[RJ] First thing you should know Ron is JJ is 10-years old this month. Born February 2003. And here at Ambiente we are introducing our new Spring Collection.
[DA] The last time we talked in-depth was was two years ago, at Ambiente. What’s new?
[RJ] We’re an English company and two year’s ago that was our largest market. Very recently our largest market has become the US. The brand and distribution there has really taken off. And the product range has increased. We’ve moved into new categories. We’re still very strong in kitchen and food preparation and innovating and bringing new products into that area. We’re now in cleaning and organization. Our key theme here is storage as more people are living in cities and smaller apartments. Space is a premium. Space is expensive. That would include everything around and under the sink. And products that reside in the cabinets and drawers.
[DA] You mention innovation and that’s clearly a theme. How does that happen?
[RJ] We look at the functionality of a product. We look at how stuff works, how people interact with it, how people use it. And then try and design it better. We test a lot of things in our test kitchen. We ask people to take things home and use it. That’s how we find ideas and see where we can make improvements. We wind up testing many things that don’t need improvement.
[DA] Are you redesigning your own products?
[JR] On some of our more successful products we are on our third iteration. We could have a product we designed seven years ago, designed to chop and it still chops brilliantly. But we find we could improve it by adding non-slip features to it. If it folds, making it easier to fold.
[DA] Are you going to enter the table-top category, such as dishes and glasses?
[RJ] There’s not much left to do redesigning the functional aspect of a plate for example. We focus on those categories that offer us greater opportunity for innovation.
[DA] Has your value quotient changed. Are your products now more expensive?
[RJ] There’s a strong premium quotient in our product. By that I mean the materials we used are built to last. Same goes with the construction methods and engineering. Our products in the categories they’re in are at the premium end. That said our product price range is from $6.00 to $75.00.
[DA] It feels like more people are moving into your space.
[RJ] We do feel an increase in competition. Though many items fall into the imitation category. At the end of the day, good competition is good for everyone, the consumer, the producer. As a consumer we want better products. We like those companies that break the mold. We like the Apple’s of the world.
[DA] How many products do you have?
[RJ] We’ve got 360. For a company like ours, our competitors would feel that’s not many. But 360 is a lot.
[DA] Are any of your products in the commercial landscape?
[RJ] Like hotels and restaurants? Not yet. We have an in-house design team and they’re maxed out. We plan to grow the range we have. We’ve got plenty of stuff to do. We do love to design for retail, the packaging of our products. In the commercial market the scope would be mainly function.
[DA] Your packaging is very clever. Peek-a-boo, you can see the product. I’ve been seeing your product hanging in the big department stores. Is that new?
[RJ] When we first entered the US market it was very much positioned in the design stores, the museum shops. And now it’s filtering down into high-end department stores. The design stores have a great mix now. You would expect that these shops are more gift shop. But these stores, the museum shops, they have an amazing offering, they have the eye to curate product. I wish I lived in Chicago where I could find one of these great shops at my finger tips.
[DA] Richard, do you consider your product urban?
[RJ] I would love to say we are wanted everywhere but it seems to always start in the larger urban area. There are great speciality stores in the smaller towns and we’re seeing design expand into those venues. We are definitely seeing expansion outside the big cities. What is interesting is there are stores that offer a very curated look in everything they sell. We don’t design to fit their image. We talk to these stores and they may take a product or two and test it.
the 100 collection representing 10-year birthday
[DA] I’m looking at your 100 Collection floor display and it raises the question are you exploring new materials?
[JA] That’s our new 100 Collection and it’s very much in line with our 10th anniversary. We didn’t design it for the 10th but we did want to offer a new collection for the occasion. The 100 Collection is a curated range of our best sellers. Color is very much a part of our DNA as a brand. We stepped back and looked at more premium materials and more muted color palette appealing to people who want less color. And these are our best products, the best functionality and reputation. There’s the Nesting Set, the Nest 9, Carousel Index Chopping Board Set, and all within this stainless steel and wood range. From a design POV we love it and it’s a more exclusive offering for us.
