A ManCave state of mind
As a bank of angry clouds loomed overhead, a feast for men was taking place inside the protective shelter of the ManCave.
Inside this male sanctuary, a.k.a. the garage of Michael Lesmeister's southwest Rochester home, men were enjoying uniquely male activities: drinking beer, grilling meat, and enjoying the companionship of their fellow man. That is to say, there were no women allowed.
As the man in charge of the grill, Lesmeister directed guests to a cooler filled with beer and pop with a simple admonition: If you open a bottle, don't forget to use the ManCave bottle opener.
"This is what ManCave is all about, gentlemen. Welcome to ManCave," said Lesmeister, as he laid a plate of freshly cooked meat on a table to murmurs and growls of appreciation.
Lesmeister, however, wasn't welcoming his guests to a place so much as a brand. Started two years ago, the Minneapolis-based ManCave is to men what Mary Kay is to women and Tupperware was to your mother. Instead of skin care and beauty tips, the products being sold are grilling foods and accessories.
'Meating' of the minds
Lesmeister, a Rochester businessman, began hosting "meatings" several months ago as a way to earn some extra bucks while indulging his passion for grilling and socializing.
"I like to work at things that I enjoy," Lesmeister said while grilling brats. "I'm always one to grill. Kill it and grill it. If it's dead, throw it on the grill."
Gross sales haven't been too bad for ManCave, either. Through the first six months of 2010, ManCave generated about $600,000 in sales and is on track to gross between $1.5 million and $2 million for the full year, according to a special entrepreneur's report in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal. That's up from only $100,000 in revenue in 2009.
The number of "advisers" who have signed on to sell ManCave products has swelled as well. What started as "three or four guys in the Midwest" in spring 2009, said ManCave spokesman Brandon Miller, now numbers more than 900 advisers in 47 states.
"Like most direct sales companies, we have high turnovers," Miller said. "We are coming up on our second year. Sales are in the six figures at the moment, but they are growing quite rapidly."
Miller estimated that 80 percent of advisers do it as a "side gig" to supplement their income. It used to be 85 percent to 90 percent, but "gradually guys are figuring out that they can actually make a living off this."
Reaching into the cave
ManCave is the brainchild of Nick Beste, a 23-year-old entrepreneur with a wide range of business credits to his name, including companies that distribute salsa, publish college-campus information guides and print T-shirts for college groups.
Lesmeister said he paid $99 to become an adviser and receive a ManCave "starter kit" that included a mug, poster and T-shirt. The fee is waived if the person sells $1,000 worth of product in his first 30 days.
ManCave advisers earn a 25 percent commission on gross sales, Leismeister said. If they recruit other advisers, they get a piece of their action, too. An adviser who sells, for instance, $1,000 worth of ManCave product during a meating earns $250.
The product line includes 35 varieties of brats, steaks, chicken and ribs, clothing and hats, and an assortment of grilling instruments, including a giant spatula, wing rack and brat roller.
"Look at this spatula," said Lee Polakoff, a Pine Island salesman as he wielded an oversized spatula that Lesmeister had displayed on a table with other accessories. "You can beat somebody down. You can carry that in your truck."
Polakoff said he was considering becoming an adviser. He said men have always had their man caves, but until recently, no one had thought to market the concept.
"Guys need something like this," he said. "ManCaves have always existed, but nobody's done anything to express that part of our lifestyle."
Lesmeister described the money he's earned from being an adviser as modest. On this particular evening, he sold about $400 of ManCave products, a level of sales that he termed a "little bit light," but was still waiting to hear from other potential customers who attended. Lesmeister also paid $50 for the beer and meats to cook, so his total take from the night was about $50.
"I like to call it my fun money," he said. "It's not a primary income, by any means. It's just something I like to do and really have fun with. If you make a little money on the side, it would be an addition."