We recently underwent a much-needed renovation at Weber, and moving my office for the first time in 20 years (can you believe it?) had me contemplating Weber’s history. Okay, I’ll admit it…I got nostalgic. Wow, I thought, we’ve come a long way!
While packing up, I found an old scrapbook dating back to 1951 that belonged to George Stephen, inventor of the Weber Kettle Grill. Those early years were a workout. George and his salesmen literally hit the streets with a uniquely entrepreneurial enthusiasm.
With absolutely no advertising budget, they would load a few of those oddly shaped grills into an old Ford station wagon and visit hardware stores across the Midwest to conduct live demonstrations. They mostly cooked turkeys because, pound for pound, they were relatively cheap—and leftovers saved on meal expenses.
It worked! By the early 1970s, sales were strong—but we still weren’t profitable. Our bankers advised us to use our manufacturing expertise to make less seasonal products that would hopefully stem losses in the winter months.
We tried many things, including porcelain-enameled mailboxes (the metal parts would last a lifetime but the rubber hinges would last months), molded-plastic novelties (how many plastic statues of Laurel and Hardy does America really need?), and custom fireplace screens (folks wanted quick delivery, but they was way before FedEx).
All these attempts to diversify were speculator flops—but they taught us to focus our efforts.
Focus was the key. We learned to stick to grills and sales continued to grow. By the late ‘70s we were strong but wanted to become a much more efficient—and international—business. I’m happy to say we’ve done both.
We now have a streamlined, waste-free manufacturing process-and while our North American customers were mastering wintertime grilling, many Australians are roasting holiday turkeys on a Weber Grill in the summer sunshine.