JACKSONVILLE — Gary West Smoked Meats needs more elbow room and plans to relocate its production to west Medford.
A budding relationship with Bed Bath & Beyond, and its newly acquired Cost Plus unit that operates 259 stores in 30 states, has positioned the 46-year-old company's sales for unparalleled growth in the next year.
"You are always looking for a great partnership that not only lifts you up to the next level but is sustainable," said company President Paul Murdoch, whose father-in-law launched his namesake enterprise long before Jacksonville was a trendy tourist village.
"When most of us think of Bed Bath & Beyond, we are thinking home decor and don't think about food, let alone speciality food. We must be the Beyond in Bed Bath & Beyond. They seem to be expanding their food business, and our product is apparently working for them."
Gary West makes smoked jerky — beef, buffalo and elk — as well as low-salt and low-sugar jerky for dogs.
"If it goes to expectations, we'll see growth of somewhere around 20 to 25 percent of what we've done. It's both great and scary, because you don't want to be too dependent on any one customer."
Bed Bath & Beyond gives store managers the latitude to find and carry local products and Medford store manager Michael McGary approached Murdoch about the jerky line last year.
Even so, local vendors have to be able to meet electronic sales requirements to deal with the retailer, which reported 2011 fiscal year sales of $9.5 billion.
"It can put small, local producers in a difficult position even when you are working with regional stores," Murdoch said. "You still have to jump through all the hoops. We've been putting this together for a year, but we didn't ship our first product until early summer."
Bed Bath & Beyond operates 900 stores along with 300 Cost Plus World Market locations. Between the Northwest region and Canadian markets, Gary West Smoked Meats jerky is now in 150 stores.
"It's definitely given our sales a boost — even from the beginning," he said. "If we continue to grow at this pace, after a year we will double the wholesale side."
Telephone messages left with Bed Bath & Beyond offices in New York were not returned.
Murdoch put the company's Jacksonville storefront and processing building on Fifth Street on the market last month for $750,000.
"The goal is to move as soon as possible," Murdoch said, adding "soon" could mean early next year if the present location doesn't sell quickly.
"If we don't sell by the holidays, we'll go ahead and move."
Murdoch said the company isn't abandoning its roots and most likely will find a retail storefront downtown.
"The good thing is that we had parking here," Murdoch said. "The downside was that we weren't in the downtown area. This is a charming place to operate from and it's a pleasure to come to work here."
Gary West Meats began as a butcher shop on California Street, adjacent to what is now the Bella Union restaurant, in 1966. In 1972, the shop moved to its present location.
"Although we were always making jerky, it didn't become the mainstay right away," Murdoch said. "It wasn't until the 1980s when we shifted to primarily producing smoked beef."
Beyond its own online and storefront operations, Gary West Smoked Meats found its way into homes across the country via Cabela's catalogs and Harry & David stores and catalog sales.
"Harry & David has always been a pretty significant retailer for us," Murdoch said. "But Cabela's has been our mainstay, they are very loyal. We're coming up on 22 years of doing business with them."
During high-production times in the past, Gary West Smoked Meats rented cold storage in Central Point or near the Medford UPS terminal where it ships product.
"We're used to shoehorning it in here," Murdoch said. "We've learned to do more with less the last few years."
The present building, he said, "Doesn't have a good flow and is chopped up. We could do the same thing with 6,000 square feet in an open area as we do with 9,000 square feet here."
The staff has grown to 22 from 15 a year ago, but Murdoch doesn't anticipate great leaps forward in staffing, even in more spacious accommodations.
One updated smoker could handle the work two do now, he said. "Part of the goal with improved smokers and a more linear flow would be that we wouldn't have to grow staff too much. I can see us going to maybe 25."
The Bed Bath & Beyond deal gave the company the push it needed to take a risk and grow.
"It was clear we needed to do this," he said. "We've got to be nimble so when Bed Bath & Beyond wants products we're ready to crank up and get it out to them."
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.