“Well, where do I begin?” Warren Ryan wondered as he surveyed the chaos before him. Boxes and bottles were piled all over the place, invoices and order forms cluttered the desktop and filled the drawers, and he couldn’t seem to locate anything resembling an orderly set of books.
It was spring of 2001, and just a few days earlier Ryan had quit his job with a large management consulting firm to assume the presidency of Gril-Kleen Corporation and help get the young company off the ground.
The company’s efforts to market its innovative product, a liquid restaurant grill cleaner, had been extremely successful. Ryan felt that with a professional marketing approach, the product could capture a sizable share of a national market.
The product, a chemical solution which could be applied directly to a working grill and would clean off burnt-on food and accumulated grease in a matter of minutes, represented a significant departure from the existing methods of cleaning restaurant grills. It appeared to have several major advantages over competing products, and initially it had generated such enthusiastic response from users that the product had practically sold itself.
Source: This case study was prepared by Michael P. Peters with the intention of providing a basis for class discussion.
Gril-Kleen had been developed for their own use by two brothers who owned a small, busy restaurant in Eastern Massachusetts. The restaurant’s grill needed cleaning several times a day, especially during busy periods, and the brothers were disturbed by the amount of time and effort it took to clean the grill. They were also bothered by the orders they lost while the grill was being cleaned.
Most grill-cleaning products then available could not be used on a hot grill, and the time required to cool, clean, and then reheat the grill varied from about 20 minutes to almost an hour, depending on the method being used and the condition of the grill.
Two of the most popular methods of cleaning grills used a carborundum “stone” or a wire mesh screen to scrub the grill clean. Though inexpensive, they required a great deal of physical labor and both products tended to wear, with some danger of stone chips or metal particles ending up in food cooked on the grill.
Spray foam oven-cleaner type products, similar to those sold for home use, were easier to use but considerably more expensive. Most had critical effective temperatures of around 160°–200° Fahrenheit, compared to normal grill operating temperatures of around 350°, and often had objectionable odors, which restricted their use in small or poorly ventilated restaurants.
Dissatisfied with the products then on the market, the two brothers decided to develop their own grill cleaner. They sought the advice of one of their customers in the chemical business, and from him they learned of some chemicals and began to experiment with different combinations in various proportions.
The cleaner they sought would clean grills quickly, easily, and at normal operating temperature. It had to be economical, easy to mix, and have no discernible odor or taste, and it would have to pass safety requirements (i.e., be both nontoxic for use on food preparation surfaces and noncaustic to the user’s skin). In addition, it had to leave the grill “seasoned” so that food wouldn’t stick to the grill after it had been cleaned.
After experimenting and modifying the solution for a couple of years, the brothers finally arrived at a mixture having all the desired properties. It would work on both hot and cold grills, and the grill operator could clean a
grill in less than five minutes by simply pouring the solution on, allowing it to dry, and then rinsing the grill with water. After a light seasoning with cooking oil, the grill was ready for use again.
Soon, friends in the restaurant business heard about the product and began asking for samples, then coming back for more. As demand increased, the brothers started to sell the product by the gallon, charging whatever they felt the market would bear.

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