A company to watch? Grand Junction firm finalist in awards program

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Brad Stieg

A Grand Junction business that manufactures reusable plastic canning lids is among the latest finalists in an annual awards program showcasing fast-growing Colorado companies.

S&S Innovations is among the nearly 100 finalists in the Colorado Companies to Watch program.

Brad Stieg, president of S&S Innovations, said he hasn’t yet learned whether or not his company will be among the 50 winners honored at an awards gala scheduled for June 22 in Denver. He said he’s pleased nonetheless with the nomination. “That’s pretty cool.”

Colorado Companies to Watch was developed by the Edward Lowe Foundation and supported by the Colorado Office of Economic Development and International Trade and corporate sponsors.

The program showcases firms that provide quality products and services while creating good jobs and enriching the communities in which they operate.

The program focuses on second-stage companies the account for much of the economic growth in the state. The 50 companies honored in 2011 accounted in 2010 for a total of $338 million in annual revenues and the equivalent of more than 1,500 full-time jobs.

To participate in the program, companies must be privately held, headquartered in Colorado, employ the equivalent of six to 99 full-time employees and generate $750,000 to $50 million in annual sales or working capital.

Operating at the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction, S&S Innovations manufactures and distributes the Tattler brand of reusable plastic canning lids.

Jon Marachin, executive director of the center, nominated S&S Innovations for the Colorado Companies to Watch program.  Marachin said the company constitutes a good match for the award criteria in that it manufacturers a quality product, has experienced rapid growth and gives back to the community. “All the right things are lining up.”

Stieg launched S&S Innovations to market the reusable plastic canning lids his father, Loren Stieg, invented in the 1970s. A tool and die maker in Michigan, Loren Stieg developed the plastic lids in response to a shortage of metal canning lids at the time. He initially enjoyed some success in distributing the lids, primarily in the Midwest.

Plastic canning lids are different from metal lids in several ways, Brad Stieg said. Most importantly, they can be used over and over. In fact, the company guarantees the lids to last a lifetime.

Manufactured with food grade plastic, the lids won’t corrode, making them especially well suited for canning such acidic foods as pickles, peppers and tomatoes, Stieg said. Moreover, the lids contain no Bisphenol A (BPA), an organic compound used in manufacturing some plastics and food container liners. BPA exerts hormone-like properties that have raised health concerns.

Tattler lids come with rubber ring gaskets that ensure a good seal with canning jars. Although the rings are also reusable, they eventually wear out and require replacement, Stieg said.

Stieg said he’s had an advantage in marketing the lids that his father didn’t enjoy — the Internet and social media. While Stieg advertises through such diverse venues as Mother Earth News and the Glenn Beck radio program, the bulk of orders come over the Internet. Reviews, blogs and testimonials posted online have promoted sales, he said.

One recent sale of what initially was planned as 750 boxes of Tattler lids offered on the Markdown.com Web site was increased to 2,000 boxes and still sold out in less than eight hours, Stieg said.

Distributing lids primarily through Internet and mail-order channels, sales in 2010 exceeded initial estimates 10 times over, Stieg said. Rapid growth followed in 2011. Stieg expects the trend to continue in 2012.

Demand could increase even more if Stieg is successful in negotiations with national retailers to begin selling the lids.

The potential market for canning lids is huge, Stieg said, topping 5 billion annually.

To meet growing demand, Stieg purchased an injection mold machine that has begun to manufacture lids and supplement the production of lids he purchases from another Grand Valley manufacturer.

At the same time, Stieg has hired full- and part-time employees to help with packaging and shipping orders. That’s in addition to contracting for packaging work with Spec-Tra, a division of Mesa Developmental Services.