The Social Kitchen
By Lisa Readie Mayer
In the late 1980s, California-based DCS (Dynamic Cooking Systems), a manufacturer of restaurant appliances, shook up the backyard barbecue industry with the introduction of commercial-quality, high-end, stainless-steel barbecue grills. The grills were sleek, sexy behemoths of gleaming metal that performed like professional appliances and appealed to serious cooks. The elevated design struck a chord with luxury homeowners searching for a suitably sophisticated grill for their patios.
With that line, DCS is credited with establishing the high-end grill category and launching the trend of stainless-steel grills. Sales took off, so much so that the company got out of the commercial appliance business to focus on its burgeoning line of outdoor appliances, and added to it a line of premium, residential indoor appliances.
DCS cemented its position as a leader and innovator in the premium outdoor cooking category by expanding into storage doors and drawers, refrigeration, beer dispensers, beverage coolers, sideburners, and other components for outdoor kitchens.
In 2004, the company was purchased by premium appliance manufacturer Fisher & Paykel, and rebranded “DCS by Fisher & Paykel.” New Zealand-based Fisher & Paykel’s history dates back to 1934 when Olive Paykel asked her husband to import refrigerators from the U.S. after seeing them advertised in a Ladies Home Journal magazine. He continued to import refrigerators, and later washing machines and other appliances, from America until the New Zealand government prohibited the practice. Appliance parts were not included in the ban, however, so the company resourcefully secured a licensing arrangement with its U.S. appliance suppliers, and began importing parts and assembling the units in New Zealand.
Fisher & Paykel went on to design and manufacture appliances under its own brand name and established a reputation for quality and innovation. According to the company, it pioneered the first dishwasher drawer, the first multi-temperature refrigerator drawer, and a smart refrigerator that automatically adjusts airflow to maintain stable temperatures and help food last longer.
“DCS was a smart fit,” says Scott Davies, Fisher & Paykel’s director of Strategy. “It had always been an innovator, had very good brand recognition, and was well respected in the outdoor space, and that appealed to us. Getting into outdoor appliances made sense because New Zealanders are very social, outdoorsy, adventure-driven people. The country only has 4.2 million people; it’s a very small island. But it has lots of greenery and a big outdoor culture. It made sense to bring outdoor appliances into our family of products.”
In 2010, Fisher & Paykel underwent a major, company-wide brand refreshment. After researching how people cook and use their kitchens, and how the role and look of the kitchen is changing, the company established a new philosophy on which all product designs are based – The Social Kitchen.
The Social Kitchen
“The Social Kitchen is where people live and interact,” Davies explains. “It’s where food experiences are created; those experiences begin when you start to cook, not when you sit down to eat. Whether it’s inside or outside, the kitchen is the hub and center of a home. Everyone huddles around the stove, the grill, or the fire pit.”
While DCS grills and outdoor kitchens clearly dovetail with the Social Kitchen philosophy, Fisher & Paykel entered a barbecue category that had changed dramatically since the first DCS grill was introduced. The marketplace was flooded with competition, and stainless-steel finishes had become the norm for both premium grills and the myriad of low-priced imitators being made overseas.
Although still widely respected and recognized for quality and performance, the once cutting-edge DCS line had not always kept pace with the new products and innovative features offered by its competitors.
“The first thing we did (with the DCS brand) was refocus on quality and manufacturing,” according to Davies. “We are at the high end of the market and consumers have high expectations in terms of product durability when they’re spending that much money on a grill. So we invested heavily in improving quality and design. The aesthetic, too, has evolved to have a more modern, upscale style.
“In addition, we tightened up the distribution model,” he says. “Originally, DCS was sold through outside distributors in a whole bunch of channels. Now, there are no third-party distributors; we control the entire process. We have our own warehousing and our own sales team and they concentrate on two key channels: traditional appliance dealers and hearth, patio, and barbecue dealers. These two groups are the leaders involved in creating outdoor kitchens and outdoor spaces.”
DCS by Fisher & Paykel has significantly amped up R&D in recent years and unveiled its new Series 9 grill line at the HPBExpo last March. Series 9 grills have the same cooking system as the company’s Series 7 line, but include a stepped-up feature set with interior and control-knob lights, flexible warming rack systems, warming pan inserts, two-position charcoal tray inserts, and self-contained rotisserie storage beneath the drip tray. Optional features include a griddle surface, infrared sear burner, and a six-inch-wide built-in cabinet for storing extra grids, inserts and accessories in outdoor kitchens.
“Series 9 has given us an ultra-premium line,” says Justin Monroy, the company’s Market Development manager, Outdoor Sales – USA. “It has inspired some of our former dealers to jump back on and support us. A lot of people have taken notice and the line has been very well received.”
