By Adam Moore

NORTH LIBERTY—The Internet has been good to Scott Ramspott and his online business, Spotix, but his latest endeavor aims to put a more personal face on things.

Selling primarily through the websites spotix.com, firepitsdirect.com, fireplaceremotecontrols.com, kickassgrills.com and skytechremotecontrols.com, Mr. Ramspott and his seven employees are perpetually busy, shipping grills and firepits ranging from $500-$15,000 to customers across the country and around the world, all from the company’s 10,000-square-foot facility in North Liberty.

Mr. Ramspott declined to provide revenue or sales figures, but he noted that Spotix – a play on Mr. Ramspott’s longtime nickname, “Spot” – grew 120 percent from 2012 to 2013, and currently has year-to-date growth of 165 percent. And despite doing some high-profile work for Corridor customers such as Vesta and Backpocket Brewery, 98 percent of the company’s business continues to be done online, according to General Manager Aaron Verhorevoort.

The company’s digital success is partly what makes Spotix’s latest initiative so counterintuitive. Beginning in June, Spotix launched a new series of in-house cooking demonstrations, inviting members of the local community into the company’s small-but-shiny showroom at 570 Penn Court to learn how to prepare the perfect meal while enjoying craft beers and wine.

The first session was held on June 4 and taught by Kansas City-based grillmaster Chris Marks, an eight-time winner of the American Royal Championship (“the Super Bowl or World Series of barbeque,” Mr. Marks said). Over the course of three hours, two dozen attendees feasted on ribs, pork, sausage and lamb while listening to Mr. Marks opine about optimal cooking temperatures and the proper equipment for smoking meats. (“The biggest mistake people make (when smoking meat) is what they put into the back of the fire box,” Mr. Marks said before a plug for his own brand of lump charcoal.)

According to Mr. Ramspott, the idea to do local outreach came from a trip to the 2013 edition of the Iowa City Homes Show. Mr. Ramspott and his team made some connections with landscaping companies like Culver’s Lawn and Landscape in Marion and Country Landscapes in North Liberty.

“They started calling and we started doing some business with them,” Mr. Ramspott recalled. “And we though, maybe there is some local business to be had. But we were so busy. We thought, ‘if somebody finds out about us, great, but we’re not going to put a lot of money into advertisement.’”

And while Mr. Ramspott continued to toy with ideas for local events through the following year, it wasn’t until Adam Schelin arrived in March of this year that the cooking demonstration concept took off.

A friend of Mr. Verhorevoort’s younger brother, Mr. Schelin came from a high-end restaurant in the Quad Cities, but was originally hired at Spotix to write descriptions on products for the website. Once Mr. Ramspott began talking to Mr. Schelin about his personal interests and his background in cooking, the realization that the events could serve a dual purpose put things in motion. 

“Adam wanted to do that (a cooking class), and we wanted to film it, edit it, chop it up, and start our own YouTube channel,” Mr. Ramspott recalled. “We thought, ‘if we can get some people in locally, you’ve got an audience, and it makes us more credible.’”

Mr. Ramspott said the investment in the new events has been minimal for Spotix. The company owns all of its own video equipment, and he estimated the cost of the food and to hire Chris Marks came to about $2,000. He added that future classes will be paid affairs and that Mr. Schelin will teach most of the sessions, making them a low-cost yet engaging form of marketing for the company.

“We have limited resources,” Mr. Verhorevoort noted, “so we’ve got to do what we can.”

Spotix plans to begin holding the classes once a month, “if we see traction and get our Facebook following going,” said Mr. Ramspott, with topics ranging from prime rib to sous-vide techniques, which involve cooking food sealed in airtight plastic bags in a water bath.

“That’s how we plan to advertise,” he noted. “We plan on using social media to build this out.”

And although the video content made at the sessions will ultimately end up being used to spur sales and recognition of the Spotix name online, Mr. Ramspott says he has already seen local interest in the company picking up following the inaugural event.

“Nate Kaeding (an event attendee) came back in, buying stuff for his dad; one of the other guys there, he’s borrowing our big smoker right now to do an event for Dan’s Overhead Doors,” Mr. Ramspott said. He noted that this year, local sales may amount to 2 or 3 percent of the company’s bottom line – not much, considering the size of the company’s of online sales, but still an improvement.        

“You might have heard people here saying they haven’t heard of us,” Mr. Verhorevoort said during the night of the class. “We have a lot of prominent people here from the community who can help spread the word.”