How Customer Experience Brought Millions To A Barbecue Brand

Posted by  Shawn Callahan —December 22, 2023
Filed in Corporate Storytelling

“Be Curious not Judgmental”

– Ted Lasso

“Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity”

– Seneca

Imagine a world where the familiar barbecue sizzle was absent from Australian backyards. Enter the 1970s, and the Weber kettle barbecue, an American icon, lands in Australia only to face a cold reception. Australians, entrenched in their own barbecue culture, found Weber an oddity. The American grill seemed destined to remain a foreign concept, but fate had a different plan involving state-of-the-art customer experience.

Shawn and Mark explore this story in their 200th episode of the Anecdotally Speaking podcast.

Ross McDonald, a young Adelaide accountant, disillusioned with the monotony of corporate life, pivots dramatically. He embarks on a journey that would intertwine his destiny with that of the Weber.

His story is one of sheer tenacity and a keen eye for opportunity. It’s about how a seemingly irrelevant product in a dusty corner sparked a revolution in Australian barbecue culture. McDonald’s narrative is a masterclass in recognizing potential where others see none, turning setbacks into monumental opportunities.

This story shows how a single individual’s vision and determination can redefine an entire market. This story isn’t just about a barbecue; it’s a lesson in business acumen, customer experience, and pivot art.

Let’s dive into this intriguing chapter of business history and uncover the lessons it holds for us today.

The Story of Ross McDonald’s state of the art care for Customer Experience

The Weber kettle barbecue, invented in the 1950s in Chicago, became a staple in American households. However, its initial foray into Australia in the early 1970s was a stark failure. Australians found the Weber peculiar and unrelatable to their barbecue culture. Weber, facing this rejection, withdrew from the Australian market.

The Turning Point: Ross McDonald’s Vision

Enter Ross McDonald, a 33-year-old Adelaide accountant disillusioned with corporate life. After quitting his job, he worked as a labourer and chanced upon Japanese barbecues. His entrepreneurial spirit led him to mortgage his house for a container of these barbecues, which he successfully sold even before they arrived.

The Discovery

While conducting an in-store demonstration, McDonald stumbled upon a neglected Weber in a dusty corner. This discovery piqued his interest, and he recognized the product’s potential. Despite initial rejections, his persistence paid off, leading to a three-hour conversation with Weber after eight call attempts to the Weber headquarters… McDonald’s accounting background impressed Weber, granting him the chance to represent them in Australia.

The Transformation and focus on Customer Experience

McDonald’s approach was hands-on and personal. He cooked in public spaces, gave live demonstrations, and even visited customers’ homes to assist with their first Weber use.

This strategy, where the customer’s experience was central, built trust and familiarity, overcoming the initial skepticism.

The Success

By 1986, McDonald’s efforts catapulted Australia to become Weber’s largest export market, selling 80,000 units. Weber became synonymous with barbecues in Australia, a testament to McDonald’s vision and determination.

Business Lessons from the Weber Story

  1. Seeing Opportunity in Adversity: McDonald saw potential in a product deemed unsuitable for the market. This perspective shift is crucial in business.
  2. Persistence Pays Off: McDonald’s relentless efforts, including eight calls to Weber, highlight the importance of perseverance in business to reach your objectives.
  3. Customer Experience is Key: His hands-on approach to educating and assisting customers transformed their experience, proving the power of exceptional customer service.
  4. Adaptation and Localization: McDonald’s strategy of adapting the product to local tastes and engaging directly with the community was vital for Weber’s success in Australia.
  5. Entrepreneurial Spirit: McDonald’s leap from an accountant to an entrepreneur underlines the value of risk-taking and innovation in business.


Story Rating:

Shawn Callahan: 8.5/10

Mark Schenk: 8/10

Reflecting on the podcast’s rating and considering the impact and narrative of Ross McDonald’s journey with Weber, I rate this story an 8.5 out of 10. Mark gave it an 8!

The story beautifully intertwines determination, innovation, and the power of seeing opportunity in adversity. It’s a compelling tale that not only narrates the revival of a product but also highlights the spirit of entrepreneurship and the importance of customer experience.

McDonald’s story is a reminder that sometimes, the most significant opportunities lie in the most unexpected places.

Final Verdict

Reflecting on Ross McDonald’s journey with Weber, I find myself inspired by his ability to turn a seemingly insurmountable challenge into a triumphant success. His story, rooted in a blend of vision, grit, and customer-centric innovation, speaks volumes about the power of perseverance and strategic thinking in business. McDonald didn’t just introduce a foreign product to a skeptical market; he reinvented and localized it, making Weber a household name in Australia.

What stands out most is McDonald’s hands-on approach. He didn’t just sell a product; he sold an experience, transforming customer skepticism into trust and loyalty. This strategy not only revived Weber’s fortunes but also revolutionized Australia’s barbecue culture. His journey underscores a crucial business lesson: understanding and adapting to your customer’s needs can be the key to turning setbacks into phenomenal opportunities.

Moreover, McDonald’s story is a vivid reminder that opportunities often hide in the least expected places. It’s about seeing potential where others see dead-ends. His entrepreneurial spirit and refusal to give up, despite initial rejections, is a testament to the impact one individual can have on an entire industry.

Therefore, this narrative isn’t just about a successful business turnaround. It’s a compelling testament to the power of human resilience, the importance of customer engagement, and the art of seeing beyond the obvious.

About  Shawn Callahan

Shawn, author of Putting Stories to Work, is one of the world's leading business storytelling consultants. He helps executive teams find and tell the story of their strategy. When he is not working on strategy communication, Shawn is helping leaders find and tell business stories to engage, to influence and to inspire. Shawn works with Global 1000 companies including Shell, IBM, SAP, Bayer, Microsoft & Danone. Connect with Shawn on:

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