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Frank Brady: Always Teaching, Always Learning

Frank Brady will mark 55 years in the housewares business in 2020.

Since starting the Brady Marketing rep organization in 1976 with his wife, Lorraine, after more than a decade on the vendor side, Brady has been one of the most influential independent sales, marketing, merchandising and product development professionals in the gourmet housewares industry.

Brady Marketing helped launch and build such brands as All-Clad, Krups, Dansk, Shun, Nespresso, Meyer, Le Creuset, Brita and Microplane. Continuing his run, he added Brady Consulting in 2015, expanding the company’s brand-building and product development services nationally and globally.

Brady also shared his independent gourmet housewares retailing insights as a guest columnist for GOURMET INSIDER® for several years.

In the following interview with Gourmet Insider editor-in-chief Peter Giannetti, Brady reflects on the visionary influences in his career, including his close relationships with Williams-Sonoma founder Chuck Williams and renowned Michelin-rated chef and restaurateur Thomas Keller; and he discusses how gourmet housewares success continues to be forged from strong consumer connections.

GI: Tell us about your first meeting with Chuck Williams of Williams-Sonoma and how that influenced your career.

FB: I left Macy’s in San Francisco one day and walked by a store I never heard of. There was a man inside — he had to be about 60 — and he was walking up and down a ladder, bringing down Cuisinart machines.

I was transfixed by his level of energy and the amount of knowledge he possessed. I introduced myself, and told him, ‘I’m amazed at the store, the concept, the education, the customer service.’

I told him I wasn’t looking for a job, but I had to have a dialogue with him in a way that would allow us to bring new products to the store. With that, Chuck Williams extended his hand to me. His store was always open to me. We remained very close until the day he passed (in 2015) at 100 years old.

That’s the same type of relationship I ended up having with chef Thomas Keller. We would meet at [his restaurant]The French Laundry on Friday afternoons to talk about opportunities… I told him we should design high-quality tools, and we eventually brought that to market (in a new line of Thomas Keller-branded cutlery from Cangshan).

GI: How did such relationships shape your approach as a sales and marketing rep as well as a consultant?

FB: I never thought of myself just as a salesman. Marketing is the creation of need. For most sales reps, someone else creates the need. What I did was talk to consumers and ask them what they wanted and needed.

I am always looking to learn. I go to every show and every factory visit looking to learn. I look at a business, a product, a supplier to see not what it is, but what it could be.

GI: How did your experiences as a sales and marketing rep influence development of your own specialty kitchenware brand, Bonjour?

FB: We were very close to the consumers, not just the retailers.

For example, we invented a glass frother at Bonjour. I knew there were 1 million espresso machines sold each year. But there were also 20 million coffeemakers sold, and that opened a big opportunity for a glass frother as an accessory. We invented the frother and demonstrated it at the San Francisco Gourmet Show. We had interest the first day but no orders. The next day our booth at Moscone Center was filled with people writing orders for a product invented that filled a need at the right price.

I met Julia Child at Cipriani. I told her I learned so much from watching her on TV, and that I was so excited about her show about crème brûlée.

Years later, Bonjour came out with our crème brûlée torch, and it was a big success. If I didn’t learn from her, I wouldn’t have brought something like that to market.

GI: How can independent gourmet kitchenware retailers thrive in today’s competitive retail marketplace?

FB: People are always concerned about new channels of distribution. It’s actually an opportunity for independent retailers, because of the service they provide.

I see some gourmet stores doing fewer demos, fewer samples. The consumer perceives this as less interest by the owner of the business. The challenge is more customer service, not less customer service.

GI: How does your marketing consulting business differ from your rep business?

FB: I’ve had a wonderful experience as a sales rep, bringing 120 major brands to market and helping to build them. I felt there was an evolution taking place at a different level. I could have a greater impact by being able to work as a marketing consultant in bringing new lines to market. It also allowed me to move from being regional to national, even global, with new lines and manufacturers.

GI: What’s next for Frank Brady?

FB: I get up each day ask myself this question: ‘Where are you?’ I love working in this business. I don’t see myself retiring. I see myself continuing to be a teacher. My whole career has been about nurturing ideas, not just selling them.

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