[DA] What’s it like designing with new material?
[RJ] Although they look the same the construction methods are really different. You have to scrap a lot of tools you’re used to working with and the materials work together in an entirely different way.
[DA] Let’s talk about color and this time of year there’s the trend forecasting. Are you following trend information or your instincts.
[RJ] Color is both interesting and difficult. We do look around at trends. We look at what feels right in the kitchen and the home. But generally we just have a lot of fun with color and try new colors with each season. And if a color resonates with the consumer we will spread that color throughout our range of product. What’s great about color is it allows you to coordinate product within the collection, it’s very much on trends, you can keep the range fresh by updating color. But getting the color right is the trick. Do we know what the next big color is, we don’t.
[DA] You guys are such monsters with color so maybe you can talk about this. On the surface color seems much an aesthetic but is it more than that? Is there a functional aspect with color.
[RJ] There is with certain products. Some of our chopping boards are color-coded for cutting meat, fish, vegetables. You can also say you can use color to hide things. Like our Elevate cooking utensils, we use a dark color on the heads because that helps hide some of the stains you might pick up. But generally we use color to add to the fun.
[DA] I’m looking at your new sink bucket. It’s not as hard edged as your other products. Doesn’t fit into your look. Is it a structural decision?
[RJ] You know you’re right about the shape. The Washing Up Bowl is incredibly functional and the aesthetic is very much tied to the function.
[DA] There’s a lot of storage product at Ambiente. Though you can find really good solutions there’s quite a bit of misses.
[RJ] It’s a space with many opportunities for us and we’re closely monitoring this space and working on a few things but we don’t know when we will bring them out.
[DA] What’s your formula for launching new product?
[RJ] We launch twice a year and only launch the good stuff. We don’t know how many products will be in a specific launch. Very unscientific I guess. We might have to calm down, slow down, but we love launching new product. There’s nothing more exciting than getting samples in from the factories.
[DA] Do you archive the good with the bad?
[RJ] Everything we’ve done gets into the archive. We like to go back and revisit the process. It’s very educational. This topic is reminding me of my grandfather. He might have a blender at home or a mixer and when something broke on the product he’d go buy a spare part. These days you don’t. You either send it back or get a new one.
[DA] My trolley has a lifetime guarantee.
[RJ] Would you take it back if something went wrong.
[DA] I don’t know. A good question. Would I impulsively sling it in a rubbish bin or look at it for weeks seeking a solution. You know I have a Stelton Erik Magnussen pitcher I bought when they came out in 1977 and the knub that holds the little swivel on top is worn down. I was just at Stelton and they have a replacement part.
[RJ] Wow. I love hearing that.
[DA] Are you doing things online?
[RJ] We are online but it’s a very small part of our business.
[DA] Is your product considered consumer durable or non-durable.
[RJ] We consider it a consumer durable product. We test everything and we build it to have a five-year life, being used every day, several times a day. We test it. Like the folding chopping board, we test it to 10,000 folds. Paper towels a non-durable. The chopping board a durable. Our feeling if you use the right material and it’s made right it will last a long time.
[DA] You’re product is plastic. Are you eco?
[RJ] We’ll be launching within that category next year. We can look at eco maybe two ways. Many people feel eco when they’re materials are reusable, renewable materials. Another way is to make it well so it has a long life. We made a decision to do that from the get go not as a sustainable statement but how we work.
[DA] Are you coming across more materials options. Someone just said that by using the same materials but changing a catalyst the product will biodegrade in five years instead of 5,000 years.
[RJ] We are constantly keeping an eye on materials. For us food regulations are changing. As a result melamine is on its way out in my mind.
[DA] You guys are winning a lot of design awards. What’s a design award mean to you?
[RJ] Our designers are working really hard and an award gives them a lot of recognition and reward. From an internal point of view it’s fantastic. From an external point of view it helps us wave our flag, our little flag in a very crowded marketplace and we can say we are making cool stuff and check it out.