Breaking Tradition
Maximilian Riedel's stemless wineglass saved his cabinet space and sent Riedel Crystal's U.S. sales soaring.
By Siri Schubert

(Business 2.0) – The Problem

To increase efficiency at the North American division of his family's business, executive vice president Maximilian Riedel relocated Riedel Crystal's U.S. offices from New York's Long Island to Edison, N.J., in 2003. The move put operations closer to the port where Riedel glassware arrives from Austria and Germany, but for Maximilian it meant downsizing to a town house in which he had no room to store his collection of about 300 wineglasses. He got rid of more than three-quarters of them, but he was still frustrated that the remaining stemware didn't fit in the dishwasher. "If I'm not going to use handmade glasses from Austria," he wondered, "who will?"

The "Aha!"

Maximilian woke up one night with a sudden flash of insight: "I should make a wine tumbler." Using the time difference to his advantage, he immediately called an engineer at his family's glass factory in Schneegattern, Austria, to create a prototype of a stackable, stemless tumbler that would take up less cabinet space and also fit in the dishwasher. A few weeks later, he showed it to his father, Georg, who was skeptical: After all, elegantly stemmed wineglasses were Riedel's specialty. They sampled several wines, but the tumbler didn't do most of the varietals justice. Shortly thereafter, they returned to the factory to try removing the stems from different glass shapes, which succeeded in bringing out the varying bouquets. In late 2003 the company's stemless O line went into production.

The Payoff

O glasses now make up more than a quarter of Riedel's U.S. revenue, which climbed from $18 million in 2001 to more than $50 million last year. Stateside, Riedel sold 2.5 million O glasses in 2005, and unit sales for 2006 are projected to hit 3 million. And Maximilian earned a promotion; the 28-year-old now serves as CEO of Riedel Crystal America.