My in-laws own a lake house that has been in the family for three generations. It’s a quaint, rustic cabin-like house, with an eclectic set of furniture, old window-mounted ACs and a pier in the back that extends onto the water, where we sit for hours on end, drinking, reading and watching sunsets so beautiful they can’t be captured in photographs
Every night, unless it’s thunderstorming, my father-in-law grills out– one of his many love languages. Typically he uses a 30-year-old Weber. But for salmon last night, he dusted off the PK Grill– a cast aluminum grill that his dad bought around 1962.
Unless you’re at least in your 50s or a real grill enthusiast, you’ve probably never heard of the PK grill, never mind seen one. Yet those who know about it consider it the perfect charcoal barbecue grill.
The company was founded in the 1950’s by Hilton Meigs and sold in 1960 to Lewis Hamlin. By the mid-1970’s, the business was in real trouble and production stopped. But just like my grandfather-in-law’s, hundreds of grills remained in circulation, long enough for Paul James, a grill enthusiast, to discover one at a yard sale in 1998. It was love at first sight. He fell in love so hard that he purchased the Portable Kitchen (PK) name and began producing new aluminum PK grills from castings of the original product. Over 60 years since its inception, the grills today are nearly identical to the one Hilton Meigs made all those years ago.
Like Mr. James, I was immediately fascinated by the legendary durability of the PK grill. So much so that when my father-in-law told me the story of the brand yesterday, I scratched the blog post I had prepared for today and started writing a new one from scratch.
It is easy to get overly academic about what a brand is. But in its simplest form, your brand is your reputation. It’s the thing people remember most about you. The idea or feeling they associate most with you.
Great brands are hard to create because reputations take time to build and are hard to maintain. And for a company old enough to have multiple owners, it’s nearly impossible for the reputation to endure the passing of time and the changes in leadership. The PK brand not only endured all those changing tides, it survived a 20-year hiatus– under the protection of its loyal customers.
Since finding out about the PK brand, I couldn’t help but imagine how we, at grio, would help lead this company’s comeback.
Mr. Meigs might have not set out to build the most durable grill in the world, but its enduring quality is its legacy, and it’s undoubtedly what makes the brand so legendary. So that’s where we would start.
First, we would create a branding campaign to understand the history and uncover the soul of the brand. We would set out to find all the old PK grills because, like my father-in-law's, they are not only a great testament that the product stands the test of time, they also come with tales to fuel the greatest comeback story of all time. A combination that we would use to elevate the brand to an iconic status.
Next, we would create an advertising campaign that tells a story of a generational rite of passage. A campaign about family values, traditions, recipes and stories that are passed down for generations. Like a PK grill.
One of the most powerful questions to ask yourself when building a brand is how do you want to be remembered? And ultimately, our job would be to protect the PK brand legacy and ensure that all the things people have to say about the brand from 50 years ago remain true today and 50 years from now.
Brands are intangible and elusive. They rely on tangible elements–logos, products and experiences– to come alive and find expression in our lives, just like an old grill can teach you so much about someone you've never met and about his relationship with his proud son.
Today would have been my grandfather-in-law’s birthday but his legacy lives on through the memories we create at the lake house and the meals we make on his PK grill.