Tallmadge company pivots to create, market Meltdown ice-ball maker - cleveland.com

2022-05-14 07:48:41 By : Ms. Blanche Zheng

Each Meltdown is made into three precise pieces.

TALLMADGE, Ohio – For most companies, mention ‘meltdown’ and it draws a negative connotation. But for a Tallmadge company, it’s a great thing.

The brothers behind Square One Engineering, Brock and Brian Steere, usually focus on automotive and other industrial manufacturing. The automotive-machinery business centers around air-induction products, which pays the bills.

But over the past several years, their team has been developing a high-end product that melts a square chunk of ice into a perfect sphere for cocktails in less than a minute.

“Meltdown - when you first hear it, you could think of meltdown in a couple of different ways,” said Brock Steere, co-president. “In sports, it’s a negative connotation. But it’s really kind of catchy.”

The first step in the process of creating the Meltdown ice-ball maker involves cutting massive sections of copper.

“As a family, we saw this trend with ice balls,” Brock said. The company’s innovation teams are always developing applications, he said. A little research led to the realization that there were few competitors, so they sought to create and market a high-end ice-ball maker in their shop.

They went through 100-plus iterations. Finally, they honed in on three versions. It went to market in fall 2020, and social media took off.

Early on, Meltdown caught the attention of actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, who founded the Teremana tequila brand. He posted a video of the icemaker on his Instagram account, which has 275 million followers, saying he needed one ASAP for his tequila.

“The big thing, of course, was when The Rock put up he wanted one, and 25 million people saw that post,” Brock Steere said. “That really got our business. Last year with the holiday time, we couldn’t keep up with orders. That’s kind of how we pivoted into this. We wanted to keep our machining business going during the times when our automotive tooling wasn’t as busy.”

A 12-foot copper cylinder like this can weigh close to 500 pounds.

Having a wrestler-turned-action-movie actor mention your product isn’t a bad thing. They have created a niche item that creates an experience for home gatherings. And the Steeres’ company makes all the molds, so it’s an Ohio-made product.

“We’re very proud of that. It’s made in the U.S.A. and … made in Ohio. Ohioans are very loyal consumers, just like how they are with their sports teams,” Brock Steere said.

Here’s how it works:

Freeze water in a silicone cup, whose mold holds a large square ice cube. Drop the frozen cube on the Meltdown’s base. Align the grooves in the top piece with ones on the bottom, and let gravity take its course. The top will slowly drop, shaping the cube into a ball. The process takes less than a minute and results in a sphere that is lighter than a billiard ball but the same size.

The Meltdown product weighs close to 15 pounds.

Here’s the key for those who remember basic chemistry: A sphere holds colder temperatures longer than a square because there is less surface area. The less of an area that is exposed to warm liquid, the slower the melting process.

Want to make another one? Run the item under warm tap water momentarily, and you are set for a second drink. Between the conductive metal and its weight, the magic show is perfect for home-bar theater for those who like cold cocktails, mixed drinks and signature beverages.

“You do it in front of your guests at your house, they see it once, then you can pre-make the ice balls and you don’t have to keep doing it,” Brock said. “That’s kind of the next phase we’re working on - accessories to easily store ice balls in your freezer. There’s always a next phase we’re working on.”

What allowed the company to look ahead was the state of the industry its serves.

Several sizes of Meltdown are marketed.

“While we got involved in the machinery business, we noticed that oftentimes it’s huge orders, then you go a few months without an order,” Brock said. “So it’s kind of feast or famine. We spent about two years to come up with a product we could make ourselves in our machinery division.”

The process begins in the large machine shop. Nine- to 12-foot rolls of copper are sliced into workable pieces for the top, middle and base of what will become the Meltdown. A 12-foot copper cylinder can weigh about 480 pounds. Another worker then will put the smaller piece in a machine that will etch in the notches exactly where they are designed to go. On average, it takes three and a half hours to make each unit.

“We’re really the only one machining on copper,” Brock said. “It’s very expensive material; it’s very expensive to cut through.”

All the cutting and grooving will result in two sizes – mogul and chubby - and three variations of the product: Mogul is the high-end copper version and sells for $1,495. The Copper Topper has an aluminum-colored base and goes for $1,295. And an all-aluminum Chubby version sells for $895. Each product weighs almost 15 pounds, and orders come with three silicone ice-cube cups.

The top fits over a cube of ice and melts it into a sphere in less than a minute.

The company’s website has a section on cleaning. Aluminum does not tarnish but copper does. Some people like the vintage-like tarnish while others want to maintain them to be pristine, the Steeres said.

If they had these back in the 1960s, Don Draper and Roger Sterling surely would have had them in their advertising-agency offices. Companies can customize Meltdowns with engraved logos for anniversaries and occasions. They also have been used for golf-tournament prizes, Brock Steere said.

“We found people really like large ice chunks – squares or balls,” he said.

You’d think the restaurant industry would be the focus, but it’s actually individuals. Half a million dollars’ worth of the product has gone to high-end consumers for home bars. A small percentage of bars and restaurants have bought them, but “it’s not a mass-production item,” Brock said.

Each order comes with three silicone cups to make ice.

“If you’re at your house and you want to create an experience for your guests … you make an ice ball right in front of them and make them a drink,” Brock said. And as individuals get together more with Covid restrictions easing, more people see the item, he said.

Brian Steere said 15 percent of the company’s customers for Meltdown purchases are repeat orders.

“We’ve seen surges around holiday time, Father’s Day,” he said.

The ice-ball maker has been out about a year, but the company’s roots and innovation go back much further.

The result: Ice spheres for your drink or cocktail. They stay colder longer than cubes.

The brothers’ grandfather Frank was an innovator and designer who worked for B.F. Goodrich and was involved with plastics and resins. Frank Steere started Steere Enterprises Inc. in 1949, and his first product was, of all things, a plastic oval-shaped change purse he helped promote. Square One Engineering still uses the item, branded with Meltdown, as a nod to the company’s past and present.

Now, the brothers run the company, which has 250 employees on a five-building campus in the Summit County city. The family business has pivoted “180 degrees” from its industry focus to add a personal consumer item, Brian Steere said.

“When you look at our history through the decades we’ve diversified. And we’re cognizant that if we want to get to 100 years, we have to keep being innovative. Not everything is going to hit, but this is an exciting start.”

I am on cleveland.com’s life and culture team and cover food, beer, wine and sports-related topics. If you want to see my stories, here’s a directory on cleveland.com. Bill Wills of WTAM-1100 and I talk food and drink usually at 8:20 a.m. Thursday morning. And tune in at 7 a.m. Wednesdays for “Beer with Bona and Much, Much More” with Munch Bishop on 1350-AM The Gambler. Twitter: @mbona30.

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