A passionate cook won’t hesitate spending $500 or more for a fine set of pans and kitchen cookware.
But commercial kitchens and professional chefs don’t buy expensive pans or dishes. Their constant use chews up pans, woks and skillets like dogs go through bones.
The restaurant industry’s appetite for affordable, durable cookware has driven the strong growth of Spokane pan manufacturer Lloyd Industries. It’s not uncommon for the company to get orders for 300 or more pans from a company that has several restaurants or kitchens. Last year, one large order totaled 66,000 pizza pans, all for a national pizza chain.
At least, it was that way until the recession slowed orders significantly. Now the company, with 20 workers at a production plant in the Spokane Business and Industrial Park, has shed its traditional way of reaching customers and is banking on partners to do that work for it.
Instead of selling direct, Lloyd has formed deals with two major national and regional distributors to get its products inside kitchens, said John Crow, the company founder and president.
“The growth we’ve had has all been from direct selling,” Crow said.
But as it continues to sell to very large customers, such as IHOP and Domino’s Pizza, Lloyd Industries finds it is forced to sell cookware through the designated distributors for those large chains.
“So we were being pushed that way (toward using distributors),” Crow said. “This will simplify our sales and let us spend more time on innovation.”
The two big food product and service distributors lined up by the company are Tacoma-based Bargreen Ellingson, which has centers in 18 cities, including Spokane; and Midwest operator Wasserstrom Co.
The shift from direct sales also coincides with Rob Crow, John’s son, taking an active role in the company. After finishing a two-year appointment to the Spokane City Council, he decided to rejoin his father’s company and focus on day-to-day management, freeing John Crow to be the pan visionary.
Designing better tools for commercial chefs is what Lloyd Industries stands for, the Crows say. A visit to the company’s production building includes stops at the machines used to spin pans, anodizing equipment – producing a high-quality pan or dish surface – and the test kitchen, where cooks can come in and see how new products hold up.
Ed Schafer, co-owner of north Spokane eatery The Mustard Seed, has been testing some of Lloyd Industries new line of “ManPan” woks. He said he’s impressed, finding the woks provide major advantages in cooking efficiency and ease of use.
The ManPan, Lloyd’s new line, features a “cool grip” aluminum handle with a perforated Swiss-cheese tube design. “It’s kind of like a motorcycle exhaust,” John Crow said.
Schafer, who has his chefs using the ManPan, says the design makes the woks lighter and easier to use. He’s also found that because of the anodized aluminum surface, cooking heat is transferred more efficiently to food.
The one drawback, Schafer said, was the initial riverting holding the cool grip to the metal bowl. Over time Schafer’s cooks say that connection weakened and the handle came off. The test led to a new design that is much stronger, said Rob Crow.
Lloyd Industries’ shift to a distribution model is occurring during a widespread decline in restaurant spending, both by consumers and by companies running kitchens. John Crow said 40 percent of company sales in recent years came from new pizza restaurants opening.
“This past year about 8,500 pizza restaurants closed and only 2,100 opened,” which helps explain why Lloyd Industries has seen a 25 percent decline in sales from a year ago, Crow said.
In better years the company has racked up annual sales of close to $4 million. Turning to distributors is part of the strategy to push that figure to $9 million. “We think we can get near that in 2010 or 2011,” John Crow said.
The Crows say the shift will allow the company to continue to develop handy and smart kitchen tools, which are also sold directly to consumers from the company Web site.
Rob Crow points to two other cooking tools the company created and has sold by the thousands: the “equalizer,” a pizza-cutting device that allows restaurants to slice any pie into even portions; and the pizza disk, a perforated cooking sheet that is more durable and easier to clean than the standard pizza screen used by many pizzerias.
Tami Kennedy, general manager of Bargreen Ellingson’s Spokane office, said she’s convinced having Lloyd’s pans and cookware in its inventory will be a plus for her company and for the Crows.
The ManPan line, she said, is a likely big seller as more restaurants look for ways to save energy. Kennedy said Bargreen Ellingson’s kitchen staff in Tacoma reports that using the ManPan woks and skillets saves at least 20 percent of the energy used in traditional stainless steel or Teflon-coated cookware.
That can help budget-strapped companies and kitchens, Kennedy said.
“If we sell them a ManPan that saves nickels on their gas bill, then those customers will have a few dollars to spend on other products, like a dozen teaspoons,” she said.