• bag

The Do One Thing Well Podcast - Sage.

Nov 18, 2021

The Do One Thing Well podcast is a monthly research project into brands and business that ‘Do One Thing Well’.

We pick businesses, products, and individuals who got us to utter the words: ‘I wish I had done that.’

We try and unpack the key component parts of ‘Doing One Thing Well.’

It turns out the secret sauce is not one thing, but many, many things done well.

Who knew?

With each study, we learn the back story, the turning point, their strategies, what drives them and how they get the message out.

We take that learning back into our business to quench our thirst to ‘Do One Thing Well,’ which is to make the best jeans in the world.

 

Lian:

Welcome to The Do One Thing Well podcast with the Hiut Denim team. Today, we're going to talk about Sage, the innovation appliance company.

BACKSTORY.

David:

Yeah. Quick back story. In 1932, started by Bill O'Brien and Harry Norville, they merged their names and they came up with Breville. And they started out making, I think, radios and then doing the war mine detectors. Then they grew into household appliances. But what happened is, not sure of the exact date, but they sold their name in the UK. So Breville couldn't be Breville in the UK and they had to suddenly be Sage. So, that's what we're talking about today is the Sage company.

Abi:

So, yeah, David, as you said, Harry Norville, who was an engineer, and Bill O Brien, who was a radio salesman came together in 1932. Originally, they were going to make radios. And then during World War II, they ended up making mine detectors. After that they went back to radios and TV sets. And then, around the fifties is when they moved more onto appliances. The O'Brien family remained very much a part of Breville and they had three generations of the family involved in production design and development where they were able to focus on their own product, which is when they went into the appliances more. In 2001, they were bought by a company called Housewares, which has bases in Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong. And in 2002, they launched in America and Canada under the name Breville. In 2008, because the Breville products had become so popular, they renamed the Housewares company to Breville and just focused on appliances as opposed to anything else. As you mentioned, they were sold in the UK as Breville through other companies. So, they wanted to be direct consumer. So in 2013, they launched in the UK just as Sage so that they could go direct to the customers.

David:

What year did they sell their name in the UK? Does anybody know that?

Abi:

I think it was around 2008 when Housewares became Breville.

Paul:

It was between 2008 and 2015.

TURNING POINT.

Jade:

So, the turning point for Sage, we found was that they were one of the first companies to consider user experience design in their products. And this all started with their two chief designers who are Keith Hensel and Richard Hoare. They used to work for another company called Sunbeam in Australia, which was a much cheaper appliance brand. And their focus was more on quantity than quality. So, they moved to Breville in 2002. And then from there, they started focusing more on the quality of the design and everything that they could consider for the consumer. When the Breville-Heston brand collaboration came together, they moved across to London when this started to launch and became the two designers for that.

David:

And Richard was the Innovation Director and Keith was the Principal Director.

So, they were design Directors. But they were the catalyst for the change.

Lian:

Yeah. And what's really interesting on their first day, the founder, the former chairman and John O'Brien showed them, the customers typed up guarantee cards and even though John was retired, he did these on a weekly basis. Yeah. Which is pretty incredible going back to the consumer. And one of the customers with arthritis had written in and they couldn't use a juicer. So, Richard and Keith, they then went and designed something which today is called the Citrus Press.

David:

Yeah. And the interesting thing on that is it went through many, many iterations from prototype to prototype to prototype to prototype. And eventually, now it hasn't changed in a decade. But it changed then maybe a hundred times in terms of prototypes at the beginning.

Jade:

Yeah. I think they said they would spend their nights when they were visiting conventions in hotels, making more design iterations of this. So, literally, they lived and breathed it.

Paul:

Yeah. The dedication is so clear.

David:

It's a thing of beauty, isn't it? It's easy to use even if you got arthritis and it's beautiful on the eye.

And I imagine the orange juice is pretty good too.

Jade:

Yeah.

Lian:

It came to Hansel in the shower and I think since it's won many, many design awards.

David:

But I suppose, the interesting point for us to learn is the importance of listening to your customer and the comments section is people go, oh my, there's loads of bad comments, that you go, maybe that's your future product talking, doing. So, I find that interesting for us to learn.

