New technology enables Arc to produce bubbled glassware with an artisan look.
By Allison Zisko
When Arc International celebrates the official unveiling of its new state-of-the-art glass making facility at its headquarters in Millville, N.J., this month, it will signify more than its position as one of the cleanest and greenest tabletop factories in the world. It will send a signal to the industry that it is committed to the tabletop business and is ready to once again be a company to be taken seriously.
"We're putting our foot forward," said CEO Fred Dohn, who will celebrate 25 years with the company next month.
In those 25 years, and in particular the last 10, Dohn has witnessed significant changes at the $2 billion, French-based company, one of the largest tabletop companies in the world. The acquisition and eventual divestment of Mikasa in the mid-2000s caused Arc's North American retail sales to decline, however. The Mikasa brand absorbed all of the company's momentum, according to Dohn, and it neglected its core glass brands, Luminarc and Cristal D'Arques.
The company lost its reputation as the "go-to guys" in the basic glassware category, Dohn said. When it sold Mikasa to Lifetime Brands in 2008, Arc, which primarily supplies mass merchants and warehouse clubs but is also positioned at department stores, lost business in the more upscale channels it had gained through Mikasa.
Although Arc's business-to-business and foodservice divisions maintained overall sales, it fell out of favor with retailers on the consumer goods side.
But all that turmoil is behind it. "We're rebuilding that business now," said Dohn during the New York Tabletop Show earlier this spring. The company came to market with full suites of new products, new packaging, a sustainability story, new merchandising strategies and a clear presentation for both retailers and consumers.
It invested nearly $40 million to build a new furnace in Millville under new Environmental Protection Association standards and retrofitted its two existing factories to run cleaner. New technology has reduced emissions by at least 75 percent. In addition, a sustainability drive was conducted under International Organization for Standardization (ISO) criteria, along with an audit. "We have action plans anywhere we are deficient," Dohn said. "Going forward, it's a point of competitive differentiation."
New technology in the new factory also allows it to produce machine-made glass of even higher quality and design than it had been previously been able to produce, and it offers multicolor organic inks with no added lead, cadmium or heavy metals. Roughly 90 percent of goods produced for the North American market are made in Millville.
And the company's distribution has begun to grow beyond the mass channel. Its Cristal D'Arques department store business has started to grow, and it is doing a "nice" business with specialty store chains. It is also working with dollar stores and grocery chains. "We're getting play across all channels of business," Dohn said.
"There's plenty of competition out there," Dohn acknowledged. "We have to earn our way in." Nonetheless, he is confident in his company's ability to bounce back. "We have a credible story line," he said. "We are American-made and have the cleanest factory in the world. It's trend-right. Consumers like it. It's a point of differentiation. Of course, we have to have the right products as well. But the overall message is strong."
Luminarc has divided its product categories into five thematic groups: "Drink," "Serve," Cook," "Store" and "Dine". Each theme has its own colorway, and the packaging is very visual, so the consumer can easily see what the products are and how they can be used. "We're setting a direction and a tone for the way we're moving Luminarc forward," said Tom Moleski, director of marketing, during the International Home + Housewares Show in March. That direction, he said, is towards "cool, upmarket products, things that are more modern and trendy."
The company has new bubble technology that enables it to produce a finer-slooking product, one that has a handmade, artisan look. It is introducing more fine-rim stemware, and has a French-inspired line of glass bakeware that offers an alternative to the basic product currently available on the market.
Dohn sees the biggest opportunities for the company in stemware, serveware and glass storage. "Arc has always been a strong stemware maker across all channels," he said. The company brings a breadth of assortment, something for everyone and, according to Dohn, "the best value in stemware." Price points in better barware sets are around $19.99.
In serveware, Dohn pointed to the new Arizona, Cosmos and Sterling ranges, which offer more fashionable options for clear glass serveware.
Arc does not want to be a "me too" company, Dohn said. It aims to bring something different to the table, like unique shapes in opal glass dinnerware, or a set of silicone-ribbed glass tumblers that are fun and, even better, dishwasher-safe.
From an engineering standpoint, Arc is superior to its competitors, according to Dohn. "We put a lot there that other people don't. We're not everything to all people, but there are areas where we are good and competitive and there are openings."
Arc has expanded its distribution, and has set its sights on new channels such as drugstore chains, hardware and grocery stores. It has developed in-and-out programs for these channels, as well as "10 for $10" promotions.
For its potential retail partners, Dohn laid out a clear argument for consideration: "[We have] core products at a reasonable price that are user-friendly and bring in newness." He then posed a rhetorical question: "Why isn't the customer going to give you a chance?"