A calculated risk: Trulaske alumni find success with online retail business

Image: Alex McCarty and Mitch Morse

Trulaske alumni Alex McCarty, left, and Mitch Morse teamed up to use their business acumen to launch an online retail business that specializes in barbecue grills, gas and electric heaters, outdoor kitchen storage and cooking accessories.

Their friends and families worried that launching a business nearly straight out of college was too risky. What if it failed?

But Alex McCarty, BS BA ’16, and Mitch Morse, BSAcc, MAcc ’16, viewed their entrepreneurial endeavor as a calculated risk. After all, they’d done their homework – just like they’d been taught to do at the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business – and understood their maximum possible loss. 

For the young entrepreneurs, their decision to launch a business in October 2018 was a leap of faith – with a safety net. 

“We knew if we failed after six months that we could go back and get traditional jobs and be fine,” McCarty said. “The worse-case scenario wasn’t that bad to us, and the best-case scenario would be us making more money than at a traditional job and/or having a far better lifestyle like setting our own hours and being our own bosses.”

Alex McCarty assembles a grill.
McCarty focuses on ways to grow the business and build relationships through contacting potential sellers and attending trade shows. 

Today, their company – Premium Outdoor Grills – is a thriving online marketplace seller with a Kansas City showroom and warehouse that sells barbecue grills, gas and electric heaters, outdoor kitchen storage and cooking accessories. From 2019 to 2022, the company grew 910% and in August 2023, was named one of the fastest growing companies by Inc. Magazine. More recently, McCarty and Morse have expanded their entrepreneurial efforts to include an Ace Pickleball Club franchise. They are currently scouting locations in the Kansas City metro area with an eye towards opening multiple pickleball clubs throughout the Midwest. 

“The key for us was taking a risk that was big enough to get us somewhere but not so big that it would ruin us if it didn’t work out,” Morse said. “We were intentional about how we measured risk versus upside. Much of entrepreneurship is trial and error. We had no idea how to become a successful online retailer at the start, but we tried new things and quickly learned from our failures.”


Shortly after graduating from the Trulaske College of Business, McCarty, who is originally from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, joined the Peace Corps and served a two-year stint as an agribusiness extensionist in Panama. Morse, who grew up in Harrisonville, Missouri, joined KPMG in Kansas City as an accountant.  

Halfway through his assignment in Panama, McCarty returned home for a visit and reached out to Morse, whom he knew from their years at Trulaske. The two met and soon the conversation turned to future business ventures. 

“I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool to own a business together?’” McCarty recalled.  

Morse liked the idea and the two began a long-distance correspondence to lay the groundwork. By the time McCarty returned to the Kansas City area in September 2018, the soon-to-be business partners were ready to hit the ground running. They rented a small office and went to work, hammering out the details. First, they set three criteria for a business: profitability, ability to do it and benefit to the world.

Next, they examined business models and through a rating system, landed on becoming a third-party seller on Amazon. From there, they built a website (in a week) and by October, Morse had quit his job at KPMG and the partners solicitated 300 businesses whom they targeted to develop a wholesale relationship to get discounted pricing to resell on their website. The results: 297 rejections and three yeses – two barbecue grill companies and a company that sells pickleball paddles. 

 “We went with everyone who said yes to us,” Morse said.

On Oct. 30, 2018, McCarty and Morse officially launched an online marketplace reselling business that would eventually become Premium Outdoor Grills by the start of 2020.


With Premium Outdoor Grills up and running, McCarty and Morse eased into their roles – Morse as the behind-the-scenes finance guy who handles the books and day-to-day operations and McCarty as the growth and new relationships guy. 

boxes of yeast
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the partners had to shift their focus and find ways to stay afloat like selling overstock food items, including these boxes of yeast. 

Then, the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and the business buckled as supply chain bottlenecks and a moratorium on shipping non-essential goods made getting anything grill-related nearly impossible. Instead of panicking, the partners looked for opportunities and recognized they could be third-party sellers of overstock food items that closed-down restaurants couldn’t use – flour, yeast, bulk-sized condiments and sauces, to name a few. 

“We actually sold a ridiculous amount of yeast because everyone was at home learning how to bake,” Morse said. 

Eventually, moratoriums were lifted and the business took off, selling outdoor patio heaters to restaurants trying to extend their seasons to serve people outside. From there, the business continued to grow. 

“There was a lot of fortunate timing for us,” Morse said. 

Today, the company has grown to include two full-time warehouse employees and three full-time virtual assistants.  


McCarty and Morse agree that attending a reputable business college has equipped them well to navigate the dynamic landscape of the business world. Many of the experiential learning opportunities they encountered as students allowed them to hone the problem-solving skills and decision-making abilities they use every day at Premium Outdoor Grills. 

Today, the partners have a Kansas City showroom and a warehouse where they store some of their inventory. 

As students, McCarty and Morse were also part of the Cornell Leadership Program (CLP), which they credit with offering them additional opportunities to develop leadership skills and business acumen – all of which has become second nature while growing their business.

“CLP played a big role in getting me out of my comfort zone as an introvert,” Morse said. “Plus, my accounting background allowed me to do the taxes and keep the books in the early years, which really helped us understand the business from the inside out.”

Finally, Trulaske was the serendipitous intersection of two future business partners whose complimentary skills and personalities have paved the way to success.

“Relationships and learning how to work together are so important to success,” McCarty said. “We’ve found much more success by simply taking action and trying something new rather than trying to plan out every tiny detail. The tiny details will inevitably be wrong, so we found it’s better to have an overarching idea and figure out the tiny details along the way.”