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Update: Weber-Stephens Products balances Weber, Ducane brands

It has been two years since Weber-Stephens Products acquired Ducane Gas Grills, following Ducane's bankruptcy filing in the winter of 2003 (the company was purchased by Weber for $13.6 million). Since its purchase, Weber-Stephens has found a successful formula to balance the two brands as well as regain confidence with the trade and consumers.

Casual Living sat down with Michael Kempster Sr. during the recent HPBExpo in Salt Lake City. The executive vice president of Weber-Stephens Products shared his thoughts on the last two years, trends in the industry and the importance of staying ahead to remain successful.

"We have increased the value of Ducane dramatically," Kempster said.

Immediately following the acquisition, a plan went into effect to lower Ducane's prices, reorganize grill lines between the two brands that would prove redundant (Ducane's stainless steel Meridian line was eliminated as it was priced slightly higher than the Weber Vieluxe line, for example), make warranty changes and improve customer service.

Today, it seems all goals have been met, and with great enthusiasm from people on both sides. Ernie Boys was promoted from regional sales manager for Weber to brand manager for Ducane last year. A 24-hour/seven day customer service line was implemented for Ducane products. Ducane's price points were significantly lowered. The list goes on.

According to Kempster, Ducane's prices have dropped 50%, while sales for both the Ducane cast aluminum series and Ducane stainless steel series have significantly increased. The stainless steel line was introduced about one year ago, and is available exclusively at Home Depot, while the cast aluminum line is sold at hardware and specialty stores.

An accessory line also has been added for Ducane. Including a three-piece stainless steel tool set, the company is offering a stainless steel basket, grill pan, rib rack, roast holder, barbecue mitt and apron plus mesquite and hickory wood chips. The accessories have a suggested retail range between $1.50 and $25.

"Accessories provide a great opportunity for retailers," Kempster said.

Dealer and customer service also has been upgraded. The company's national team of manufacturer representatives now assist Ducane dealers with product training, customer service, advertising and promotions.

"We wanted to regain the confidence of the trade and consumer," Kempster said.

Weber-Stephens keeps its focus on the future, conducting its own trend and industry studies, such as the Weber Tailgating Study and a yet-to-be released Outdoor Living survey.

One trend Kempster noted was the resurgence of the charcoal grill. He cited two main reasons for the growth: the rising popularity of cooking and healthy eating from media outlets such as The Food Network, with eccentric celebrity chefs like Rachael Ray, Emeril Lagasse and Takeshi Kage (Iron Chef), and the staggering growth of the Hispanic population. Due to larger families and meals, Hispanic families tend to use more affordable, portable grills, Kempster said.

In addition, the Weber Q series of gas grills has been named the best-selling table top/portable gas grill in the United States. Due to its success, three new models debuted this spring, all touting the Q's sleek, futuristic design, combined with its portability.

Weber-Stephen has introduced several products to its line, including the Weber Q 300, top left, the Weber Flame, above, and a line of accessories for the Ducane brand.

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