During one of All-Clad Metalcrafters' most recent semi-annual factory sales at the Washington County Fairgrounds, Vice President of Product Development Bill Groll approached a group of people waiting to enter the sales floor to find out how far they had traveled.
Many fell into the 100-mile category, while others made a 200- to 300-mile trek, even 500 miles, to buy the company's “seconds” of the upscale cookware it makes for professional chefs and discerning home cooks.
The distances people travel to the factory sales to buy discounted wares with slight imperfections usually don't faze Groll.
'We always have some West Coasters who are buying for friends and relatives,” he said.
But as he kept upping mileage parameters for the informal survey, a man finally told him he had traveled from South Korea.
“When someone tells you they're from 12 time zones away, that's as good as it gets,” Groll said.
But he quickly added that All-Clad, whose first-quality cookware has been almost exclusively sold to a U.S. market – and appears in the studio kitchens of nearly every celebrity chef with a show on cable television's Food Network –has more recently discovered its footprint is growing international roots.
“All-Clad is primarily domestic, but it's starting to have a presence in Canada, Japan, Australia, Europe and even China,” Groll said.
In a world where information travels at warp speed, it's not surprising to Groll that word of All-Clad's top brand reputation is now global in scope.
“There is universal recognition of quality and performance, and when people learn about All-Clad, they want All-Clad,” he said. “Most brands would do anything to have the degree of loyalty we have among All-Clad users.”
While acknowledging that it may take time to reach those destinations with product, Groll noted that All-Clad's owner, France-based cookware and domestic small applicance conglomerate Groupe SEB, has been giving it the financial and technical support it needs to expand into overseas markets.
“SEB has been very supportive with investment in manufacturing in Canonsburg,” he said, adding that the parent company has purchased modern forming equipment and robotics to enhance the work of about 200 employees, represented by the United Steelworkers union, who produce the coveted pots and pans.
“They're bringing in people who engineer the robotics and continue with manufacturing updates to make it a more modern, efficient and environmentally sound manufacturing plant.”
According to Groll, All-Clad is working to boost its customer loyalty even higher with some new products and a new program designed to let new professional chefs acquire its wares without breaking the bank.
While Groll said he couldn't disclose the new entries, he said the company is in the prototype phase of several new products that will pique consumers' interest.
As for ensuring its reputation for high-quality cookware products that endure the daily rigors of professional kitchens, Groll said the company is embarking on a program that will enable young chefs in cooking schools to be able to afford to purchase refurbished All-Clad pieces.
“We're making an effort to expand into the commercial realm,” he said. “A lot of young chefs in cooking school learn on All-Clad equipment,” but most probably couldn't afford to purchase new sets for themselves, he said.
It's also a nod to the manufacturing industry's migration to more “green” practices along with making products that – while they might cost a little more – are being made to last longer, he added.
Under the company's nascent “Encore” program, restaurants that use All-Clad products will be able to send their old wares back to the company for credit toward new purchases. All-Clad will refurbish the returned wares and sell them to the young chefs at a discounted price.
Groll said All-Clad's refurbishing program is similar to those of other American manufacturers of high-end consumer goods, such as Allen Edmonds shoes and Red Wing shoes and boots, that offer their customers complete reconditioning of their footwear for a fee that makes them like new again as opposed to the customer discarding them.
At the same time, Groll said, All-Clad wants to further align its products with chefs with national recognition to become “chef ambassadors” for the All-Clad brand.
Groll believes that initiative shouldn't be that big of a challenge, because most cities of any size now have scores of restaurants offering an array of cuisines being prepared by talented chefs.
As for those home cooks who prefer All-Clad – he noted that upscale kitchen retailer Williams-Sonoma remains one of the company's biggest commercial customers – Groll doesn't see the trend diminishing.
“A lot of people want to invest in good cooking equipment and that's helped us in our brand,” he said.
It also doesn't hurt that All-Clad is a quintessential “Made in the U.S.A.” product.
The company sources all of the stainless steel that goes into the pots and pans from domestic producers within a 500-mile radius of the Canonsburg plant.
Groll noted that for a long time, All-Clad had outsourced its pot lids to an overseas producer, but more recently found a domestic source for them.
The manufacture of a product begins in one building where the metals are fused, formed and trimmed and receive an initial polishing and inspection before being moved to a second building across the parking lot, where they enter a finishing process where large rotary buffers shine them to a high luster. Handles are attached and each piece is laser-engraved with the All-Clad logo, before a final inspection and packing. The product is then shipped to All-Clad's central warehouse in New Jersey.
Groll emphasized that the attention to quality is present at each step of the production process.
“Any typical piece will be touched by 40 to 50 different people,” he said. “Everyone's job is to be an inspector and that's why we have such a high rate of quality.”
It's a standard that will serve All-Clad well as it moves into new markets and initiatives.
“We're not just sitting on what we did yesterday,” Groll said.