Long synonymous with providing consumers quality cutlery, Wűsthof Americas’ new president Tom Fowler has his eyes set on growth.
With more than 30 years of executive leadership across several categories, Fowler will lead the company throughout the region. He joins Wűsthof from Polar Electro USA, a sports wearable tech brand, where he led the turnaround and revitalization of the company’s U.S. business.
In an interview with Kitchenware Today, Folwer talked about the opportunities he sees for the venerable cutlery brand.
KITCHENWARE TODAY: What attracted you to joining Wűsthof as president of the company’s Americas business unit?
TOM FOWLER: Rare is the opportunity to lead a brand with Wűsthof’s market power and venerable history through its next chapter. That, combined with massive untapped potential to serve entirely new markets in new ways is super compelling.
KWT: When you look at Wűsthof’s business in the Americas, what opportunities for growth do you see?
TF: First, there is an incredible opportunity to build on our relationships with our marquee retailer partners like Williams Sonoma, Crate & Barrel and others. Those retailers who deliver a truly exceptional experience to the consumer are super valued and will be an important area of focus, particularly as we and they transition through and out of the COVID environment.
Second, I think there is a tremendous opportunity to amplify Wűsthof’s relationship with the consumer. When I announced on LinkedIn that I had joined Wűsthof, the response was incredible. So many people were sending me photos of their Wűsthof knives and photos of what they were making for dinner that night with our knives. Just incredible brand love.
From that foundation, there is no limit to where we can take the brand. There are a ton of other opportunities out there but, in the end, all roads lead back to serving the consumer. There’s a lot of headroom for Wűsthof to grow when you think about it in terms of service and consumer
KWT: In announcing your appointment, the company mentioned its continued evolution to a global premium consumer brand. What steps is the company taking to achieve this?
TF: Well, first you have to consider the recent hire of Jan-Patrick Schmitz as Wűsthof’s global CEO. That guy is incredibly sharp when it comes to understanding global brand development.
The second would be my hire. Same story as Patrick in terms of aptitudes and orientation. We’re brand guys and we’re global in orientation. And then, we brought on board a new EVP of Global Digital Marketing, Jamalyia Cobine. She’s American but with a complete worldview and experience set. Now consider what people wired like we are tend to do. You can imagine a serious investment in digital marketing, in content marketing and in brand building via consumer experience. And these activities will be global in nature, not tactical and local. Stay tuned, you will see.
KWT: What consumer groups do you feel Wűsthof can reach in the Americas that it’s not currently connecting with?
TF: Super-premium is one market space where we have not historically played. We proved with our Aeon collection that we can win huge in this space.
Second, and broadly speaking, we can win huge with mainstream consumers who have not yet experienced the full value of quality cutting tools. And that value is not isolated to the act of cutting only; it extends into the entire experience of food and what it means to create something wonderful for yourself and your family.
So, there is a monster mid-market community just waiting to wake up to the food experience, to think about and experience food in an entirely refreshed way. Wűsthof can and will be at the center of that movement. There are others, but those are two big market opportunities.
KWT: From a product standpoint, do you see the brand growing beyond cutlery or remaining focused on its current product assortment?
TF: We are revered for our knives and this will remain at the center of our business. That is our focus. That said, adjacent opportunities do exist; you see that even today we are present with Wűsthof branded non-cutting products. This segment could grow but, for the foreseeable future, the world’s leading knife brand will stay focused on what we do best. Then we will see.
KWT: Over the past year, we have seen more consumers learn to cook and sharpen their cooking skills. What opportunity do you see for Wűsthof with consumers as they become better home cooks?
TF: Don’t get me started or I’ll go on all night! The explosion in home cooking and home food culture is phenomenal and opens incredible opportunity for Wűsthof to be of service.
As home chef’s skills and aspirations advance, so too will their need for different tools, specialty tools and task-specific tools. And, similar to other hobbies in which people invest, it is not always just a question of functional need; sometimes an activity can be made more special simply by using an incredible new version of a product you already own.
We see this in golf, for example, with clubs. We see it of course in fashion. We see it in music, guitars for example. Photography, same story. I also imagine opportunities to be of service in curating experiences and education for the home chef, particularly in the virtual environment.
Consider: there is no tool that is essential to the preparation of every meal, except for the knife. Whether hot or cold, there is virtually nothing that doesn’t require the knife. We are at the center of every culinary experience, every day. As the home chef advances, and their numbers rise, Wűsthof will rise with them.
KWT: Is there a need to further connect with consumers and educate them on buying the right knife for their needs and proper care of their knives?
TF: Absolutely. The right knife for the task is such a joy to use. It just works. And even beyond function, there is something special about selecting and using the right knife for the task. Doing so brings meaning to the task, makes the task special and makes it a joy.
A knife is about cutting, yes. But it is at least as much about experience and joy. So, understanding the portfolio of knives and their purpose is essential. And appreciating that value through care is similarly part of the experience.