Spokane Journal of Business

Britz Designs: Tools for lakeside living

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-—LeAnn Bjerken
Bryan Garrett, left, and Bret Britz display the company’s Weed Ray, which is used to cut underwater weeds surrounding docks.
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-—LeAnn Bjerken
Britz Designs Inc. is currently working a prototype of a portable propane barbecue that could be used during fire bans.
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Liberty Lake-based Britz Designs LLC designs products geared toward making lakeside living easier for homeowners, campers, and outdoor enthusiasts. This season marks the company’s second summer of operations, and its owners say sales are climbing along with outside temperatures. 

Britz Designs started when mechanical engineer Bret Britz was looking for a more effective way to rid his dock at Sacheen Lake of unsightly, prop-tangling weeds. 

“He’d purchased a shed full of weed-removal tools that claimed to be the latest and greatest, but they just didn’t do what they claimed to do. So, he designed and built his own lake weed rake,” says company marketing director and co-owner Bryan Garrett.

Garrett adds, “He’d also designed a product that enhanced what the Traeger Grill could do, so we teamed up and combined our skills, manufacturing all the products by hand in Bret’s shop, and creating our own logos, print ads, and product videos.”

Originally from Yakima, Britz and Garrett are longtime friends, cousins by marriage, and co-owners of the company, which officially launched in January 2017.

Britz holds a bachelor’s degree in physics from Central Washington University, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Gonzaga University, and a master’s in business administration from Eastern Washington University.

When not working on new designs, he works as the senior manager of production in the mechanical engineering department of the Liberty Lake offices of F5 Networks Inc., a Seattle-based maker of computer networking equipment.

Garrett, who holds a bachelor’s degree in communications from Eastern Washington University, is a claims adjuster for Safeco Insurance, as well as marketing director for Britz Designs.

The pair started the company in January 2017, manually manufacturing their products in Britz’s garage.

“Bret had sheet metal and other manufacturing tools available to make the products initially,” says Garrett.

He says the company sold some of its first product at the Spokane Boat Show, an eight-day event held every January at the Spokane County Fair & Expo Center.

“We sold enough there to be able to seek a local manufacturer to make our products, which was great because they’re very labor intensive to create by hand.” 

The company began working with Spokane-based sheet metal contractor Proto Manufacturing to manufacture parts for its products and Eclipse Screen Printing Inc. to create labels and graphics.

Garrett says the business is a part-time venture, operating on a cash basis, and its products primarily are sold online and at local trade shows, as well as through websites like Amazon and eBay.

“Basically, we wanted to have no debt to start the business venture and then determine the demand.  However, we have been qualified for bank financing should we decide to invest for quick growth,” he says. “Most of our growth has been through reinvestment into new product concepts and marketing channels to determine the best use of funds for return on investment.”

Britz Designs’ current products include; the Weed Ray, a lake weed rake and weed removal tool, and the Smok’nFire, a grill accessory for Traeger smokers.

“We sell Weed Rays to customers all over the country,” claims Garrett. “It was even verified as effective and environmentally safe by a biologist at a recent presentation to the Pend Oreille Noxious Weed Board.”

Designed to glide along the top of the water and drop down into the weeds, the Weed Ray catches weeds and drags them to the surface for easy disposal. The Weed Ray is made of corrosive resistant components that are easily replaceable. It’s adjustable for use on all weed types, and collapses after use for easy storage.

“It has flexible blades that bow slightly when it’s gliding, resembling a manta ray,” he says. “Weeds are brought to the surface clinging to the Weed Ray but fall easily to the dock or shoreline when you turn the handle one half turn in either direction.”

The Weed Ray, which retails for $199, comes with one pole, but customers can buy up to three additional poles that easily attach to extend its reach out to 24 feet. Additional poles are 6 feet long and cost $24 each.

The company’s other main product, called the Smok’nFire Grilling Kit, is an accessory for Traeger wood pellet grills. Traeger grills are made by Utah-based Traeger Pellet Grills LLC, which markets cooking grills and accessories.

Garrett says the Britz tool transforms the Traeger from a woodfire oven, into a sear-and-smoke grill, creating a heat enhancing zone for grilling, while still allowing the smoke to flavor foods. 

“It replaces the drip tray and heat baffle, allowing the user to grill and sear in the center of the Traeger then move food to the sides for indirect heat and smoking,” he says. 

Garrett says Traeger is aware of Britz Designs products. “They’re okay with us making and selling the grill inserts, because they know it enhances their oven,” he says.

He says Britz makes two different Smok’nfire kits—one that fits the Trager 34-inch Texas model, and the other fits the 24-inch Lil’ Tex model, with each kit selling for $119.

The company also previously produced and sold a third product called the Muck Blaster, a muck and sediment filter for boat docks.

“The Muck Blaster was a motor mount used to move mud and mulch away from dock and swim areas, leaving just the sandy bottom,” says Britz. “It’s a unique product, and we did see some demand for it, but not enough to offset the high production costs.”

Although they decline to disclose the company’s revenue or sales volume, Brtiz says the company has seen a steady increase in sales this year.

“We’re just starting so there’s not much to compare to yet, but I can say we’ve already almost doubled the amount of product sold last year,” he says. “Our goal this year is to add new products and if possible reduce the cost of our current products.”

Garrett says, “Purchasing tooling, fixtures, and higher volumes of hardware, etc. will allow us to buy materials cheaper and hopefully, in turn enable us to offer discounts especially at trade shows or other seasonal events.”

He adds that the company also hopes to invest more into marketing and creating a social media presence.

The two say their focus this summer is on sales for its most popular product, the WeedRay.

“We hope to attend several area tradeshows this summer, one of the largest being Down River Days, in Ione, Washington,” says Garrett. “Last year, we sold out of the Weed Ray there.”

The company is currently working to launch a portable propane fire pit. Garrett says the fire pits will be licensed by the NCAA and could be customizable for colleges all over the country.

“They’re extremely portable so you can take them tailgating, to the lake, camping, use them in your backyard, and can cook on them,” he says.  “They also don’t apply to the fire bans we so frequently get here in the Northwest.”

Garrett says the company eventually might open a physical location, depending on where its product development leads.

“Currently, we’re purposely keeping our business model lean and hiring resources as necessary,” he says. “We both have home offices and prototype capacity to develop and perform many business-related functions.”

The co-owners say that for now, the business is a fun project that provides them with different responsibilities and opportunities outside of their daily routines.

“It gives us an opportunity to interact with our customers and discuss lake-related problems that homeowners may have, and if possible, we may provide a solution to their problem,” says Garrett. “We design, sell, and personally use everything we make, and there aren’t many that can say that.”

LeAnn Bjerken
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Reporter LeAnn Bjerken covers health care at the Journal of Business. A Minnesota native and cat lover, she enjoys beachside vacations and writing poetry. LeAnn has worked for the Journal since 2015.

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