Its Liberty Collection modular outdoor kitchen system, introduced some years back, has been newly revamped, as well. It offers a selection of modular grills, refrigeration, storage units, and other components that link together to create custom-configured outdoor cooking islands. The line exemplifies the concept of “social grilling,” according to Monroy. Grills, sideburners and all other modules in the Liberty line were intentionally designed without high-profile lids to encourage a 360-degree view from all sides, inviting guests to gather ’round, cook, and socialize.
While Fisher & Paykel appliances are sold in 50 countries around the world, DCS by Fisher & Paykel outdoor appliances are available only in the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. “The premium market is very, very small in New Zealand and Australia,” Davies says, “so we are focused on aggressively growing our market share in the U.S. and Canada.”
To help accomplish that goal, the company has stepped up marketing efforts. “We’re at the point where our indoor and outdoor product offerings are now very competitive and we have our sales representation in place, so we are ready for the next step,” Davies explains. Eventually the company’s marketing efforts will target consumers directly, but for now it is focused on reaching influencers.
|The Fisher & Paykel Experience Center in Costa Mesa, California, with the Series 9 grill.|
To that end, Fisher & Paykel has opened five Experience Centers globally, including Toronto, Costa Mesa, California, and New York City, each with a section dedicated to DCS by Fisher & Paykel grills and outdoor kitchens. “Our core audience at these centers is the design and architect communities,” says Davies. “The Experience Centers give us the ability to create a full brand immersion; to take the customer through our best-in-class products, company history, and backstory of what makes us unique. In a dealer setting there are many other brands. Here, there is no sales mentality or pressure; just education and inspiration.”
The company opened its first Experience Center in 2014 in Toronto’s International Design Centre, a one-stop-shop for design professionals. The Costa Mesa center offers 6,500 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor kitchen vignettes and the opportunity to take cooking classes hosted by the resident chef. The New York City Experience Center, located in the Architects & Designers building, has multiple indoor appliance vignettes, as well as a set of floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that open to a simulated penthouse- or balcony-sized outdoor living area with wood decking and seating. The area features an outdoor kitchen with built-in DCS grill, sideburner, beverage center, and storage. A DCS cart-based grill is also displayed.
“The outdoor kitchen concept is growing across the nation,” according to Monroy. “Retailers who previously just put cart models on the floor are now putting built-in islands on display. This allows us to showcase our storage options and other built-in components, and it has really increased the attention on outdoor kitchens and the size of the sale for dealers.”
He says sales of the company’s Liberty outdoor kitchen system also have spiked. “It answers a need for many consumers. The separate modular pieces can be put together to create a customized outdoor kitchen; there is flexibility to move it around or reconfigure it into a different layout; and you can put it on a deck, rooftop, or balcony. It offers easy installation and a faster turnaround. It is a fundamental solution for consumers who don’t want the look of a traditional rock island. I do believe there is a growing market that is taking the indoor kitchen look outside, and you can get that with the Liberty line. It’s all a matter of personal preference and depends on the look you want.”
Monroy and Davies say the company provides design assistance to retailers and designers creating outdoor kitchens for customers. “Our team is fully trained in designing outdoor kitchens,” says Davies. “We have some sample designs available as starting points, and our sales staff can help retailers and designers to use 3-D design software such as Google SketchUp. We are creating our own online design platform. It’s in the works and should be available six to eight months down the road.
Monroy says the sales team further supports dealers by hosting demos, and the company is looking at developing cooking classes for consumers.
|The New York Experience Center.|
The pair says the company also is helping dealers navigate the e-commerce channel. “E-commerce is evolving very quickly and most manufacturers and retailers are trying to figure it out,” says Davies. “We are loyal to a fault to our retailers. You must have a retail storefront to be able to sell our product online. But if a dealer has an online presence, we want our brand to be represented as best as possible on their website; we want a premium online experience.
“There are three or four big online players in the U.S., but the others are very small,” he continues. “Overall, e-commerce is still a minority in terms of total grills sold. We are primarily sold through dealers. In the area of the market we play in, our customer is very unlikely to spend $3,000 to $10,000 or more on an outdoor kitchen without seeing the product before they buy it.”
As for the future, according to Monroy, while the brand introduced charcoal inserts this year, and there is charcoal grilling and smoking capability on the new Series 9 grills, it remains loyal to its gas-grill heritage. “We are very clear about who we compete with and who we don’t,” he says. “We want to stay true to our brand. A few grill brands disappeared with the economic recession some years back. We are committed to growing our brand and infrastructure and winning here in the U.S.”