Learning from InvENtors: Doris Christopher & Pampered Chef

Learning from InvENtors: Doris Christopher & Pampered Chef

Chances are, you’ve likely heard the name Pampered Chef.

You may have attended a demonstration or have one of their products in your kitchen.

But do you know the whole story?

Edison Nation has partnered with the team at Pampered Chef to sponsor an innovation search for new kitchen products. To help inspire you to come up with a great idea for this search, we’re sharing a special edition of our Learning from InvENtors series, featuring the journey of Doris Christopher, Founder and Chairman of Pampered Chef.

Inspired by her dedication to preserving the tradition of family mealtimes and driven by the spirit of entrepreneurism, Doris Christopher founded Pampered Chef from the basement of her suburban Chicago home in 1980.

Like many women in her generation, Doris Christopher struggled to find an effective work/life balance. Having interrupted her career as a home economics teacher with the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension Service to raise her two daughters from birth to school age in the late 1970s, the 35-year-old Christopher found herself at a crossroads. As she described it in an April 1996 interview for the Chicago Tribune, Christopher began to seek “a part-time job that would allow me to be a mom too.”

Quickly narrowing her focus to self-employment opportunities that capitalized on her interests and experience in the kitchen, she investigated catering and retail sales of cooking utensils. But she eliminated both these options because catering demanded long, odd hours, and retailing required a high capital investment. Christopher’s husband urged her to launch a party-plan, direct-selling operation similar to the Tupperware parties at the time, but Doris hesitated, recalling in a November 1996 Success piece that “I thought home parties were a waste of time, that perhaps the products were overpriced.”

Little did she know, this was her “Aha!” moment…

When Christopher’s husband reminded her that her business could be set up in any way she wished, Christopher began to realize that her cooking and teaching expertise was perfectly suited to the demonstration techniques often used in direct selling, and that there was an untapped market for professional-quality, multi-use kitchen gadgets. Armed with this core concept and a $3,000 cash-out from a life insurance policy, the mom-turned-entrepreneur bought a dozen each of about 70 kitchen gadgets from Chicago’s wholesale Merchandise Mart. Pampered Chef was born.

Christopher set her home-selling events apart from their predecessors by calling them “kitchen shows” and naming her sales representatives “kitchen consultants.” She scheduled her first kitchen show for October, 1980, avoiding what she called the “silly games” that characterized other home selling parties and opting instead for an entertaining evening of cooking demonstrations, eating the fruits of the demo, and some low-pressure selling. That first night’s recipe was leavened with trepidation: Christopher later recalled that “during the entire drive to my first show, I vowed that I would never, ever do this again. My stomach was in knots. Of course, on the drive home, I knew differently.”

She had created a new business and a new business model, on her terms.

Timeline

  • 1980: Christopher sold $10,000 worth of kitchen gadgets in her first quarter in business.
  • May, 1981: Christopher brought in a friend as a part-time sales representative.
  • Late 1981: Christopher recruited a total of 12 kitchen consultants
  • 1983: Sales passed $200,000 by 1983.
  • 1984: Sales more than doubled and headquarters were moved to a 2,500 square-foot building.
  • 1987: The business generated by the company’s more than 200 sales representatives demanded a full-time purchasing, warehousing, and distribution staff.
  • 1989: Pampered Chef boasted 700 kitchen consultants.
  • Early 1990s: Coverage in nationally-circulated magazines brought another wave of consultants on board.
  • 1993: The company had sales representatives in all fifty states.

Now, over 35 years later, Pampered Chef has blossomed into a multi-million dollar enterprise with tens of thousands of consultants worldwide.

Products

Doris Christopher’s experience as a home economics teacher (and stay-at-home mother) enabled her to recognize the need for time-saving kitchen tools and techniques designed to make cooking quick and easy.

“I picked things I knew and loved,” she said. “It was exciting to me to introduce people to something new in their kitchen that did make a difference.”

Garlic presses, apple corers and pizza stones were early items the Pampered Chef product line.

“Stoneware became a big component of our line,” she said. Indeed, her clay-colored pizza and baking stones have evolved into glazed stoneware bakers.

The Food Chopper has been another shining star for Pampered Chef. While company officials don’t disclose numbers, the website calls the hand-operated, multi-blade device “our most popular kitchen tool.”

Pampered Chef Food Chopper (one of Michelle’s favorites too!)

“We introduced that within the first few years of electric food processors coming on the scene and people weren’t sure if they wanted to spend the money on a food processor to dice and chop food,” Christopher says. “People are always telling me they love the Food Chopper; it has had amazing staying power.”

Among my favorites are the Bamboo Spoons “when we started with bamboo products it was revolutionary at the time,” Christopher says, “and the Classic Batter Bowl. I don’t think I’ve mixed up pancakes in anything but that since I got it. I’m eager to see what the next 30 years bring.”

Doris Christopher founded Pampered Chef in 1980 with the belief that quick tips and powerful tools can fuel a faster, no-fuss cooking experience. Today, more than ever, people don’t even have the time to sit down for an entire meal, let alone make one. 

Pampered Chef’s mission is to help their customers press pause their lives and take in the most important moments with easy, everyday cooking built for today’s world.


Company Facts

Products: Pampered Chef’s product line includes nearly 500 offerings, with 90 percent of those products exclusive to Pampered Chef.

Test Kitchens: Pampered Chef’s Test Kitchens are committed to developing time-saving tools, tips and recipes that enhance mealtime and suit busy lifestyles. A staff of home economists, food scientists, chefs and dietitians develop, test and edit more than 300 recipes per year. Pampered Chef is continually expanding its recipe and product collection to align with top flavor, ingredient and lifestyle trends.

Distribution: Products are sold primarily through in-home cooking demonstrations known as cooking shows (1 million are held in the United States each year).


This search is not the first time Edison Nation has partnered with Pampered Chef. During our “Everyday Edisons” days, we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to sit down with Doris Christopher…


We polled some folks at the office to get their faves and these were our top Pampered Chef choices!

Stackable Cooling Rack Set

 

Spiral & Slice

Pan Scrapers

 

Ultimate Mandoline


We hope Doris Christopher’s story has inspired you to create your next idea!

The Pampered Chef search on Edison Nation ends on Tuesday, May 15, at midnight EST! Share your ideas now!

Happy Inventing!

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