By Andrea Lillo
Thirteen million pots and pans—or 66,000 pallets of kitchen products—is a lot of metal. It’s also the capacity of the new Automated Storage and Retrieval System (AS/RS) building unveiled last month by cookware company Meyer Corp. U.S. at the company’s Fairfield, Calif., campus.
Touted as the first AS/RS in the housewares industry, the new building will reduce lead times, increase accuracy and operate around the clock. It also incorporates a space-saving vertical design and a number of green features.
“We outgrew the traditional warehouse,” said Stanley Cheng, Meyer’s chief executive officer. The new AS/RS facility was costly at $50 million, he told HFN, but it was the right thing to do. “It makes more sense. It’s an investment in the future.”
The company already had a smaller automated factory in Italy, and its success led Cheng to think about developing such a facility in the U.S., he said. Working with Daifuku America Corp., which provides automated material-handling equipment for a variety of industries, Meyer began the project 18 months ago.
Meyer already sells one out of every three cookware pieces in the U.S., Cheng said, and “with this facility, Meyer will continue to grow in the U.S. We’re already the largest cookware manufacturer in the U.S., and there’s a chance we will become the world’s largest one day.”
The building, at 165,000 square feet, has a much smaller footprint than a traditional facility, which for this number of pallets would have required 750,000 square feet. Besides saving open land space, the facility also incorporated other green features such as using 30,000 tons of recycled and reclaimed pavements and 8.8 million pounds of reclaimed and recycled steel. Also on the 39-acre AS/RS facility are vegetated bioswales and a retention pond to capture storm water runoff, as well as an onsite wetland preserve.
The AS/RS is not the only milestone for the company this year, however, as its Circulon brand turns 25. Its portfolio of nine brands is one of the reasons for Meyer’s success, in fact, as “we understand market segmentation,” Cheng said. “Our multiple brand approach caters to retailers’ needs to differentiate themselves.”
While Circulon is its oldest brand, one of the newest is the Paula Deen line, which has “exploded” since its launch in 2008, Cheng said. “It’s very successful.”
The largest is Farberware at about a quarter of its brand business. And Cheng said the company is currently considering an acquisition of another high-end brand. “We’re always on the look out for new opportunities,” he told HFN. “We do very well with licensed brands.”
The company’s private label business, at about 20 percent and growing fast, is “a challenge to all national brands—even ours—because it is so successful,” Cheng said.
In “this horrible economy,” Meyer’s business overall has been growing modestly, Cheng said. “We’re very happy about that.” The high-end category has been difficult, he said, but “we see a light at the end of the tunnel.” The moderate price level—where the majority of Meyer’s product line resides—has been doing well, he added.
And as its business in the U.S. is mature and well established, Meyer is now eyeing other regions for expansion. Asia is an exciting growth opportunity, he said, where “we’re doing more serious investment,” especially in “super hot” China, as well as Japan. “We see high double-digit growth there, particularly in China.”
And speaking of China, though the bulk of the home furnishings industry manufactures the bulk of product there, that’s not the case for Meyer, which makes only about a third of its product in China. “People are always surprised when they hear that,” Cheng said. The majority of product—more than half, in fact—is made in Thailand in a vertical facility. “It’s one of the best cookware factories in the world.”
And making the best is what Meyer strives for. “At the end of the day, we try to bring lasting value to the consumer,” he said.