Known & Respected
By Lisa Readie Mayer
Verity. The dictionary defines it as “truth” and “a fundamental principle, belief, or value, such as honor, integrity, quality, patriotism, love.”
When the word verity is used in a company name – as it is in the case of Crown Verity, a manufacturer of premium outdoor cooking equipment – expectations are high regarding its products and business practices. The expectations – and the stakes – are even higher given the “Verity” in Crown Verity also happens to be the name of the company’s founder and CEO, William “Bill” Verity.
Fortunately, the company lives up to its moniker on both fronts.
Bill Verity is from a long line of family entrepreneurs, the first of whom established W.H. Verity & Son in 1892 as a manufacturer of farm equipment and plows in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. While the company evolved over the ensuing decades, changing names and adapting product offerings to everything from lighting fixtures and table lamps to fireplace assemblies and World War II aircraft parts, the family’s business connection has remained entrenched in the southern Ontario community for more than a century.
By 1951, Crown Electrical, as it was then known, had diversified into the business of distributing commercial restaurant appliances. In 1974, Bill Verity joined the company, working for his father, Jack. As he cut his teeth in the family business, Verity saw a gap in the market for commercial foodservice outdoor grills, and came up with a plan to fill it.
Verity launched his own company, Crown Verity, in 1991, designing, manufacturing, and selling state-of-the-art, high-quality and high-performance barbecue grills for chefs, caterers, and other foodservice professionals. Verity continues an active role as CEO of the business, pursuing his passion as leader of the new-product innovation and development team, but in 2014, he turned over the reins of day-to-day operations to Andy Incitti.
“I met Bill in 2013 and started as president of Crown Verity in 2014,” says Incitti. “Since then, Bill and I have worked side by side to grow the business. My body type will tell you I’ve always been an eater and always loved to grill and cook outdoors, so this is something I love.”
Initially, the pair concentrated on growing sales within the foodservice lane. “Our foodservice customer is someone who needs a mobile, high-powered outdoor grill to feed a large number of customers at once,” says Incitti. “We sell to country clubs, golf courses, rooftops, restaurants, resorts, caterers, stadiums, and sports franchises that set up an outdoor tailgating experience, and other businesses that need to be able to turn out a high volume of food to generate revenue in return.”
Crown Verity’s commercial grill line-up includes gas- and charcoal-fueled models that range in size from 30 to 72 inches and are available as built-ins, on mobile wheels, carts, or outfitted for towing on a mobile hitch. In addition to grills, the company makes commercial griddle appliances, fryers, hot dog steamers, patio heaters, built-in outdoor kitchen components, and other outdoor cooking accessories.
As Crown Verity cemented its place in the foodservice sector, an interesting trend began to emerge. “We noticed that 20% of our sales were to consumers who were putting the grills into their backyards,” says Incitti. “These homeowners valued high-quality, domestically-made product, and were buying based on the recommendations of the chef at their favorite local restaurant or at their country club. They were figuring, if the chef trusts our grill, it must be good, and it must perform at a high level.”
The 36-inch Island Estate Series Elite.
From Commercial Kitchens to Residential
To serve this growing business segment, Crown Verity introduced a residential grill line called the Estate Series in 2017. Produced in Brantford, Ontario, the grills are offered in 24- to 48-inch sizes, on cart bases or as built-ins for outdoor kitchen islands. They are all made of 304 stainless steel, backed by lifetime warranties, and range in price from $3,000 to $10,000.
“Our 30 years of working in the commercial market has informed the design of our residential products,” says Incitti. “Everything we learned from chefs about the need for power, performance, high and low heat control, and quality materials, we bring to the residential market. We’re building on our reputation.”
In fact, according to Incitti, before launching the Estate Series, the company worked with chefs to gather ideas on what they would want in a home grill, and to get feedback on prototype designs and features. Out of these sessions emerged some of the line’s key design elements, including a grill head that is taller and deeper than a typical grill.
“A chef wants room to cook multiple things at once,” Incitti explains. “Having different zones allows you to sear a steak on one side and cook dessert indirectly on the other side. A taller profile means you can stand up a turkey to cook it, or cook large items on the rotisserie and still have space on the grilling grid for sides. Our focus groups with chefs led to designing our warming rack with four adjustable height levels for greater cooking flexibility and versatility.”
