Harald Wüsthof Discusses The Key To 200 Years In Business

Wüsthof turns 200 in 2014 and, according to Harald Wüsthof, the company’s longevity is not by accident. Wüsthof focuses on providing quality cutlery and supports its product by developing strong relationships with its retail partners. From marketing to education to pricing, Wüsthof takes pride in creating a “level playing field” where retailers carrying the brand, regardless of channel, can connect with the consumer around Wüsthof cutlery without concern about the product’s quality, price or support from the manufacturer.

HWB: As Wüsthof approaches its 200th Anniversary, what attributes have helped the company stand the test of time?

Harald Wüsthof: Time has proven that our business model works. One of the things that makes Wüsthof important is the company’s loyalty to its prime retail channels and its craft. We treat everybody equally and with respect. We see our retail relationships as long-term partnerships. Loyalty, integrity and continuity are our core values, and we focus on that. We could have the best product in the world, but if no one were selling it, it would be useless.

HWB: What are the parameters of Wusthof’s retail relationships?

HW: Retailers need vendors that supply them with good product, and they don’t want to worry about pricing, quality or on-time shipping. They need what they can sell. It is our duty to make sure the retailer gets what they want, and that we also look out to see what the consumer wants. The retailer is the link; they are the experts. That’s why they’re in retail and we’re in manufacturing. We look at it as a partnership. That’s why it works.

HWB: With expanded channels for selling cutlery, such as e-commerce, what are some of the steps Wüsthof takes to protect its brand and retail partners?

HW: We stand up for our pricing structure with MAP pricing. We strongly believe that the same product— an 8-inch chef’s knife, for example— should be the same price, independent of where it is sold. It’s the price of that particular product.

We watch pricing very carefully so we can maintain a level playing field. We set the rules and terms and conditions. We want to ensure that everyone gets the same product, and they are selling it for the same price.

HWB: In 2012, Wüsthof rolled out the Edge marketing campaign. What was the inspiration for the campaign and how has it affected the brand?

HW: This was a very successful decision. We wanted our key message to be about emotion. It’s not about having a piece of sharp steel. Other cutlery campaigns, there is a brand, a knife, something that cuts. It’s replaceable.

We wanted to go a totally different route and try to get to the consumer through an emotional channel. Cooking is about emotion. If you slice a sharp knife through a tomato or piece of meat, it’s pure pleasure. A good knife makes your life in the kitchen so much easier and happier. What we can broadcast through the Edge campaign is the joy of cooking, the joy of cutting. Besides the emotional effect, these are not celebrity chefs. They are regular, well-known James Beard people. It communicates that cooking is something for everybody. Everyone can cook and shouldn’t be afraid to use the right tools and techniques. They are just as we are, down to earth.

HWB: Having been around for 200 years, what is your ultimate goal for Wüsthof?

HW: Our big vision is to become the cutlery expert worldwide. The dream would be that the brand becomes interchangeable with the product.  If you were to search for knives online, for example, you would Google Wüsthof, similar to how the Kleenex brand is often used for facial tissue. I don’t care if I get to that goal or it’s the next generation. When you are talking to someone with such an old brand, we understand that it’s a long, long path. With family run companies, you think in generations, not quarters.