Business puts a lid on it

Phil Castle, The Business Times:

Tattler lids
Brad Stieg, president of S&S Innovations, shows off an injection mold machine that soon will help increase production of the company’s Tattler brand of plastic reusable canning lids. (Business Times photos by Phil Castle)

Brad Stieg keeps an old photograph of his grandmother standing next to long shelves stocked with food she’d canned in glass jars.

Stieg said his grandmother was a stickler for correctly processing foods and wouldn’t use inferior canning lids — even if her son had invented them. It’s a testament, then, to the quality of the lids that every jar in the photo is topped with a white plastic lid, he added.

As it turns out, Stieg’s grandmother wasn’t alone in her assessment. Growing demand for the reusable plastic lids first developed in the 1970s has encouraged Stieg to not only resurrect his family’s business, but also substantially expand the operation. “I knew the product is good, but did consumers want it? Consumers want the product,” he said.

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

In addition to Internet and mail-order sales, Stieg said several nationwide retailers have contacted him about selling Tattler lids in their stores.

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

Stieg serves as president of S&S Innovations, a company he operates out of the Business Incubator Center in Grand Junction. He launched the venture to bring 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.

The plastic 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, although no customer has yet to request a replacement, Stieg said.

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.

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

While the Tattler lids initially cost more than metal lids, customers soon recoup their investment in using the Tattler lids over and over each canning season, 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. Moreover, reviews, blogs and testimonials posted online have helped promote those sales, he said.

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

Demand could increase even more if a nationwide retailer begins selling the lids.

To meet growing demand, Stieg moved the operation of his company from his home to the Business Incubator Center and then more than doubled the space he leases at the center.

He also purchased an injection mold machine 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.

Stieg brings to the venture his experiences in working in the energy industry, including materials management and logistics. He also brings his enthusiasm for building on the business his father started nearly 40 years ago — and selling the lids his grandmother used to can food.

“I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit. I’ve always wanted to work for myself.”