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From roads to restaurants- The Ingenious Michelin

Many of you must have heard of the much-beloved “Michelin stars” that make all the renowned chefs in the world go weak in their knees and work day and night to earn them. For those who don’t, let me give you some details. The Michelin company periodically awards ‘Michelin stars’ to restaurants all around the world, who serve exceptional food and are “worth travelling for”. It releases the ‘Red Michelin Guide”, which contains a list of restaurants and hotels that have been awarded one, two or three Michelin stars(more stars means more worth). They are a symbol of validation, respect and quality in the gastronomy world. Even losing one star has reduced many chefs to tears and tumbled down the reputation of their flagship restaurants. The world-renowned British chef, Gordon Ramsay, actually cried when his prestigious New York restaurant The London lost it’s two stars during a Michelin audit! (Source: The Daily Mail)

Before I tell what the crux of this article is, let me share with you another fact- the world’s second-largest tyre manufacturing conglomerate also goes by the name Michelin. So, is Michelin the Food Rater and Michelin the Tyre Manufacturer the same? Absolutely! Isn’t this surprising? How can the same company manufacture tyres and simultaneously be the coveted culinary appraiser? Let me connect all the dots and answer the curiosity!

The Michelin Company began from humble beginnings in 1889, founded by brothers André and Édouard Michelin in the French city of Clermont-Ferrand. Their motive was clear- they just did not want to be any usual tyre manufacturing company. They wanted to be the best. Eventually, their tyre innovations like removable bike tyres, removable rims and the first automobile tyres caught the fancy of the locals and much of France. But the brothers had another vision- to promote their tyres as the pedestal of economical and viable long-distance travelling. They wanted to expand the business territories beyond their quaint city and wanted to be the customer’s first choice when it came to sturdy and quality tyres suitable for travelling. So, around the turn of the 20th century, they introduced a novel idea- to give out guides to people! These guides contained extensive roadmaps to travel around France, catalogued gasoline and mechanic vendors to assist people during their travelling and suggested hotels where they could stay. This was a deft move to entice people to explore the countryside and cities, lengthen their travel journeys, and hence boost tyre sales. Eventually, the guides started becoming such a hit that the brothers had to start charging for the booklets in 1920! They even produced country-specific booklets across Europe to compel people to “buy Michelin tyres for their cars” and travel hassle-free. But, in 1926, taking into account the fact that tourism was shaping up positively in the 20th century, the brothers decided to introduce another thing into their guides- venture into the fine dining industry and scout culinary hotspots They started cataloguing the best restaurants and hotels and rating them in their guides. The guides’ coverage of restaurants highlighting not to miss regional cuisine, finest wine cellars and exquisite dining experiences coaxed drivers and food enthusiasts into travelling to experience the extraordinary gastronomical experiences (and thus, needing sturdy Michelin tyres to complete their journeys!). This was the cleverest marketing technique the Michelin brothers introduced- and shaped the brand image of Michelin forever!

After the advent of Michelin stars in 1926, the brand image of Michelin has boosted exponentially. The reviews are reliable, since it was conducted by ‘secret diners’, and it still is. Although sometimes accused of favouring European restaurants and the system of ‘anonymous diners’ being underpaid and less glorious, still Michelin holds it’s reputation to be the most reliable tastemaker of exquisite food. Today, Michelin covers 34 destinations in Europe, Asia and the Americas. Their Michelin rating system arouses both terror as well as thrill. For every aspiring chef who wants to make it big, Michelin star is the goal.

Given that tyres aren’t the most glamorous products to purchase, the brand image that Michelin has acquired through its fine dining rating system has also proved to be a champion for Michelin tyres. Today, Michelin Tyres is one of the top two largest tyre manufacturers(competing with Bridgestone), knocking an annual sales of 1615 million euros, equivalent to a whopping 14,316 crores INR! What started as a simple technique by the Michelin brothers to boost travelling and increase tyre sales has proven to be an astounding lesson of good marketing and the power of brand appeal, that can propel fame and sales not only for one’s prime business but everything associated with it.

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