Little Things Make for Integrity

Little Things Make for Integrity

The Starting Line-up.

As you know, we’ve taken some pains to make absolutely everything having to do with Brooklyn Copper Cookware here in the US – design, tools, metal smithing and metal itself, all done here. We committed to this not for chauvinistic or nationalistic reasons, but because we believe that people, companies, farms, and entire economies are at their best when they appreciate, pay attention to and integrate with their immediate environment. We feel very strongly that BCC’s integrity is built, like the pans themselves, from the good and the great to be found right in our midst, on these shores. In turn, a good cooking tool – used to nourish our loved ones – integrates in a way few other trappings of daily life can.

Having the most complex elements in place to begin making the very best copper cookware, the last, smallest part challenged our commitment: We could not find copper rivets made in the US. In desperation after six weeks of looking, I researched importing copper rivets – ironically made from sheet metal milled in the US, which is then exported to have “value added” elsewhere. Like other copper cookware manufacturers, we could have gotten quantity (and, in fairness, quality) easily and quickly from abroad.

So, we kept moving on the rivets. But, having solicited and received a number of very competitive quotes from Brazil, India and China, I pondered BCC’s integrity, as well as my own. Delayed yet again for several weeks, with a long list of patient customers and stacks of finished pan parts, to think about importing our rivets was anything but expedient! Still, we had a few domestic possibilities to chase down, and all our smiths joined us in the hunt, as did allies, friends, relations, and even long-time customers, all seeking a 1/3 ounce mushroom of metal, readily available half a world away, but elusive here.

Little Things Make for Integrity

Attention to the little things keep it all together.

In the throes of all this fevered searching and quickly coming to the end of our list of domestic rivet forges, a friend called to say she’d heard from an uncle (a retired blacksmith and farrier) of a guy running a small cold forge in Markesan, WI, making mostly hollow body rivets for leather work, but said to have copper. Cash operation, phone, no email. I called immediately. Bill, owner of Prairie Rivet, picked up the phone.

Not only could he do heavy metal-joining rivets, he had the right gauge wire in stock and the tooling to make the specific size I was looking for. Terms? “How about 30 days? We trust folks.” Samples? “Tool ’em today, send ’em tomorrow.” Lead time? “You approve the samples and I’ll have the order shipped by the following Friday.” More? “As much as you need – wire’s two days away in Oshkosh. We can always run another shift if you go crazy.” Sense of humor? “No wonder you’re in copper. Up here Kohler means plumbing. I see your name several times a day.”

Little Things Make for Integrity

These hands shine.

Not more than two weeks later thousands of tested and approved solid copper rivets came through the door in Dayton (where handles were waiting to be married to pans), made by a tiny forge on the Wisconsin prairie. And get this: They cost less than the least expensive import. 

So, not only does integrity pay, it may be no more than keeping one’s goals clearly in mind so answers are recognized when they show up.

The America in which Brooklyn Copper Cookware is made extends from New York through Ohio and Indiana and now to Wisconsin. And, as you can see in the photos, pots and pans are at last being made.

Click here to visit our catalog page and take a look, and don’t miss our latest slideshow.

11 thoughts on “Little Things Make for Integrity

  1. ian webb

    3 mls copper thickness……….are you guys crazy !!!!!!! Now i need to justify buying one of these beauties to the minister for finance. She ,who must be obeyed !With a bit of luck ……she’ll let me buy two items from your blog.Talk to you soon , from the other side of the world…..PERTH , WESTERN AUSTRALIA.

    Reply
    1. Mac Kohler Post author

      Hello Ian,

      You’re more on-point than you could know: “crazy” was one of the first responses we got to the idea of starting BCC. 3mm was just elaborating from a solid foundation of crazy. 😉

      Many thanks for your interest – so far you may take the prize for most far-flung fan! Please let us know if we might help in any way in negotiations with the ministry; we totally understand the competitive fiduciary needs of keeping budgets balanced while investing wisely.

      Reply
      1. Sara

        I kept my excitement as un-loquacious as possible. 🙂 So excited to see your pieces come to flesh! Great photos!!!!

        Reply
  2. Walt Robertson

    Copper prices are at multi-year lows. Why is top quality copper cookware so very expensive ?
    It apparently isn’t the raw materials of iron, tin, and copper. It can’t be the bonding processes, because you can buy tri-ply high quality cookware for tiny fractions of the price of copper cookware.

    As an engineer, I have a craving to know the answer. Perhaps it could be low volume production because global demand just isn’t high enough, so costs are eaten up in inventory and other business overhead, and marketing expenses. If that’s it, so be it, but I’d really like to know the real answer.

    As a new relaunched manufacturer, these details are at the core of your business prospects. The real premium seems to rise on cookware when copper gets put into the equation.

