Walking down the street with Maximilian Riedel, the 11th generation chief of the glassware firm that bears his family name, sounds like a demanding experience – at least if you work in his sales team.
“I said to Steve (McGraw, Riedel’s UK managing director), when I walk the streets of London, I tend to look into every restaurant from the outside.” Steve, sat nearby as Riedel speaks, knows what’s coming.
“It’s to see what glasses are standing on the shelves or on the tables of restaurants. I look left and right. And I say to Steve, we’ve had the best year in the UK.
“And still I walked the streets and there are too many restaurants without Riedel glasses.”
Steve, tapping away on his laptop, seems aware of the challenge.
Best year ever
Riedel, meanwhile, looks extremely comfortable in the Red Room of Mayfair’s Connaught Hotel, as does the stemware laid out on the bar, some of which are as much modern art as anything on the ferociously expensive walls of our surrounds. Well might he be – the firm he runs has become synonymous with modern, smart design.
The firm recorded its most successful year ever in 2022 – not a bad achievement considering the firm is now 266 years old.
But Riedel, for all his unquestioned elan, has his worries too. Like all manufacturers, he’s facing a vicious uptick in his energy bill – more than 300 per cent. Labour costs are also a problem.
And the glassmakers’ problems are doubled as Ukraine is the key supplier of potash – one of the key ingredients required to melt glass. That combination inevitably leads through to the sticker price.
The year 2023 has me on alert – it’s the same all around the worldRiedel
“We have already had a price increase this year in March, which was reflecting the past. (The Ukraine war) meant we had to have another increase, three months down the line. To the consumer and the trade that’s acceptable and understandable. We aren’t doing them to become rich – they were instrumental for us to stay afloat,” Riedel says. He rules out a further price hike this year, but after that, he “cannot say what will happen next.”
Such a thing as a good pandemic?
For a firm whose products grace the tables of the finest restaurants in the world, the pandemic – and the associated shutdown of hospitality businesses – could have been a game-changer. But like a host of other firms, lockdowns came with some upsides.
“A lot of people learnt how to cook (or) they became sommeliers, they educated themselves, and they realised they didn’t have the proper stemware,” Riedel says. The brand’s signature – as well as elegant lines – are its varietal specific wine glasses, which are individually designed to match different grape varieties; the new Veloce range, for instance, offers a stunningly thin glass for a sauvignon blanc, whilst the cabernet sauvignon is deeper, and broader, allowing the wine to breathe. Maximilian is credited with the invention of a stemless varietal specific range – the first of its kind.
“But we are seeing a slowdown now,” Riedel says. For one thing, the uptick in demand – and supply issues – has left him with a 12-month backlog of orders to clear (a frustration, clearly: “Amazon taught people not to wait,” he says).
In a recession, marketing is often the first to go – but Riedel says that’s the wrong call.
“I learnt my lesson in 2008. I was the one pushing and promoting and it paid off (after the financial crisis) and it was the same during Covid-19. One of my dreams was always TV commercials, something so old-school. And because of major brands reconsidering their spending, I got onto TV in various markets in Europe for very little – and it paid off greatly,” he says with the pride of a man who has taken more than one successful risk in his time.
There is one other concern eating away at the likeable 45 year old Austrian.
“Wine has become too expensive,” he says, “and I’m not sure that’s always justified”, swiftly adding such a view might not make him universally popular in the industry. “It is not accessible to younger people.” Regular perusers of London’s wine lists – at least, those not paying on expenses – may be inclined to agree.
“Wine has to tell its story better,” he says.
With that, he’s off to keep telling the Riedel story. It’s his first visit to the capital since Covid-19 struck and he’s keen to meet his UK agents and customers before a blowout evening celebration with 200 guests. Let’s hope whoever’s hosting is using his glasses – or Steve will hear about it.