Barbecue/Grill Retailer Profile

The Companion Group Experiences a Spike in Accessory Sales

When Doug Fielding and Chuck Adams (who were involved in urban planning and property management, respectively) began their sideline barbecue-accessory business in 1984, they started with a single product: the chimney-style charcoal starter. Ahead of their time, they offered a simple, easy-to-use product that gave consumers a nontoxic, environmentally friendly way to start a charcoal fire without the use of lighter fluid. By 1986, both men were able to leave their day jobs, turning their sideline into a company that is, today, a leader in the barbecue-accessory market.

As it celebrates its 25th anniversary this year, The Companion Group, based in Emeryville, Calif., still offers its charcoal starter, along with hundreds of other barbecue accessories. Remaining forward thinking in their approach to the market, Fielding, president, and Adams, CEO, attribute much of the company’s success to offering innovative, high-quality grilling products through its many long-term retail relationships.

“We design products that solve problems and look at our relationships with retailers from a long-term perspective, bringing them the best products in terms of pricing and marketing,” Adams says. “We really try to give retailers products that sell at a high rate of sale for them, so they want to see us, year after year.”

While The Companion Group sells its multiple brands through a number of different retail channels, Adams says that it has always been a big supporter of independent retailers. “We have always done our product introductions through our high-end specialty retailers and consider them very important to our business,” he says.

The company has partnerships with a number of online merchants as well, but most of its products are sold through traditional brick-and-mortar stores. “We make sure our online retailers are well served, but it’s not necessarily our focus. We are still believers that people need to experience our products firsthand, on the retail shelf,” he adds.

The Companion Group offers a multitude of products to meet almost any barbecue need. The company is known for its unique, cutting-edge designs and many firsts in the barbecue-accessory market. These include the instant-read steak thermometer, which reads rare, medium, and well; a removable-handle grill basket that allows complete closure of the grill lid; and circle skewers designed to go from grill to plate, giving an attractive presentation.

The company’s in-house design group develops most of the company’s products and is an integral part of the business. “We are driven by design,” Adams says. As grilling techniques and interests have changed over time, The Companion Group has been at the forefront, ready to meet evolving consumer demand. “We tend not to sell what everybody else is selling and really try to move the market along,” he says.

The company is also involved in offering products through various licensing agreements, including those with barbecue guru and award-winning author Steven Raichlen and home/gardening author and expert Katie Brown. “Steven sells more grilling cookbooks than anybody and is a very sophisticated griller,” Adams says. “He has a great palate and a lot of interesting ideas, and we took those ideas and turned them into products. The partnership has done very well and has been well received by the market.”

Under the Katie Brown license, the company offers outdoor decorative and tabletop items. “Both bring us not only their names, but a passion for what they do, which we take to market,” Adams adds.

There have been many changes since Fielding and Adams founded the company, but the biggest revolution has been the surging popularity of gas grills. “We started when gas grills were out there, but did not have a big market share and were poorly manufactured, in most cases,” Adams says. As manufacturers refined their products and the sales of gas grills exploded, the frequency of grilling also grew. “This made a giant impact on the entire industry,” he adds.

The Companion Group has typically fared well in troubled economic times. Since most of the company’s products sell for less than $40, it has been able to weather economic downturns better than some businesses that focus on high-priced categories. “We have been through several downturns in the past, and our business grew because people stopped going to restaurants, stayed at home, and entertained around the grill,” Adams says.

He suggests that in the current economic climate, retailers should assess their product offerings and categories and understand which products (at which price points) are still strong sellers in a down market. “We see barbecue accessories that enable people to cook a different kind of food as a strong category,” he says. “There is still a very good demand for products that have to do with home entertaining.”


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