Spotlight on OXO
Whether you are an OXO employee or an OXO fanatic, respectively referred to as OXOnians and OXOniacs, OXO’s story is quite interesting. Did you know the name “OXO” was chosen because whether it’s horizontal, vertical, upside-down, or backwards, it always reads “OXO”, or that OXO’s tools are often used for creative reasons other than their original purposes? – Using the Spaghetti Server as a back scratcher, cleaning lint from a dryer with the Turkey Baster, or pulling hair back using the All-Purpose Clips, to name a few.
Once a startup, manufacturing company OXO now has 900 products in 75 countries! OXO’s headquarters sits on the 10th floor of The Starrett-Lehigh Building. Founded on the philosophy for Universal Design, its products include tools for the house, beyond its famous kitchen gadgets where it all started. OXO President Alex Lee says the company first identifies pet peeves and then works on crafting solutions that make everyday living easier.
OXO employees often talk about Starrett-Lehigh’s proximity to New York City’s Highline Park, witnessing the famous landing of US Airways Flight 1549 from their office overlooking the Hudson River, and the “grippy” material on their products – the comfortable, dishwasher safe, non-latex, flexible rubber so often seen on OXO gadgets.
“We’re really happy at Starrett-Lehigh,” Alex said. “And the building just keeps getting better.” Check out more on OXO in the exclusive interview with Alex Lee below:
Q: How did OXO get its start? What has changed since it was founded?
A: OXO was started in 1990 by a serial entrepreneur, Sam Farber. After spending 30 years in the Housewares Industry and selling his previous company, Copco, Sam had retired to the south of France in the late 80s where he did a lot of cooking and entertaining. His wife developed mild arthritis in her hands, which inspired Sam to come out of retirement and to produce easy-to-use products. The founding of OXO coincided with a movement called Universal Design, which is to create products and environments easily usable by the largest spectrum of people possible.
Q: How long has OXO been at Starrett-Lehigh? Why Starrett? Where are OXO’s other locations?
A: We’ve been at Starrett-Lehigh for about 7 years. We’re big fans of open spaces with good lighting, a creative environment, and tall ceilings. Starrett-Lehigh fit the bill and hits all of these points. Our office here is our headquarters, but we have our Consumer and Customer Service office in Pennsylvania, our logistics teams in Texas, and international offices in Tokyo, Japan and Sheffield, United Kingdom.
Q: What do you like best about being at Starrett-Lehigh?
A: This building has a certain kind of creative energy that doesn’t exist in a more-corporate type building. I also personally like a developing neighborhood rather than a developed neighborhood. Seeing the change provides character.
Q: What is the company culture like at OXO?
A: OXO has a diplomatic culture with an open-door-policy. We’re an eclectic group of individuals who really like being around each other. OXO’s open space concept fosters a better work environment; no one has an office, but rather everyone has a desk. At OXO we tend to promote a lot of interaction, whether it’s meetings during the work day or social gatherings afterwards. There are lots of public meetings in our office and plenty of hangout space, including a large kitchen. The “Pump Room” is the only room that doesn’t have a glass door you can see through – it’s designated for new moms to use and has its own refrigerator.
Q: How many employees does OXO have? Is OXO broken down by department?
A: Worldwide OXO has about 135 employees – not including warehouse employees that ship our products. Our New York Headquarters here at Starrett-Lehigh has close to 100 workers. This past week we added 3 new employees – we’re constantly growing.
OXO is broken down into different disciplines – finance, sales, marketing, and a couple of design departments. Our marketing side has six product categories that are each managed individually. We have design teams in this office and also work with outside design firms including Smart Design here at Starrett-Lehigh, whom we’ve worked with from the beginning.
Q: How often does OXO update its products? What does its innovation process look like?
A: We develop 100+ products a year. We may discontinue some products, but we introduce more products than we discontinue. So the total number of products are steadily growing. Some old favorites include the OXO Good Grips Peelers, Salad Spinners, POP Containers, and a host of others. Most recently we also launched our newest line, a baby line called OXO TOT.
Q: Where do OXO’s product ideas come from?
A: Generally, product ideas come from any and every direction – retailers, consumers, employees, inventors, grandmothers of employees, designers, etc. Once we became recognized as a company with clever products, people with new ideas began contacting us. When employees go to dinner parties and say they work at OXO, people often end up suggesting what OXO should make next, even if it has nothing to do with the categories we are in. This all reinforces the idea of the OXO brand being about solutions to problems rather than pigeonholed in a specific category.
Q: What’s the process behind moving a product idea from being just an idea to being a reality?
A: From idea to reality we follow a pretty standard process – development, user research, concept, design, engineering, tooling, post tooling. We spend a lot of time identifying pet peeves; we feel once you identify the pet peeves it’s easier to craft a solution. Lots of people are involved: designers, engineers, quality control team, factories, etc. It’s a pretty lengthy process. We do a lot of things well at OXO, but speed is not one of them. Depending on the complexity of the product it could take anywhere from sixteen months to three years to complete the process for just one product.
Because we invest so much time in product development, we want to design products that will last 10-20 years. We tend to stay away from fads – fashions, colors, lingo. This way our products can last a long time in retail spaces and homes without looking dated.
Q: Who gets to test OXO’s products? What does the product testing process look like?
A: There are lots of different kinds of testing. To name a few, OXO has user tests, compliance tests, and lifecycle tests. User testing is done throughout the product development process. It’s important to understand what we’re designing, what the competition offers, and what pet peeves we are trying to solve. We go through multiple rounds of tooling samples and gather user feedback on each round. Lifecycle tests are mostly done here in our lab – we’ll run the product 3000 or 5000 cycles and see how it does!
Q: What’s on the horizon for OXO? What exciting things does OXO have coming up?
A: A lot, but I can’t talk about it until we disclose it to the world. We did recently announce a cookware partnership with The Cookware Co., a Belgium company who is manufacturing and distributing the OXO cookware. Together we launched OXO Good Grips Cookware. Stay tuned though; we’ve got lots of new things coming in 2015!
Q: Can you comment on OXO’s relationship with Cookies For Kids?
A: The Cookies for Kids’ Cancer organization was actually founded by two OXO employees, and since 2007 OXO workers have continued to donate time, money, and effort towards raising funds to support new and improved therapies for pediatric cancer.
When the organization’s founders late son Liam Witt was first diagnosed, Liam’s mom Gretchen decided to do a bake sale to raise money for Liam. After contacting all the culinary editors in her circle, that first holiday season bake sale comprised of 96,000 cookies sold at $30 a dozen. 100% of donations go to pediatric cancer research, and the support for this organization now sponsors Millions of dollars worth of research.
In 2011, OXO introduced a formal corporate sponsorship, matching many nationwide efforts to support Cookies for Kids’ Cancer. OXO does a cookie sale at Starrett-Lehigh every year in support of this organization, and this year ‘Cookies for Kids’ will have its 2nd annual gala in February with a ton of famous chefs. Last year’s gala raised almost a million dollars and this year’s event is set to raise even more.
OXO was founded in 1990 on the philosophy of Universal Design, which means the design of products usable by as many people as possible. For OXO, that means designing products for young and old, male and female, lefties and righties and many with special needs.
The goal of making products more usable forces OXO to first identify problems and inefficiencies of existing products, not only in terms of comfort, but performance as well. This gives OXO the foundation to meet its commitment of making products that make a tangible improvement in peoples’ daily lives. OXO is located at The Starrett-Lehigh Building, Suite 1050.