Small Business Spotlight: Misen Works To Offer High-End Quality Cookware For Accessible Prices

July 31, 2018 - 5:30 pm
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NEW YORK (WCBS 880) -- In launching Misen, Omar Rada found a way to sell beautiful, high-end, and expensive-looking cookware that actually is not very expensive at all.

As Rada explained to WCBS 880’s Joe Connolly in this week’s Small Business Spotlight, the key to that model was cutting out the middleman – going direct to consumers instead of going through wholesalers for distribution to retail stores.

“We’re selling tools that really impact how you cook. Good tools improve your cooking,” Rada said. “And so we’re selling really high-quality tools for very accessible prices.”

Misen Chef's Knife
Misen

Rada emphasized that traditional product sales involving wholesalers do have value, but for young companies just starting out, the ability to sell directly to consumers is a win-win. He noted that other companies, such as Warby Parker for eyewear, Everlane for apparel, and Casper for mattresses all used the direct-to-consumer model.

“I think the dots that I connected were observing sort of a lot of other very successful companies have done, and my interest and passion for cooking, kitchenware, the kitchen tool industry,” Rada said. “And so just by connecting those two dots and then going out and trying it, that’s how it all got started.”

His path also started with frustration – as he realized how much high-quality tools improve the cooking experience, but also how expensive those tools actually are. That came a few years before Warby Parker and the other major direct-to-consumer retailers really picked up steam, Rada said.

“The idea and the frustration just lingered. It just built and then sort of sat in the back of my mind, and once you saw a lot of these companies taking off, that’s really where it clicked, like: ‘Hey, there’s no one doing this in the kitchen work space. Why can’t we do this?’” Rada said.

Misen Chef's Knife
Misen

Rada explained how high-quality cookware such as the items Misen offers is safer, more durable, and cooks food better.

“Thick, quality cookware made with good materials heats evenly, and so when you’re searing a steak, you have a nice even sear. There’s no hot spots. It actually cooks food better. A knife – it may seem counterintuitive, but a really sharp knife made with good steel will hold an edge longer and is safer to cut with. It won’t slide off your food. And those nice clean cuts actually do produce better quality food. If you cut an onion, it affects the flavor, and it will make you actually cry less,” Rada said.  “So at its core, it actually helps you cook better food. But aside from that, it lasts longer and it’s more fun to use.”

He explained that he is able to get that very message across more effectively with a direct-to-consumer model than he would be if his products were stacked up in an aisle of a retail store.

“If you walk into – going back to wholesale – any aisle of any, you know, kitchenware store, you have 100 options, and you have features just tossed at your head. ‘This steel,’ you know, ‘This yada, yada, yada.’ But what does it mean? How does it help you do?” Rada said.

Meanwhile, to make and assemble its products, Misen has set up relationships with some operations overseas. The steel for Misen knives comes from Japan, while the assembly for the knives is made outside Shanghai. Pots and pans are made by another partner in the Shanghai area.

Misen Cookware
Misen

Rada visits the Shanghai factories about four or five times a year.

“So we have a team over there that we partner with that’s there constantly in the area, and so they’re in the actual factory doing a lot of the sort of day-to-day work. But, you know, China gets a really bad reputation for having poor quality. I actually think completely the opposite – they have some of the best manufacturers in the world,” he said. “But like anything, it’s, you get what you put in.”

Rada said for Misen, it is especially important to be a company that values every step of the process, and to partner with companies that value the same.

“If something goes wrong, we want to see and we want to learn,” he said. “It only helps us as we design new products.”

Back in the U.S., Misen has an office in Gowanus, Brooklyn.

“While we have a warehouse, our office is stacked to the brim with samples, and we’re always designing and testing,” Rada said.

Misen has five employees at the Brooklyn office – part of what Rada called a small, but growing team. Misen also has an in-house web designer, and partners with an external digital developer.

Rada’s own background wound through a number of different businesses and career paths. Just before Misen, he started a clothing company that matched technical fabrics with fashionable cuts, and before that, he served a number of roles at the online grocer FreshDirect. He also worked in finance for a couple of years before that.

All of that led up to success at Misen, though Rada emphasized the challenges of launching any kind of business that sells products.

“There is a somewhat convoluted, but accurate quote I heard, which is, ‘There’s never been an easier time to start a company, a harder time to make your first sale, but an easier time to make your second sale,’” he said. “You can get a website up and running in 5 seconds. It’s really hard to sell something. But when you do, you have their data, and you can re-mark it.”

Misen actually entered the market in a nontraditional way – launching on Kickstarter and starting by selling a high-end, but affordable chef’s knife. Rada was blown away by how well it worked.

“Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform, where you can effectively for commerce think of it as presales, and we wanted to see if anyone was interested in this idea, and we worked for nearly a year getting ready – got pretty far in the manufacturing process – but we launched it for presales, and we had a $25,000 goal, and we ended up selling over $1 million to 13,000 people,” he said. “So it was just an incredible validation of the concept.”

Misen Knife
Misen

Contributors to the Kickstarter got a Misen chef’s knife for their contributions, and also provided an early-bird discount. Rada said he and his team would have been very satisfied if the Kickstarter raised $50,000, but they ended up with 20 times that much.

But Rada noted that the fact that the Kickstarter went gangbusters did not mean Misen could rest on its laurels, or expect to cruise from there on out.

“On Kickstarter in particular, there’s a lot of people that get a ton of unexpected success, and then fall into traps of, you know, just really tough production problems or any number of issues, and so for us, we didn’t view that Kickstarter as a one-off,” he said. “We’re in this for the long haul, and so just treating those backers who put their trust in us, treating them like the goal that they are, like, that’s all that matters.”

In the future, Misen might expand toward developing relationships with wholesalers and getting into retail stores. But for now, Rada said he has been successful selling one quality product at a time.