Q: What is your marketing strategy?

Cattey uses various media to market Smoke ’n’ Fire including print, radio, television and social media including blog posts. From April to August, Cattey has a radio show once a week on radio station 810 WHB with sportscaster Kevin Kietzman.

“We cook product live at the station and take calls,” Cattey said.

Smoke ’n’ Fire has an extensive website where customers can order a wide variety of merchandise. Cattey said a significant amount of sales comes through the website.

The store has also offered cooking classes since it opened, which have become popular.

Smoke ’n’ Fire also has had success selling alternative heating options “fueled by wood, gas, electric or pellet biomass materials,” Cattey said.

Q: What’s next for Smoke ’n’ Fire?

Cattey said he has created a plan to franchise Smoke ’n’ Fire. “We just haven’t decided to execute on it,” he said.

“Barbecuing and grilling is all I’ve ever known,” said Cattey. “It’s what we know and do well.”

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