    A big part of me suspects it is just high gross profit margins on manufacturing.
    Care to share some of what you know 🙂

    Walt Robertson
    Richardson, Texas

    Reply
    1. Mac Kohler Post author

      Hi Walt –

      Copper, along with other industrial commodities, is indeed tracing long-term lows of about $2.10 per pound. This knowledge pains me when I deal with our copper rolling mills as much as it might pain someone buying cooper cookware, as the price that gets rolled into my copper sheet (so to speak) costs me around $3.25. Then again, when I first started BCC 5 years ago copper prices were nearly double today’s price (and were headed higher), but the price factored into my copper sheet was very nearly the same then as now. How that happens is yet another of the advantages of working with copper.

      Our mill uses the futures market to “hedge” what they pay to miners, meaning they can buy or sell copper based on what they think the price of the metal will be a few months or even years from now. That allows them to smooth the price they charge their customers (looked at another way, I’m less affected by whether China decides to build one or five cities this coming year). Copper’s “spot” price goes up and down, but the price I pay is an average of about 24 months of rolling copper prices, i.e., relatively flat over time, which allows me to plan my production going forward, knowing pretty closely what I’ll pay for materials.

      Mills add value, which for BCC occurs as a specific crystalline formulation of pure copper sheet. Rolling raw smelted copper ingots into simple 3mm sheets doubles the price per pound, then tempering and treating it in the way we need for pan-making nearly doubles the price again.

      Let’s take as an example our sauté pan, with its nearly 8 pounds of copper. Each of the cuts used to form the sauté are sheared from a very large sheet. Like when cutting biscuits, there are drops and irregular shapes that can’t be used for pans, so we return it to the mill as scrap for recycling (for which we get credited not the improved price we paid for it, but the current spot price). Between shearing, spinning, cut-back milling, drilling, riveting (all by hand) and other labor costs, the value added to our sauté bumps up about 75%.

      Our cast iron handles and copper rivets add another 10% (“ductile” iron is itself subject to similar market swings, but with no futures market to smooth long-term prices), and then the copper pan body with its riveted iron handles are sent over to the tin shop for lining and polishing. While tin (in its highly purified “lab-grade” form by far the most expensive metal of the three we use) is not a large percentage of the weight of any pan, hand-tinning and polishing are the most labor-intensive operations in our production, adding another 45% or so to our sauté pan’s cost.

      Then there are packaging, trucking various parts and assemblies between five different shops spanning Wisconsin to Indiana to Ohio, our little bit of marketing, administrative overhead, taxes and profit. On our $400 sauté we currently have profit dialed in at a little under 20%. At $700 our casserole nets us about 21%. Hand-making necessarily limits our production volume, but when we eventually hit our stride we look to make about 38% net across our complete Batterie de Cuisine.

      As a vertically integrated designing and manufacturing retailer, our ~20% markup on cost of goods sold is quite small (markup for retailing alone is usually 90-100%). By selling our heavy weight sauté directly, and appealing to those who already appreciate the value of solid copper cookware, we can stay very lean. We negotiate pricing with our smiths, but we also want (and need) them to thrive on the work they do with us, so we won’t ever pick away at their margins to boost our own. We intend to stay lean to keep our prices for 100% American hand-made copper cookware not only competitive, but fair to all stakeholders. Our numbers will never amount to BCC making a killing (especially in a niche market), but they do allow all of BCC’s crew to make a decent living, and cooks everywhere to make better and better meals. 🙂

      Thanks for being in touch Walt, and for asking a question I’m sure is on a lot of minds. I hope this helps!

      Mac

      Reply
  3. Deb Mulkey

    I have been buying copper now from various places for about four years. Your prices are comparable to the best French line. Your quality seems to be as good or better and I would rather spend my money in the U.S. where our economy is boosted with jobs for Americans.

    Reply
    1. Mac Kohler Post author

      Hi Deb,

      Many thanks from Lane, Barbara and myself in Brooklyn, and all our able smiths across three other states. We’re especially cheered for your enthusiasm, coming as it does from one who has spent years sampling the very best in the world.

      Mac

      Reply
  4. Tarah Taylor

    I concur that I am so thankful that you held on to your convictions to being all American made cookware. There is something important to keeping a conviction and being willing to be patient. The years of experience and integrity to your product have made me respect your company. Thank you. I will be receiving a casserole as my Christmas present that I hope to pass on to my children. Merry Christmas.

    Reply
  5. Mac Kohler Post author

    Merry Christmas to you and yours Tarah!

    And thank you for the observation that conviction and patience are so important, especially with respect to one another.

    Having the conviction we could design and manufacture an extremely refined, niche tool by hand was one thing (and doing it to meet market demand a big second thing), but then gathering all the experiences and skills we needed, while daunting, was actually the most enjoyable part of bringing something whole and as fully realized as we could into the world. The patience part came kind of naturally; we didn’t know any better, because, frankly, at the beginning we didn’t know anything.

    Now we could write a book about having fun while getting to market. Honestly, we feel the rush-to-market view misses a lot of what is gratifying about making anything. We hope the time and pleasure we take in making our wares conveys in their use in your own kitchen.

    And I look forward to hearing what great feasts emerge from your new casserole!

    Mac

    Reply

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