The weber way
Jesse Burkhart -- Casual Living, 3/1/2012 2:00:00 AM
Every company has its own way of doing things. Every company has its own set of beliefs about how to do business from which it develops a strategy it believes will lead to success.
Whether it's developing a reputation as an innovator, offering superior service, emphasizing quality in its product offering, or simply competing on price point, every manufacturer employs a certain business strategy from which it gains an identity. And if the manufacturer stays in business long enough, it impresses that identity upon all those who do business with it, as well as upon those who try to do business against it.
For the past 60 years, Weber- Stephen Products has been relentless in its demonstration of one business strategy in particular, impressing an unmistakable identity upon the barbecue industry. Retailers and competitors know the supplier of gas, charcoal and electric grills and barbecue accessories very well, if not for its longevity, then for its success. But among all those who have ever crossed paths with Weber, the consumer demographic knows the company a little better than the rest, because if there is one thing Weber has made clear over the last six decades, it's this: Consumer is king.
"We've been in this business since 1952, focusing all of our attention and energy on the consumer barbecue business, starting with the charcoal barbecues my dad invented back then," said Jim Stephen, president and CEO, Weber- Stephen Products. "Our focus is squarely on the consumer and providing the best possible product, support, service and attention to the consumer that we can. We're passionate about barbecue - it's all we really do - and we put an inordinate amount of detail into the products we manufacture and supply."
"As a grill manufacturer, we've always taken a viewpoint that we should design our products and services based on what Mr. and Mrs. Consumer really expect and desire from us in terms of excellent products and services," said Mike Kempster, EVP and CMO. "Our retail partners are very important to us and look to us for advice, but our strategy has always been a consumer-focused brand strategy, at least for the four decades I've been here."
As part of that consumer-focused brand strategy, Weber is downright scholarly when determining what its customers want. The company conducts regular ethnography studies as well as its annual Weber Grill- Watch Survey - now in its 23rd year - to identify current grilling trends and gauge consumer demand. In the end, the research efforts yield a baseline of brand attributes that consumers expect from Weber, and those expectations guide the product-development process, according to Kempster.
"Our core brand attributes that consumers tell us they expect when they select the Weber brand are quality, durability, a warranty that is honored, services during the life of the product, being able to buy replacement parts, and being able to talk to experts on the phone in terms of using the products," Kempster said. "In many cases, the industry tends to revolve around trying to hit key price points - and we have to be mindful of retail pricing - but that's never really driven us as much as making products and surrounding them with services that make [consumers] happy."
Supporting the seller
Although Weber's senior management is unified in their consumer-centric mentality, they are also mindful of the critical role its dealer base plays in its success. T o establish partnerships with retailers that are both convenient and profitable, Weber prioritizes service - before, during and after the purchase. And that service begins with an experienced sales organization that combines in-house staff with a network of independent sales reps.
"Many of [the sales reps] have been with us for two generations, so there's a lot of continuity and alignment to what our goals are in supporting our retail partners and what we have to do to make their experience with Weber as a partner and a vendor seamless and profitable for them," Stephen said. "I think we have a good history of that and a good framework to deliver on that."
"From a retailer's perspective, we have unparalleled service," said Dale Wytiaz, EVP of sales. "When we talk [with retailers] about product assortment for the following year, we take very good care of what we recommend based on what we know will sell well in their environment. And that definitely puts the retailer in a good light in terms of being a destination in the category if they have a strong portfolio of Weber products. We're there to provide support in the retail store with in-store service, category expertise and consumer insight. That really builds trust and reliability from the retailers out there both large and small."
Weber also offers the convenience of allowing consumers to deal with the manufacturer directly for product repairs.
"We want our retailers to realize that once they sell one of our complex gas grills, the product is sold," Kempster said. "We pride ourselves on making products that have a very infinitesimal defective rate that gets delivered on time and that the service after the purchase takes a lot of work off from the retailer."
Additionally, Weber provides retailers with something Wytiaz calls "backend support." Because the company has established a direct connection with the consumer through its website, Recipe of the Week emails and grilling cookbooks, Wytiaz said retailers tell him that Weber consumers often know what they want before they walk in the store, simplifying the selling process for retailers.
In December 2010, private equity firm BDT Capital Partners acquired a majority stake in Weber-Stephen Products, giving Weber access to greater financial resources that could be reinvested in its product development. The acquisition also instituted a Board of Directors, providing the experience and knowledge needed to help Weber evolve as a global brand.
Beyond that, however, the very fundamentals of what makes Weber the company it is remain unchanged.
"The way we operate day to- day, we haven't changed a darn thing," Wytiaz said. "Our priorities are exactly the same as they were. I think there's this natural belief when you read about a company being acquired that - ‘boom' - it's going to change dramatically. We were acquired for what it is we do and do well, and the folks at BDT have been very happy with what they've seen from us."
|Weber, in conjunction with Better Homes & Gardens magazine, hosted the inaugural Chill and Grill Festival in Chicago’s Lincoln Park last May. At a hands-on demonstration class with Kevin Kolman, Weber’s training manager, consumers learn how to make the perfect burger or pizza using Weber Q grills.
|With more than 12,500 attendees, the Chill and Grill Festival featured local restaurant tastings, grilling demonstrations, hands-on grilling classes, a live Grilling Showdown, a “Chill Zone” lounge area, live music, cookbook signings and kids activities.
|A giant red kettle served as the centerpiece for Weber’s inaugural Chill and Grill Festival.
"At the end of the day, there has been very little change to Weber because of the BDT partnership," Stephen said. "Where there are changes is we are probably putting more focus on growth than what we did in the past, and we now have the resources available to us that can help us achieve that growth on a worldwide basis because our growth initiative is not just confined to North America. We are growing our business in a very deliberate way."
Although Weber now has the financial resources to explore new growth avenues in the way of product development and marketing, its commitment to the consumer will continue to define the company, regardless of who owns it.
"I think there is a pervasive culture within the company where we want to make our brand very accessible to the consumers," Kempster said. "Everything we do - whether it's picking up the phone or it's seeing that a product is delivered on time or getting a spare part to someone that has a barbecue party coming up next weekend - is done to exceed the expectations of the consumers we sell to."
After 60 years, doing anything else wouldn't be the Weber way.
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