Jade:

Yeah. That's like user experience design is a feedback loop. Where you have that constant feedback to improve from.

David: That's the big thing, isn't it? The feedback loop is listen, iterate, launch. And there's an awful lot of iteration within that.

Paul:

Yeah. One of the things we talk about in a bit is about the side of going deep into the product, deep into the design, but not forgetting to come back out and check with the user, check with the customer, check with the consumer. It's okay going really deep and dedicated. But if you don't come back out able  to talk to people, then the design isn't going to work.

David:

So yeah, they were definitely the turning point, weren't they? Moving to London, moving company. But they changed the culture into an innovation culture.

Paul:

Yeah.

Lian:

I think it's like as well, solving a problem. So, if they're given this guarantee card, you're then literally solving a problem. It's quite an interesting way to design.

David:

Yeah.

INNOVATION.

Paul:

So, they’ve been designing world's first since 1932. And that’s a great example, isn't it? I think we know the power of world's firsts. How that sounds and what that means. And it' shows the dedication to that culture of innovation. So yeah, Heston's inclusion in their UK launch gathered a lot of attention. All it really was, was the 10 years of innovation before that. That's why it actually had the impact when Heston got involved.

David:

Yeah. Because if they hadn't done the 10 years of innovation, Heston wouldn’t have touched him with a barge pole. But the thing that, it wasn't like, oh, he's going to get paid to do this thing. There was lots of offers to go and put his name to something. But he's the type of guy who wouldn't put his name to something unless the product was in similar ethos to him. And I find that extraordinary where you suddenly got, he looks at the products and went, ah, these guys are the real deal.

Paul:

I think that’s the thing, their work is best to impress the specialists. So, the person knows they are at that level - that they're impressive to those people that really know their stuff. So, saying the toaster went more than a century without any sort of change before Sage did it. And the latest world first is their desktop kitchen top, almost pizza oven, which replicates the performance of a brick oven, again, which is 400 degrees C.

David:

Yeah, but it doesn't even take two minutes.

Paul:

It's the same as sort of fire pits.

David:

And I think all these innovations, all these patents are all trying to make it easier for a customer. And that's the ethos that's running throughout it.

Paul:

Yeah.

David:

I was curious, I got a Breville kettle and it just heats the water. It's like, that's what it does. That's what a kettle is supposed to do, but Sage's kettle has what, six different temperatures. I can keep it on boil. It knows if I'm doing the difference between white tea, green tea and coffee. And those things need different temperatures. So, the Breville company, even though it's using the traditional or the original name, is a commodity and Sage is an innovations appliance company.

Jade:

Yeah.

Paul:

That's really impressive. And again, go back to Richard Hoare, it's his input that's been centered for all of those major moves in the company. And they've been supported his approach and almost tripled their investment in R&D. And that investment then has been used to create their own innovations group. And what they do in there is, task themselves, its kind of blue sky thinking. So, it's not just about the next launch or the next product. We're looking at kind of years and years ahead. They're always trying to keep that step ahead of themselves. And they, again, they're relying on us in their approach to innovation. It's something they really want to do. As you said before they identify key design opportunities in consumer life and consumer behavior. And then they start with empathy, put themselves in the consumer shoes. As you say, they test, they tweak, they test, they retest, they tweak, relentless with that. They just want to solve that consumer problems and they're persistent with it. As we saying a bit as well, it's this function with humanity as well, understanding what that person's doing. So, back to Richard Hoare, he's in rehire regards what he's done here. So, throughout his 26 year career, he's developed over 360 household appliances and 170 awards worldwide developing 1,200 design patents.

Lian:

That's crazy.

Sara:

Yeah.

Paul:

And they insist that credit is due to the team, which reflects very, very highly on the team. And that a good team makes a good product. I think the key is, that team is driven to innovate. That's pushed until its done.

David:

Yeah. The importance of the patent is, if you keep coming up with more and more ideas, you have to be able to protect them going forward. And so they come up with an idea and they can go and launch it and the patent then gives them 10 years to go and get the money back on that investment. And that's why they're the innovations company, not just a kettle company.

Paul:

Yeah. Patenting the designs is the cornerstone of their policy, the kind of big business plan, really. And so, I've just got some of them here. So, they've got the Accessibility Plug in the US and Australia where you can poke your finger through the middle.

