Posted 2/4/2013 12:00 am
Updated 10 months ago
The Microplane division of Russellville’s Grace Manufacturing Inc. has established an international reputation where edge is everything. The company’s line of extraordinarily sharp products was directed at the woodworking market before innovative consumers pulled Microplane into the kitchen.
In-house ingenuity tweaked the precision-engineered Microplane wood rasp that creative cooks adapted to kitchen use and in 1998 launched the company’s now renowned graters, zesters and shavers.
Microplane became the rage among kitchen mavens, fueled by unsolicited celebrity endorsements from Oprah Winfrey and a host of Food Network stars.
The buzz brought the culinary world, from haute-cuisine chefs to down-home cooks, to Microplane’s doorsteps.
Worldwide sales in 50 countries tally about $18 million. The kitchen line accounts for about 70 percent of Microplane’s 85 base products.
“We were getting emails from all over Europe asking us, ‘Where can I get it?” said Chris Grace, in his ninth year as CEO. “You know what? We should be able to develop a market to sell over in Europe.”
Seven years ago, the company opened its European sales and distribution operations in Hamburg, Germany, where a dozen staffers provide customer service.
“Europe has proven to be a good market for us,” Grace said. Monitoring the value of the euro versus the dollar is part of the job.
“If it’s below $1.30, we’re sweating it,” the 41-year-old exec said of the strategic puzzle overseas. “If it’s above $1.30, we’re OK.”
Honed by the company’s masking and etching technology, Microplane blades deliver a smooth, fine cut that conventional stamped metal can’t touch.
In Russellville, 25 workers are devoted to producing the surgical-grade stainless steel blades. This all-important component is shipped to Queretaro, Mexico, where 140 workers assemble the final product.
“We’ve progressed from the past when we were just trying to keep up,” Grace said. “We have enough data now to figure out what works and what doesn’t. $19.99 is a significant price point affecting volume.”
The roots of Microplane begin with Grace Engineering, a machine, tool and die shop, started in 1966 by Louis Grace and his son, Richard. The venture was relocated to Russellville in 1978 and morphed into Grace Manufacturing.
About 120 staffers in Russellville are devoted to the non-Microplane business, producing precision metal parts for an array of industries.
Chris Grace, who lives in McAllen, Texas, represents the third generation of family leadership.