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Your Business Commentary

Mike's often irreverent, thought-provoking analysis of the industry-- with an occasional guest columnist.

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Wilton Celebrates Its 80th Anniversary

An industry giant began in a single room.

by Staff Report (February 21, 2008)

Wilton Enterprises, one of the industry's dominant vendors, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year. But it's been a long, interesting road.

The company started in 1929 when Dewey McKinley Wilton opened a cake decorating and candy making school for caterers and chefs in a room of his Chicago home. Having worked in a candy factory from an early age, when he was about 14 years old Wilton perfected the craft of pulled sugar candy making. He was taught cake decorating from German and French pastry chefs, in return for teaching them about pulled sugar.

The first classes Dewey taught cost $25 per lesson, quite a lot of money in those days. In addition to teaching, he created specialty cakes for fancy caterers in the Chicago area and worked in various hotel bakeries.

The ban of certain sweets during the Great Depression didn't impact classes. Wilton began traveling to other cities and conducting classes for 5-6 students daily.

By 1946, Wilton had returned to teaching from his home. A full-page, black-and-white ad in Baker's Helper magazine caught the attention of seven students at $150 each for a two-week cake decorating class the predecessor to the famous Wilton Master Class, which continues today in Darien, IL, attracting students from around the world.

When the classes grew too big for his home, Wilton moved to various rented locations, finally settling in 1948 in a new 6,000 sq. ft. building in Chicago. At that time, the Wilton family began teaching baker's cake decorating under the GI Bill of Rights. The classes included cake decorating and candy making with an emphasis on projects people could make in a shop and earn a profit. The classes were expanded to 40-50 students.

By 1950, the focus of classes shifted once more, forcing another move. At the same time, the Wilton family opened a bridal cake shop. The family also began working on their first book. In 1954, the self-published Encyclopedia of Modern Cake Decorating sold more than 10,000 copies in its first printing. Intended as a step-by-step guide to cake decorating techniques, the book contained very little writing and was mostly photos.

Readers were soon looking to buy the decorating supplies featured in the book, but no vendors specialized in these items for the public. So in 1959, Norman Wilton, Dewey's son, started a mail-order business, providing decorating ideas, paste colors, decorating bags, couplers, parchment paper, and metal turntables to the consumer.

This new business venture forced another move to a new 12,000 sq. ft. facility where Wilton started to make its first product, the Tuk-N-Ruffle. Still sold today, it is a plastic lacy ruffling that is put around the base of the cake to make it appear decorated even before icing decorations are added.

In 1964, the first Wilton cake decorating book was published to support the cake business, retailing for just $1. The book contained 129 black-and-white pictures, plus some colored pages. In 1970, the Wilton Yearbook came out in its current form.

Others were published every two years and in 1976, the yearbook started being published annually. Wilton continues to publish dozens of publications on cake decorating, wedding, baking, cookie, and candy making.

In March 1977, Vince Naccarato was announced President of Wilton Enterprises and moved the business to its present location in Woodridge, IL. In 1984, his vision of the expansion of Wilton Enterprises continued with the purchase of Copco, creating a major presence in the domestic and international housewares arena.

In 1989, Wilton created The Weston Gallery division which designs, develops, and distributes its own line of picture frames and home decor products. In 1991, Rowoco, a kitchen gadget company, was acquired and was rolled into the Copco division in 2005. In 1996, a Canadian bakery distributor was purchased and is now the office for Canadian operations.

In 2006, Wilton added a public television series, Bake Decorate Celebrate!, which features decorating ideas and techniques for every occasion. Two to three feature segments tie each episode theme together, with shorter, more instructional segments intermixed. More than 25,000 shows have aired, Wilton officials report.

Wilton continues to operate its world-renowned Wilton School of Cake Decorating and Confectionery Arts, which is approved by the Illinois Board of Education and teaches advanced courses and decorating techniques to more than 1,500 students per year. In addition, 230,000 people annually attend Wilton Method classes in department, craft, and specialty shops.

Today, Wilton Enterprises is the market leader in cake, candy, cookie, wedding, bakeware, and home celebration products. The company markets more than 4,000 products in 15,000+ U.S. major department, craft, and specialty stores, as well as by mail and on the Internet at www.wilton.com. Products are also offered in 105 countries.

Staying true to the company's belief in education, products carefully explain features, usage and provide project ideas.

On August 1, 2007, Wilton Industries was acquired by GTCR, a leading Chicago-based private equity investment firm. The merger of Wilton, EK Success, Dimensions, and K & Company positions Wilton as the largest, most diversified company in the industry.

(Note: To read previous Business-Wise entries, click on the titles in the right-hand column. Does your company have an interesting history? Tell CLN and CLN will tell the industry. Email mike@clnonline.com.)

 

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