Taking charge of the family business at a young age, Kyle Forman has brought a modern approach and fresh ideas to Krowne. He tells Amelia Levin about placing technology at the core and creating a healthy company culture
Kyle Forman was just 27 years old when he took over his family’s third-generation business with the help of his business partner Paul Bastante, as the coronavirus pandemic raged in October 2020. It didn’t come as a surprise to many; Forman had worked all facets of the business, starting out in the warehouse aged 10 and working his way up through the factory and into the office as a salesperson for three years, national sales director for four, vice president for one and now president.
Krowne, which was founded 75 years ago by Nat Krowne and sold to Forman’s grandfather who sold the business to his father and his business partner Frank Bastante, is perhaps best known for its bar equipment products. Over the years, the company has expanded to sell other products, such as beer systems and refrigeration, as well as faucets and pre- rinses, gas connectors, casters and more.
Today, Krowne has 120 (and counting) full-time employees and specializes in high-end custom bar equipment, refrigeration, complex long-draw glycol beer systems, luxury plumbing collections and more, serving all segments of the foodservice industry.
“Our first major expansion started with a complete line of backbar refrigeration over 30 years ago but most recently has been joined by a complete beer system package to allow us to build out every aspect of the bar,” Forman says. “Our products are found in stadiums, casinos, restaurants, bars, hotels, healthcare facilities, and more and are trusted by award-winning bartenders, Michelin-star chefs, and industry icons – like Jon Taffer of TV’s Bar Rescue.”
Immediately upon becoming president of the company at the height of the coronavirus pandemic in October 2020, Forman, who holds a degree in international business from George Washington University in Washington, DC, knew he wanted to leverage modern technologies to not only enhance efficiencies throughout the company’s production processes. He also wanted to offer a “breath of fresh air” for an industry where change doesn’t happen as quickly as it might in others. Forman has positioned Krowne to be a disruptor among foodservice equipment manufacturers – in a good way.
“When my father retired, I came in Krowne offers. “I was tired of using Autocad and all the back and forth and emails and calls during the design process; it didn’t make any sense to me.”
Now, customers and designers can use Krowne’s proprietary 3D/Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality program to work with four main platforms (BeerFlex, BarFlex, FridgeFlex and FaucetFlex), moving pieces around or switching them out with others. “The process that took weeks now takes five minutes and [customers] can choose from over 10,000 configurations and send it to us so we can integrate it into the overall design,” says Forman. Bartenders can use the virtual reality demo program to get a feel for the layout of the bar or use it to train staff.
Forman’s IT recruits developed all the algorithms internally. “Customers can input their beer system requirements and our configurator will fire off complex algorithms to precisely calculate BTU, horsepower and restriction requirements to design a complete system in seconds,” says Forman. “We’re taking a more expanded, one-stop-shop approach,” Forman says. “Once the design process and ordering are complete we ship everything all together on one P.O.”
The technology has also allowed the company to more easily expand design services internationally. “With this new process, anyone can engage with Krowne at any time during the day,” he says.
Forman has also leveraged 3D technology for a new printing lab. The printers will print various components in a resin bath for testing. “We can run water through it to test durability and if it passes the test can go to full manufacturing to be made out of metal or glass,” Forman says.
The pandemic clearly didn’t slow down Forman or Krowne’s momentum; in addition to the investments in robotics and more space, Forman says he also made a commitment to his team for the long haul. “We did not terminate any employee due to the pandemic and we gave hourly raises to all manufacturing employees who continued to physically come in when very little was still known about the disease,” he says. “We donated over 25,000 facemasks to local healthcare facilities in need and we moved our entire office 100% remote for the first year.
We also pivoted to offer new product categories that combatted some of the complexities Covid created such as liquid C02 glass frosters to kill bacteria, expanded hands-free faucet options, to- go cocktail solutions for bars and more.”
The commitment has paid off; today, Forman says, the company culture continues to be a blend of “energetic, collaborative and vibrant personalities.”
“The entire foundation of Krowne is built around the disruption of outdated processes and systems,” he says. “We don’t believe in micromanaging, and we don’t pigeonhole teammates to certain parts of the company. If someone in customer service believes they have a great idea for the design department, they can work together to turn it into a reality. If someone in our shipping department has an idea for the sales team, theywork together to build out a new game plan that incorporates this strategy. Everyone’s opinion is taken seriously, and we strive for companywide collaboration in all sectors of Krowne.” One idea helped launch Krowne’s Bar Ambassador Program (see sidebar right).
Forman’s role is fluid. “Each week my involvement in different departments can range from overarching business development strategy and sales to packaging design, technology research and lean manufacturing processes,” he says.
At first, he was unsure about the launch of BarFlex, the first of the new 3D configurators Krowne offers. “Most of our team wasn’t sure what the response would be from our customers about the new 3D,” he says. “After the results came in proving the massive demand for this technology, we now collectively approach every product category with an alternative perspective, and this helps us stay far ahead of our competitors. I’ve always been a huge believer in doing only a few things really well, but with the right systems and technology in place we’ve found that we can do far more with less.”
Looking toward the future
Forman says the future is what always excites him the most. “We are already experimenting with new technologies “The entire foundation of Krowne is built around the disruption of outdated processes and systems. We do not believe in micromanaging that will completely alter the way our customers interact with our company, and we will continue to leverage our existing technologies to improve our customers’ overall experience with Krowne from the initial contact with Krowne all the way to the final installation of our products,” he says.
In addition, Krowne is in the process of acquiring an additional 100,000 sq ft (9,000 sq m) of manufacturing space in an unspecified location at press time to make room for further growth. The company’s also working on another 300 products this year.
“Creating innovative solutions and sustainable designs through collaboration, cutting-edge technology, and world-class engineering, that’s our mission,” concludes Forman.
Box: THREE KEY KROWNE PRODUCTS
MasterTap by Krowne: Krowne’s new beer system division. We always knew this product category fit in perfectly with our other offerings, but we did not want to launch it until we built what we felt was the best beer system in the industry. By way of rigorous R&D, intensive field testing and premium components we now offer a complete beer system package that can be customized for any project of any size.
BeerFlex: This is Krowne’s most innovative and complex configurator yet. For the first time ever, you can now design your complete beer system in 3D and augmented reality on our website and have a completely custom tailored quote sent to you seconds after submitting your design. This configurator flips the beer system industry upside down by removing unnecessary roadblocks and lack of transparency demonstrated by other beer system suppliers and providing clients with an all-encompassing design tool that allows users to configure, quote and sell a system all from laptop, smartphone or computer. We’ve also built in full augmented reality functionality to allow the users to walk through the configured system at the end and see how it fits into the space it will be installed.
Royal Series custom underbar line: This helped transform Krowne from a small fab shop into an industry leading producer of everything bar related. As the line surged in popularity over time we continued to design and manufacture more product categories that fit into that space. It started with a complete line of backbar refrigeration over 30 years ago, but has now been joined by a complete beer system package to allow us to build out every aspect of the bar. Our strategy is to be able to provide every single portion needed when a customer thinks of a bar. From the lighted liquor tiers, bar tools and liquid C02 glass frosters, all the way to the custom bar equipment and beer system.”