If physical stores have suffered from the confinement, online sales have obviously exploded, all the more for those who had the stock nearby and the local production capacity. With a refocus on the home and daily activities, the first confinement pointed to a craze for cooking activities. And it is logical that those at the crossroads of these two sites have seen their sales soar: the Maison Cristel reported to us in June a sales record in the spring: + 500 %. A look back at a French company with a fascinating history, between design and regional roots.
Legacy of a 19th century family factory, threat of relocation, takeover by a collective of workers, international rise of a local company… Cristel’s story brings together all the ingredients for a successful summer saga. No wonder Bernadette Dodane, its president, is finalizing a novel that tells the story. This success story is in fact due to the creativity of Paul Dodane, who was able to read the capacities of the production apparatus to imagine a common product, well positioned on the market, industrializable and distributed throughout the world. Every designer’s dream?
A few kilometers from Montbéliard, in the Doubs, on the edge of the forest, Cristel has given a second life to the former Casserie, a tinsmith factory built in 1826 by Japy, with his three sons, in Fesches-le-Châtel. Pioneers at the time, they bought the patent for the first stamping process applied to the manufacture of cooking elements which, in doing so, set themselves apart from wrought iron pans. Over time, they improve production by filing patents for tinning. A few generations later – and three wars later – the empire crumbled, shares were sold to financiers seduced by the aura of this company which has offices all over the world. Social conflicts erupt, modernization is slow, and investment funds fail to save the company. In 1979, Japy went bankrupt, was taken over, then faced a second bankruptcy filing. About twenty former workers then sought a solution to restart manufacturing in the form of a workers’ cooperative and create a brand under which to register their production: Cristel was born, a contraction of “crystal” (in reference to the shine of their steel) and of “Châtel”, the place. Very quickly, they were again in difficulty: lack of trained executives, financial capital, loss of client files… Bernadette Dodane was contacted to assess the situation for the regional sub-prefect. While a designer-projector at Peugeot, her husband, Paul Dodane, visited the workshop and embarked on a study to imagine a product adapted to the needs of the time that went from fire to table. Cristel takes its concept: cooking and serving. If the idea is good, industrialization takes time, and Scop must again file for bankruptcy in 1986. A German offers a recovery with a move to Düsseldorf, but the authorities are fighting to save the site, a real local heritage. In the absence of a buyer and to prevent the staff from losing their jobs again, in 1987 the Dodane couple became the operator of the Cristel company and then the owner in 1993. It took him well: today the ninety employees produce some 600,000 pieces each year. The company has survived thanks to the involvement of twenty-three partners, who bring together the employees and a few friends who have put their savings into it. And above all by positioning itself in a high-end market and by claiming French excellence.
« Cook & Serve »
As often, it is the simple ideas that strike the hardest. The ingenuity of Paul Dodane is to have redesigned the removable handle of cooking instruments to decline the concept of cooking-service: “The removable handles already existed, but not a product whose, once the accessory removed, the handle or the ease presented a pure form, without apparent mechanical elements. “ Perfected over the collections, the clipping-unclipping is done with one hand, very simply: the handle is hooked to the handles, to move the cooking element, and to the glass cover, to lift it easily. The latest version of this handle does not feature any play. The storage of utensils is facilitated in the cupboards, and the dishes thus pass from the gas oven and arrive on the table without mismatching the service; it is therefore no longer necessary to transfer the content.
Paul Dodane specifies: “We wanted a quality product. When we go upmarket, we get out of the obligation to align ourselves with the market. “ The product is different and follows the evolution of the kitchen. Bernadette Dodane indicates: “The market was saturated with low-end, inexpensive products made from materials that did not meet current food hygiene standards. “ Cristel takes the time to adapt to the context. Designer-designer, Paul Dodane also brings technical skills for materials research. In 1991, the first ranges of stainless steel items compatible with induction cooking were thus released.
Since then, the ranges have continued to be developed: Mutine, Strate, Casteline… The collections are always designed to be associated with each other. The catalog brings together 1,200 products and is now available around accessories: teapots, fondue sets, etc., and the products are present abroad, in Japan and the United States, for example. Paul Dodane works in concert with Pascal Drouville, and the duo form Cristel’s design office. (…)
Deputy CEO, Damien Dodane underlines that this new market “ allows the brand to develop beyond products with removable handles. We worked with cooks and pastry chefs. We designed the Castel’Pro collection two years ago (Editor’s note: our photo). If we are among the latest arrivals in this segment, the implementation is done from above. The investments are very heavy in refrigerators and equipment, and the casserole often arrives in the budget lines. You have to convince professionals that the pan element can help them create. Currently, induction cooking is beginning to enter large kitchens. We come up with high-performance products both in temperature rise and fall, to go to the nearest degree for perfect cooking. “ And it is also the possible retreading that appeals to professionals: Michel Bras entrusts his coated stoves after each season.
Un succès qui ne fait que croître
During the lockdown, internet sales exploded by 500 %. Damien Dodane explains: “ This period allowed people to refocus on their home, and they relearned how to cook. There is an inflation of images on Instagram, everyone has shared the dishes. Top Chef has had historic ratings. People have retooled. We had just redesigned our website. Today, it is our number one source of customers. “ With one downside: Cristel is maintaining its links with retailers in France and has always placed them as partners in this positioning as the leading French manufacturer of high-end stainless steel cookware. Emmanuel Brugger, Managing Director, specifies: “Of these Internet sales, we donated 20% to our resellers. They have always been interested in Internet sales. To buy from us, the consumer must choose a reseller, who receives a commission, whether delivered to his home or to a store. There is a service relationship that is created between the consumer and the reseller. The physical network is one of the brand’s values. “