Here are some excerpts from the recent interview and a link to the full article in Branding in Asia.
If you haven’t yet heard of the Seoul-based professional kitchen appliance brand, Dipo Induction, chances are you soon will. The two-decade-old company is looking to ride the global trend of creating eco-friendly products in an effort to reduce the use of fossil fuels.
For many brands, there is no longer a choice, as some of the world’s largest economies have already enacted legislation to address global warming. In the United States and in Europe for example, there are more and more cities enacting bans on new building construction from offering natural gas. This will have an especially big impact on professional kitchens, many of which are turning to induction technology which consumes a fraction of the energy used by traditional cooking methods.
Though the technology is actually nothing new – it was even featured at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair – the technology is still dwarfed by the use of traditional cooking methods. An even larger issue facing induction brands is an uneducated market that’s really not sure what induction actually is.
While induction appliances have gained traction in Asia, and in Europe, it has yet to catch on in the U.S. According to a report by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, in 2019 only one percent of stoves in the US are induction.
We recently caught up with Jinsook Hur, the Founder, and CEO of Dipo Induction, a family-run company that’s riding the wave of induction technology brands. Just last month no less than five major media outlets, including The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, wrote about the increasing trend of both home and professional kitchens making the move to induction.
Jinsook, a single mother who started the company in the early 90s, is on a mission to become yet another South Korean brand to establish itself on the world stage.
What inspired you to start Dipo Induction?
Actually, I came on with Dipo as an investor when my daughter was born 29 years ago. We originally launched as a motor driver company, but at that time I found that the original technology wasn’t well-suited for the market.
Later, along with my partner, an engineer, Dipo started to develop induction technology for a Japanese company that approached us in the late ’90s. At that time, induction technology was in the very early stages for many countries and largely unknown in professional kitchens, but I saw the opportunity and potential and was determined to grow the business.
I started to learn more about using induction for cooking and I focused on the professional kitchen equipment market, rather than the home market, because I thought we had a strong point in terms of technology and that would appeal to professionals chefs.
Since induction was still relatively unknown in the South Korean market, it was difficult for me to study it and learn more about how to promote it. At the time there were only a handful of induction companies in the world vying for the commercial equipment market, but most were cost-prohibitive to small businesses. So, I found that there was a niche where we could compete with lower prices and superior technology.
“Developing a product is much more different than developing a brand. Actually, the product development part of the business was easy, but branding and marketing and keeping the company in the public eye was a totally different story.”
Over time I gained a better understanding of the market, especially the professional kitchen in restaurants. What I found was that the staff in many of these kitchens were working in very difficult conditions with very high heat and fumes from cooking with traditional methods which caused headaches as well as body fatigue. I was very touched by their situation and wanted to do what I could to help them by upgrading their technology to induction which produces very little heat and is much safer than traditional gas or electric element cooking methods.
At the time I read the book, Hidden Champions, by Hermann Simon. It made me realize that this could be a global business, and if we could develop our heavy-duty product line up for professional kitchens, then I believed Dipo would emerge as a strong global brand.
So, I focused on the professional cooking equipment market. After several years passed, it took time for me to fully understand this market as much as I wanted to, so I visited several conventions and exhibitions and I tried to understand the requirements of not only chefs but also appliance dealers and industrial players.
I found that the products that were available were not meeting the needs of consumers. I thought if I solve the problems I heard from staff in the kitchen, then that product design would work in the market.
A driving factor for me, along with making life better for kitchen staff was that it was also much better for the environment than traditional cooking methods.
We went on to develop the first induction griddle, induction fryer, induction rice cooker, and induction kettle. All of these were created for the first time in the world and offered professional kitchens the chance to increase safety, while at the same time being vastly more eco-friendly.
All of this inspired me to focus on this market and, more importantly, solve people’s problems.
When building the brand in a market that required a great deal of education, what were some of the biggest lessons you learned?
Developing a product is much more different than developing a brand. Actually, the product development part of the business was easy, but branding and marketing and keeping the company in the public eye was a totally different story.
From the beginning, I started the company knowing that I had to understand our customers and genuinely love them, otherwise I had no reason to develop new technology that would help make their jobs easier. I’ve always believed if you don’t love your customers you cannot develop the right products or even understand their needs – even the needs they don’t even know they have.
I continue to believe if I don’t care about my customers, how can I care about doing marketing, product development, or anything else? Keeping that in mind and that passion and feeling for customers was an essential part of the marketing and branding.
“Some brands look at marketing as kind of a mechanical process, using social media or advertising, or other channels to spread their message. When I started I was not a specialist in marketing, but I understood that the brand had to be one that customers could trust and eventually come to love.”
Some brands look at marketing as kind of a mechanical process, using social media or advertising, or other channels to spread their message. When I started I was not a specialist in marketing, but I understood that the brand had to be one that customers could trust and eventually come to love.
In the early stages of my business, when I visited current or potential customers, I always focused on having strong relationships with them.
Read the full interview at Branding in Asia.