Randy Owen: Turning up the heat on a simmering business
“Temperature is an interesting parameter because it affects virtually every aspect of life,” ThermoWorks founder and CEO Randy Owen explains. “My whole career in Utah Valley has been with temperature instrumentation.”
If you’ve never heard of Owen and his American Fork-based ThermoWorks, you probably don’t spend much time in the kitchen but if you’ve ever been a customer of Starbucks, The Olive Garden or Tim Hortons, you’ve nevertheless experienced the food safety benefits his products provide.
Owen launched ThermoWorks in 1997 to provide professional time and temperature tools such as thermometers, sensors, handheld instruments, loggers, controllers and calibration gear to restaurants, commercial chefs, food service professionals, manufacturers and home cooks.
What started in a basement with just two employees has grown to more than 60 employees who work in a recently completed state-of-the-art headquarters building, which boasts a demo kitchen, outdoor grilling and barbecue area, a NIST-traceable calibration lab and quality assurance lab in addition to office space.
The new office was sorely needed due to the company’s average growth rate of 30 percent over the past five years—much of it fueled by rising demand from non-professional home cooks who now buy two-thirds of ThermoWorks’ products—most notably the newest Thermopen Mk4.
“Our market with home cooks was accidental,” Owen says. “As consumers were exposed to our products in the commercial world, they began to search them out.”
With regular features about the Thermopen and other ThermoWorks products in national magazines and appearances on America’s Test Kitchen, Today, Alton Brown’s Good Eats, The Early Show and other food programs over the years, chefs of every caliber began to clamor for the highly accurate and fast professional thermometers. “We are enjoying a lot of growth in the commercial market but the consumer market is our most vital sector,” he says.
Adding to the company’s accolades, ThermoWorks has become the official (and exclusive) house purveyor of time and temperature equipment at the James Beard House in Manhattan along with other test kitchens around the country. “Most of our biggest fans amongst the true food experts have been winners of the James Beard award—Christopher Kimball, Alton Brown, Thomas Keller, Nathan Myhrvold—and the list goes on, so it made sense.”
But even with ThermoWorks’ rapid growth and popularity in both the commercial and consumer markets, Owen is steadfast in his decision to sell the products directly to his customers instead of through third-party retailers. “When we talk with a customer directly, there’s a lot of quick and easy interaction that goes on which really enhances their experience and improves their knowledge and ability to cook with a precision instrument,” Owen explains. “We answer the phone, we answer their emails and we try to be really fast about it.”
It’s a long-term business strategy that comes with personal access to expert instrument consultants and a full technical support team devoted to every individual customer.
Owen, who personally keeps at least three Thermopens around his kitchen when he cooks, is optimistic about ThermoWorks’ continued growth in the coming year. “There will be two or three major product launches, we’ll add quite a few people in 2016 and we’re also getting ready for the future.”
With all his success, Owen certainly knows how to keep his cool.