CEO Bob Burbank tells Business of Home that the acquisition will help both brands access different markets. “Lenox and Oneida are great complementary brands. When you bring them together, you can access different channels. For example, Lenox used to have a hospitality group, but it [didn’t scale]. Oneida hospitality has been incredibly successful.”
The move, says Burbank, also strengthens Lenox’s ability to offer product at all levels of the market. Earlier this year, it acquired flatware maker Hampton Forge, which plays in the mass-market arena. Oneida—itself a heritage company, originally founded as part of a utopian commune in 1880—occupies a higher price point. “Instead of taking one brand and forcing it into a channel, instead of trying to do good/better/best, now we have brands that work at each segment of the market,” says Burbank.
The merging of the two companies will likely see some editing of the product selection to eliminate crossover, and certain departments will be consolidated for efficiency. However, Burbank suggested he didn’t want to change too much too fast, and the key players at Oneida would remain. “We’ll tread lightly. A lot of companies rush to integrate, and that’s typically how these things fail.”
The acquisition is only the latest development in what has been a roller-coaster 18 months for Lenox. To briefly recap: Last Spring, citing the pandemic, the company permanently shuttered its 30-year-old Kinston, North Carolina, factory, effectively ending U.S. production. Then in the summer, it closed warehouse and outlet stores, again pointing to COVID-19. In the fall, Lenox was purchased by private equity firm Centre Lane Partners, which sold sub-brand Dansk to media/e-commerce hybrid Food52 months later—though not before the departure of former CEO Mads Ryder.
Going forward, the goal is to simplify and strengthen. “When I joined the company, I literally pulled the team together and said: ‘This is a pretty complicated business, there’s a lot going on, we’re stepping on each other’s toes,’” says Burbank. “We created a product ‘power wall’ with everything we do on it, and when people saw the sheer volume of products we’re producing and the crossover, it was an education. We can’t be all things to all people. When Lenox tried to do that, historically, it has failed. You can’t spread your resources so thin over so many categories.”
Instead, he said, Lenox’s goal is to double down on the core categories and appeal to the next generation of consumers. “Where the business is going is, it’s going to be less about pulling the product out once or twice a year, but creating products people enjoy every day, which sounds obvious, but it’s not so simple,” he says. “We’re investing in some new product, which the company hasn’t been able to do in some time—some really cool flatware and some complementary tabletop glassware.”
Only a few months into his tenure at Lenox, Burbank is relishing the challenge of carrying the venerable company forward, and embracing a frank, honest approach to the opportunities and challenges ahead. “People want to believe the brand is what the brand is, but the consumers tell us what the brand is,” he says. “As a company, we use the term truth-telling. It’s: Here’s where we are as a business.”
The executive, who spent a decade in the snowboarding and bicycling equipment industries before coming to the home world, is optimistic that a pair of fresh eyes on Lenox will chart a way ahead. “I’ve been an outsider in every industry I’ve come into,” he says. “And I think it’s worked to my advantage.”
Homepage photo: Oneida flatware | Courtesy of Oneida