Inside the tech backbone powering Chicago's Pampered Chef

Sam Dewey
 
When you hear the name Pampered Chefcertain images may come to mind: high-quality kitchenware, cookbooks and themed parties you may have attended or hosted.
 
Technology probably isn’t one of them — but Pampered Chef CTO Andrew Treanor thinks it should be.
 
“More and more, every company is becoming a technology company,” Treanor said. “You can’t do well in an area unless you’re leveraging technology. For us, I don’t think people understand how big our consultant network is and the tools we provide for that network.”
 
With more than 40,000 independent consultants, Treanor is tasked with developing solutions that will make their individual businesses thrive. Those tools, ranging from business dashboards and native mobile apps to a tech-enabled training program called Pampered Chef University, are in addition to a full-fledged e-commerce site the team also operates. Together, those technologies have set the company on a track toward innovation.
 

A technological evolution

Pampered Chef’s success story is, in more ways than one, steeped in entrepreneurialism. Launched in 1980 out of founder Doris Christopher’s basement, the company soon adapted the direct-selling technique it’s best-known for today. Cooking consultants demonstrate products and facilitate a cooking show or party — often with their friends, family, neighbors or coworkers — to educate attendees about Pampered Chef’s latest kitchen tools and solutions. In the beginning, consultants used paper catalogues to track sales and order inventory, earning commission and ultimately owning the growth of their own businesses.
 
Treanor, who joined the company in February of this year, said the company began to lean more heavily on technology in the late 1980s when it established its first IT department. At the time, the tech was designed for more rudimentary tasks, like placing orders on computers or streamlining operations at Pampered Chef’s nearby distribution center.
 
Over the years, those technologies have grown into a sophisticated system. Built on a Java framework that leverages a suite of Oracle EIP technologies, both the current iterations of their consumer-facing e-commerce site and the platform for consultants have been live since about 2012. And Treanor said they have continued to evolve as new technologies emerge.
 
One of those nascent innovations is mobile — an opportunity the CTO said is a key area of focus in order to improve a consultant’s day-to-day while they host shows. With responsive designs and a user-friendly interface that allows guests to easily log on to see (and order) featured items, the team bets the approach will give them a leg up against competitors.
 
“A big reason for the mobile push is a little bit more than 65 percent of all our Pampered Chef consultants have a full- or part-time job, so they are really taking on this opportunity as a way to make extra income for their families. Part of the push for mobile is to make running a Pampered Chef business that much more convenient for them,” said Chief People Officer Angela Mancuso.
 
Through the platform itself, consultants have access to a dashboard that provides the insights they need to run their businesses on everything from sales and commissions to event scheduling, ordering, processing and contact management.
 

Taking an Agile approach

Headquartered in Addison, Illinois, the Pampered Chef tech team sits at about 120, ranging from back-end developers and software engineers to UI/UX designers and DevOps managers.
 
Of Pampered Chef’s office environment, Treanor said the team embraces all aspects of Agile culture. That approach, he said, leads to an environment set on driving innovation while having a bit of fun along the way — whether that’s taking a break with a Ping Pong game or hosting a company hackathon that culminates with a half-day's worth of celebration.
 
“That’s the sort of innovation that we push and hope and strive for — to be able to come to work and have fun,” Treanor said.
 
Of course, it's not all fun and games. Treanor said the company’s focus on improving upon new and existing technologies is not only rewarding, but a primary driver of the business itself.
 
“The whole direct-selling industry is becoming more and more technology-enabled, and in general consumers are more technology-enabled,” he said. “As a result, a bigger and bigger part of our business is technology. And we continue to push that and make it a priority.”
 
To that end, Treanor said he keeps an eye out for flexible and dynamic individuals to join his tech team.
 
“We look for people who want to come in, learn, develop and take on new opportunities. The nice thing about Pampered Chef is we’re backed by Berkshire Hathaway. We’re an established company — but we really have that startup culture. We’re still small enough where there's not this huge bureaucracy, but we have that large backing. We’re extremely profitable. It’s a great business, and there are lots of opportunities for team members to really excel.”
 
Images via Pampered Chef. 
 
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