Lian:

Like a hole in it does that.

Paul:

To make it easier to remove the plug.

Jade:

That was actually on their logo for a while as well.

Sara:

Yeah.

Paul:

And back to the Citrus Press. So, Keith Hensel's Citrus Press was first registered in the US in 2006. It was slightly tweaked in 2012. But the innovation is basically the same, the patent is basically the same to this day. Keith Hensel is still accredited with the patent for their Vegetable Juicer release in 2020, which even though since his passing, which we're going to discuss, his legacy still lives on in the Sage family because of that innovation he put in all those years ago.

David:

Yeah. It's interesting how two people can change a company? Actually, if you think about Jonathan Ive with Apple and Steve jobs. Interesting.

A LITTLE BIT MORE. 

Jade:

Now, David, I think this is your favorite bit about our toaster upstairs, isn't it?

David:

Well, I mean, I was watching a design program and this button came up and it just says ‘a bit more’. I didn't know this company. I didn't know who made it. I bought one the next day. I did some research. Googled it. Bought it. Because I just thought, whoever came up with that actually understood human beings standing at a toaster, doing that thing.

Jade:

Yeah.

David:

Do I need a bit more?

Jade:

Toasting is such an imperfect art.

David:

They didn't know whether to carry on. When they were researching that a bit more, they had other options, some labels.

Jade:

They were going to call it Extra Darkness or 10% Extra.

David:

Yeah. And none of those things had the humanity, that a bit more because that was the conversation that's already going in your head.

Jade:

Yeah.

David:

Do I do a bit more?

Paul:

Yeah.

David:

I don't know. And then the designer put that - the thing that you were actually thinking about onto the bloody button.

Jade:

Yeah. Simple.

David:

It's genius. Yeah. And it's ridiculously simple. It's so obvious. You go, look, what else would you do?

Jade:

Have a cup and a bagel.

Sara:

Yeah.

Jade:

Yeah. So, this was actually one of the last products Keith Hensel designed and also the Smart Kettle that you mentioned earlier. And in 2013, unfortunately, Keith Hensel passed away. He was only 47, but Richard Hoare actually gave the eulogy at his funeral as well. And I know he said that Keith probably wasn't the most famous designer, but he could run rings around all the others.

David:

I love that thing, when I was reading it this morning was that he played with Lego until he was 19. And they were saying that that was far too young to stop. In a way, it's a bit of sweet story, isn't it? It's kind of like a story of two friends. They were friends till the end, going, leaving a company, joining a company, leaving the country they were living in, setting up a design studio and literally changing the appliance market. I'm sure that all the appliance companies go and see what they're doing next.

THIRD WAVE COFFEE. 

Sara:

Yeah. And then we're onto the Third Wave coffee, which all kind of started in the early 2000s when people were turning into coffee snobs, basically and they were wanting that taste. And it was like more of an art mill food. And as you can see that we look at a graph on Google trends where coffee machine versus instant coffee has increased since 2010 with the big peaks around Christmas. So, people are really investing into it. And Sage clocked onto that. And Luke Powell, the coffee guru, created the Sage coffee machine that we are fortunate to have upstairs. And it was the drive to allow people to drink Third Wave's specialty coffee at home in a function within Sage.

David:

Yeah. Because if you think about it, if you've had really good coffee in all these coffee shops and then you go home you're still drinking that same old rubbish.

Abi:

Yeah.

David:

And the thing is with trends is, you want the wind on your back, not in your face. So, when it's on your back, it's much easier to go and launch a product where you go, the desire is already there.

Sara:

Yeah.

David:

And once you go and give them a product, which is ridiculously simple. If I can make a great cup of coffee now, they give me the tools to do it. So, they tell me all sorts of things, when I should clean it- It's full, I need to empty.

Abi:

Yeah.

David:

It's all these things. They literally make me look better.

Paul:

Yeah. It's kind of ridiculous. I guess, it's interesting as well with the pizza oven now, it's like, this part that we used to be okay with rubbish pizza, frozen pizza.

Jade:

Yeah.

Paul:

And now since the growth of pizza, we want that good pizza.