Easy maintenance and cleaning – of paramount importance to foodservice professionals – is a design feature of the residential line, as well. The grills’ grease management system includes a deep tray to hold water and catch grease. “Fat drippings fall into the water and are extinguished,” says Incitti. “This allows moisture and grease to evaporate and eliminates flare ups. You can also power-wash our grills without hurting them. In fact, we encourage it because a clean grill performs better.”
Before the company introduced its line of grilling accessories, including griddles, smoker boxes, charcoal trays, vegetable and fish trays, rotisseries, and heavy-duty tools, all were tried and tested by chefs. “With these cooking accessories you can do different techniques on the same grill instead of buying multiple units,” says Incitti.
He says Crown Verity continues to maintain relationships with chefs such as Jason Parsons, the executive chef of the Peller Estates winery on the Niagara Peninsula and frequent guest on Canadian television shows, who act as influencers for the company and serve on its R&D team. In fact, according to Incitti, Parsons was instrumental in developing the line of mobile and tabletop pizza ovens launched this year for the commercial market. Pizza ovens will be added to the residential line in January of 2020.
Also coming to the residential line-up next year will be a modular outdoor kitchen concept called the Infinite Series. Components include numerous door and drawer modules, a sink cabinet, sideburner, refrigerator, corner pieces, and trash pullouts to customize the kitchen in unlimited configurations. Crown Verity will support the line with design assistance offered to dealers and end users. Its natural gas and propane patio heaters, made to commercial-quality standards to last longer and perform better, complete the current outdoor living offerings.
Crown Verity’s Estate Series Elite 24-inch mobile model.
Though Incitti prefers to keep the company’s annual sales private, he says both the residential and commercial divisions have grown by double-digits every year for the past five years. The company goes to market direct to dealers on its residential line, working with hearth, patio, and barbecue retailers, appliance retailers, and other specialty channels. With the exception of parts and small accessory products, it does not sell online, but exclusively through dealer partners, unless there is no dealer in that market.
“Besides selling to consumer customers, our dealers also have access to our commercial product to provide a solution to golf clubs, charitable groups, churches, retirement communities, and many other local establishments and organizations that host large-scale cookouts or want to create outdoor living experiences for members,” says Incitti. “There is a wealth of business in this area.”
Though the company, with about 100 employees including reps, still has deep roots in Canada, its sales are strongest in the U.S., split 70% in the U.S. market and 30% in Canada. “That trend was the driving decision behind us opening a new facility in Bowling Green, Kentucky,” Incitti explains. “We had to decide whether to expand our Brantford operation or open another location in the U.S. With growth heavier in the U.S., we wanted to be closer to our customers to better service them with faster turnarounds.”
Opened in February 2019, the new Bowling Green location currently handles distribution to U.S. customers, but will begin manufacturing product in 2020. The company will continue to manufacture and supply Canadian customers out of its Brantford facility.
In addition, Crown Verity recently opened a showroom in Brantford to showcase its product and give prospective dealers, and commercial and consumer customers the opportunity to test-drive grills and appliances prior to buying. Those who can’t travel to the location can have a live-feed video conference with a salesperson or chef to learn about the grill and see the features in action. “People can even have a Skype session with our service guy to troubleshoot any issue,” says Incitti. “It’s been a great support tool for our customers.”
The program is part of the company’s expanded marketing program that includes what Incitti calls a “trifold approach” to building awareness of the brand and growing business. He says supporting dealer partners through the showroom, as well as merchandising efforts, store demos, parties, local home-shows, and other events, is a key component of the marketing mix.
“We’ll bring one of our chefs to a dealer for a demo event or to conduct an outdoor cooking class,” he says. “We are very lucky with strong dealer partners, and what we find is, every opportunity to speak about and show our brand to end users has taken us a long way. It’s been very successful.”
Another facet of the marketing program focuses on building awareness and partnerships through participation at trade shows that reach targeted industries, such as hearth, patio, and barbecue retailers, landscapers, and appliance dealers.
Crown Verity reaches consumers directly with its messages through social media, search optimization and lead generation, Incitti says. It has a growing following on Instagram, Facebook, and other platforms thanks to a heavy emphasis on food and recipe content with delectable-looking photos. Posts also frequently include educational content, grilling tips and tricks, and images that promote the outdoor-entertaining lifestyle. In addition, the company has created an arsenal of instructional videos featuring a variety of chefs.
“When someone is trying to create a memorable outdoor experience, the common denominator is always food,” says Incitti. “We support people’s passion for cooking and passion for eating. Cooking on the grill, sitting together in the Outdoor Room – these are the things that bring families together.”
That’s the truth.
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