David:

Why do I have to have crap pizza at home? Well, you don't have to have crap. You don't have to have crap coffee. It's kind of ridiculous. The sad thing is you wouldn't want to go out.

Sara:

They are always like setting that bar higher and higher.

Lian:

You are making this for the amateur people. You don't have to really know what you're doing.

David:

Yeah. Was it pro-consumer or something. Yeah. Pretty interesting.

FOOD INNOVATION. 

Abi:

So, having spoken about the pizza oven and how they are moving coffee forward, they're also doing the same with food. They have a huge food philosophy about wanting to be able to provide people with the best products to make the best food. So, when they were looking at doing all their innovation, they wanted to work with somebody who was innovative. And as we've mentioned, Heston Blumenthal already. He's a man who's known for eggs and bacon ice cream and lickable wallpaper, and it doesn't really get much more crazy innovative than that.

David:

So, he just wakes up and goes, say, I'm going to do some wallpaper that you can lick. Did he do that in the shower? This is kind of ridiculous but its brilliant.

Abi:

So, when they were looking for people to team up with, he genuinely wanted to work with them because he believed in their product.

David:

But isn't that the beauty of ideas and innovation? Because he could see these people who were into it.

Jade:

Yeah.

David:

He didn't want to put his name to anything and that's the beauty is, that you have ideas and you keep putting them out there is you will work with the best.

Abi:

Yeah. And obviously when he launched, he is a very well-known face. So, it instantly meant the customer also trusted the product because he's using it. Great. But it's not just people like Heston. Rene Redzepi who actually wears our jeans. He uses the vegetables juicer in his restaurant in Noma. Whichis one of the world's best restaurants.

David:

Why wouldn't he? It’s like ridiculously simple.

Abi:

Yeah.

David:

But I think, in terms of collaboration, you go, Heston's a geek. These people are geeks. And so the geeks hang out with the geeks. And of course he's going to do collaboration with them. Because its a natural fit. No one's going, oh, he's sold out. No, he's endorsing something that's really proper good.

Jade:

Yeah.

David:

Yeah. It's the perfect partnership.

Jade:

And I think when they launched in the UK, they only launched with 16 products. So, it was like the cherry pick of their best innovation pieces.

David:

Yeah.

Jade:

And it's just such a good way to launch Sage in comparison to Breville.

David:

Yeah. I think isn't like most overnight successes. It's like 10 years of hard work.

Sara:

Yeah.

David:

And people tend to forget about that.

Paul:

Yeah. So, for launch here, they partnered with MBA, which is a digital agency with a mission of bringing that food thinking to the UK, to the consumer, to the customer. So, MBA's work with Sage is based on the ZMOT stage, the purchase cycle, which is the Zero Moment of Truth, which is it by that stage when a consumer looks into a product before they even necessarily think about buying it, before they engage with the brand itself, is when they do their research. So, according to Google, 53% of shoppers say they always do research before they buy. So, it's really obvious to target that stage of the consumer behavior, which is what they've done with these. One of the main ways to did this was, again, using Heston to create a series of films, introducing product range, explaining what they're about, showing them off and those kind of things. And over a million of these films have been downloaded and watched. So, that really worked. And then they continued this then into social media and things with, they did a Talk Tea with Heston, a social event, which educated consumers on the importance of the temperature and precision when making tea and the difference that can make. And as you've said, the capital they produce allows you to have that precision, allows you to make really great tea, Reduce Love social campaign as well, which they noted the power of peer support. If you want a healthy lifestyle, they know just that if your friends have a healthy lifestyle as well, it's more like to be a success. So, they use social media to promote that. And then Real Bread which is something that goes on in the UK anyway, they hijack that as part of when they launched a new breadmaker. So again, all these campaigns are generally very specific.

David:

So, they've been pretty savvy.

Paul:

Yeah.

David:

And like anything, if you come up with a new appliance and it's brilliant, you still have to sell it.

Paul:

Much like with trends, they’re just watching that trend behavior on social media as well and following what those trends are, and then kind of combining that into their strategy.

David:

Yeah. Completely.

Paul:

It's all about driving traffic them to their store, to the brand and talking to serious foodies and experts, as we've said, specialists who really appreciate what Sage is doing. And then they say, share that love.

SOCIAL MEDIA STATS.

David:

Because I've spent much more on more expensive coffee machines and had less good coffee. And so that thing I've done. There's a awful lot of snobbery about which machines you have. But even the coffee geeks go, yeah, this is fine, its good. So, basically, where do we beat them? Obviously, they make better kettle than us. But TikTok, we're absolutely, we smash them.

Abi:

And Twitter.

Lian:

And Instagram.

David:

No, but I think, what they use is not their platform for themselves. They use other people to go and say stuff on their behalf. So, actually what we should be looking at is the influencers they're using to tell the message.

Jade:

Yeah.

David:

They don't rely on them just being the voice.

Paul:

I was just going to say that, the companies I mentioned here, all of them are about to start using hashtag. Just hashtag talk to you Heston, hashtag.

David:

Oh really?

Paul:

Yeah. Juice love. Like I said, you hit on that point exactly. They're putting these campaigns out there to get you to tweet about with a hashtag to get you to post about that.

Jade:

Yeah.

David:

Okay. That's interesting.

Paul:

That's exactly what they say.

David:

So, they do collaborations really well.

Sara:

And where they sell this product, they have Sage brand ambassadors where they'll do virtual demos or master classes offering them five different languages. So, they're making sure that the customers that are purchasing are then, not qualified, but understand how to use it and stuff. So, they're really making sure that they're looking after their customers.

Jade:

And haven't they started to grow across other markets like into more of Europe as well.

Sara:

France and Spain.

Jade:

Yeah.

Sara:

They've grown into, recently launched in France and Spain. And they've partnered with Stella who drive the product sales and brand loyalty through these retail experiences that we've just mentioned.

David:

Yeah. Having been a customer, they're after sales services really good because when something went a bit wrong, they really put it right, really well. So, that's good to know.

Jade:

Yeah.

David:

But also they've seemed to have done many, many, many things well. And I think that's pretty interesting to me. Okay. Do we sum up now?

LESSONS LEARNT.

Jade:

Yeah.

David:

Okay. To do one thing well, you have to do many, many, many, many things well. Where they started from is in a very different place to where they are now.

Abi:

Yeah.

David:

I think, obviously, the turning point with Richard and Keith joining, they suddenly become, like you said Lian, innovations appliance company. But it's about the customer. It's about empathy. Its about listening to customer.

Sara:

Yeah.

David:

They do collaborations well. They do user experience pretty well.

Paul:

Yeah. For me, its putting themselves in the customers' shoes, in a consumer's shoes and then relentlessly trying to solve that problem, solve any issues they might have and also retesting and tweaking and then checking the consumer again.

Abi:

As you said, before you said that they use empathy a lot when they design. And I think that's apparent from when they're design of people like Heston and or when they're doing it for your average person at home. Yeah. You can clearly see the power. I think that's coming from the founder as well.

Paul:

Yeah.

David:

Yeah, because he was doing little comment cards and so that was always there and it was already there. But then, I suppose, Richard and Keith really brought it out. But also in terms of an ideas culture and innovations culture, you have to go and protect your ideas going forward. All those patents registered means that they can protect themselves as a business to go and put those ideas out and other people can't copy them.

Abi:

Yeah.

David:

So, they've done all those things well, and the collaboration, innovation, the feedback loops, user experience. Even those things, those relationships with Heston. Heston wouldn't have got on board if it was just an average company.

Paul:

Yeah. Not worried about this. Like again, because of all the R&D they do, you might think they might be all science based or with science, like you said, they wanted to go or 10% darker on that bit more button. They didn't do it a bit more.

David:

Yeah.

Paul:

And then with the Citrus Press and the arthritis, the temptation would've been to go, oh, it's an accessible thing. It's really agreeable. It's not. It's both accessible and a beautiful product.

Jade:

Yeah.

David:

And it solves a human problem. So, I think they're very human based ideas company. I think we can learn a lot from them. And I think they do many, many things well, and that's what you have to do to do one thing. Well, so. Good for you, Sage. Well done.

Jade:

Feel free if you'd like to send us a pizza oven.

David:

Yeah. We'll test it.

 

Your Bag

x
remove

Total:

CheckoutView full cart
You don't have any items in your bag