Building Better Business All In A Faraday’s Work
by Micah Cheek
Amid the constant growth and cultural shift of Austin, Texas, Tony and Melissa Curtis-Wellings haven’t hesitated to make big changes to Faraday’s Kitchen Store. Established in 2015, Faraday’s has become Austin’s largest kitchenware store by being able to rapidly adjust their approach to business.
“We pretty much do four categories: cookware, bakeware, knives and kitchen gadgets. We do also sell some high-end espresso makers, and we’re getting into the coffee market,” says Tony Curtis-Wellings, Co-Owner. “We also have a cooking school for home cooks.” The vast majority of the budget for advertising deals and classes used to go to more traditional media, but when Curtis-Wellings noticed diminishing returns on marketing, a change was in order. In the last year, Faraday’s took on a dynamic shift in advertising the store. “Last year was the first year that we flip-flopped our marketing budget. We spent 10 percent through traditional channels and 90 percent online,” says Curtis-Wellings. “Pretty much after last July, our marketing direction completely changed. I think we were about a year behind on doing it.” But before they were able to make the switch, the company had to build the infrastructure that would make the digital magic happen. “We invested heavily in technology during 2016. We updated everything to be mobile-ready. “We had to make sure the technology behind the scenes was ready to manage it,” says Curtis-Wellings. That meant upgrading their website, forming a robust social media program, and refining the online point of sale options. Along with targeted ads, Faraday’s puts out media through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram. Facebook and Twitter posts are put more focus on events, while the Instagram posts intersperse events with highlighted individual products in stock. Faraday’s posts most of its deals with identical text and images on all platforms to make sure the message reaches as many groups as possible. While it’s early in the life of Faraday’s digital marketing, it seems to already be paying off. “I think it allows us to stay in front of our customers better,” Curtis-Wellings adds.
Much of the online advertising is taking the form of carefully crafted lifestyle images of many products and ingredients in use. Everything revolves around the experience rather than the product by itself. A pot or slow cooker now always has an image with a person in the picture using it to cook, for example. “As soon as you offer lifestyle imagery online, people making chili, we’ve now become lifestyle merchandisers,” says Curtis-Wellings. “Instead of putting out imagery of products, there’s imagery of people using the products. That’s been a huge change that’s changed how we buy,” he adds. Curtis-Wellings has also taken great pains to make sure the lifestyle that is advertised online is reflected again when customers come into the store.
Faraday’s products are organized by task, rather than product category. A fan of fish will find everything they need bundled into one place. “We created a fish endcap with our partner, Zwilling. We’ve got [an image of] a chef fileting a fish above it, then we’ve got three shelves below this image. Our customers can now find a smoker, a smoking book and the wood chips to smoke with. On the next level, we’ve got a frying pan, fish rub and a fish spatula. If you’re going to bake fish, there’s everything you need for baking,” says Curtis-Wellings. “We’re creating the Blue Apron concept, everything you would need if you want to cook fish…. If we’re going to produce these great lifestyle images online, we can’t have a disconnect with in-store merchanting when they come inside.” And this system is starting to extend throughout the whole store. The bundling concept changed the layout significantly. “We tore down areas where we had all cookbooks together and all food together. The pancake mix is now with the pancake maker, to help the consumer know what they need to pick up,” says Curtis-Wellings. “We’ll have the Dutch oven, the cookbook, chili mix and the ladle there, and then imagery of it in use.”
Curtis-Wellings is also making a change with the companies he does business with. “The biggest challenge is that we’re downsizing our relationship with [some] manufacturers, because if manufacturers are putting everything online, they don’t need us. So we’re working with manufacturers that aren’t putting everything online.” Faraday’s is making a shift to stocking companies that consciously reach out to brick-and-mortar retailers that offer store-only products and benefits, as well as companies that advertise with the same visual language that the store promotes. And Curtis-Wellings hopes that more retailers pivot in this direction as well. “The biggest change I think we’re going to see is [asking], ‘What is their channel strategy? Do they have one?’ And then moving forward with manufacturers who have a marketing and channel strategy that works with us,” he adds.
Even though Austin is a foodie city, the weather presents a challenge to brick-and-mortar retailers. “We have two seasons; Hot, and Cooler. We do most of our business probably from October to April,” says Curtis-Wellings. To offset the loss of walking traffic from hundred-degree heat, Faradays offers summer cooking classes for kids. “We teach 30 kids a day for 12 weeks. Faraday’s camp does 15 kids in the morning and 15 in the afternoon. Ages range from seven to 10 in the morning, and then we do 11 to 15 in the afternoon,” says Curtis-Wellings. “Each week is a different theme, so each kid signs up for the week.”
“We have about 24 different chefs we contract with to do cooking classes every day. We do public classes, private classes, and team building. That’s about 20 percent of our business,” says Curtis-Wellings. But Faraday’s takes a step back when it comes to the classroom. “We completely outsource the cooking school. We contract them out to local chefs. The nice thing is, they pretty much come in and turn-key it with the help of a couple assistants,” says Curtis-Wellings. “Our role is the sales aspect of it. Our role is to go out and promote it and get the classes filled, and work with chefs to build a curriculum.” That leaves more Faraday’s staff available to take care of day to day operations. Curtis-Wellings also notes that their choice in chefs usually leans towards private chefs, because they have developed some communication skills that some cooks in the restaurant sector haven’t developed. “Once they get to the executive chef level, they can handle that,” he adds. While Faraday’s used to advertise to bring chefs in, they now operate mostly on referrals from chefs they already work with.
Faraday’s took on all these big changes to make sure they’re ready for this new market that Curtis-Wellings sees changing in the near future. “In the next 2 or 3 years, we’re going to really understand where we fit and the value we bring to our customers. It’s a really interesting time. It’s like the rise of Walmart years ago,” he says. “It’s time for everybody to step up their game and for Faraday’s to show our business partners what we’re capable of doing. We’re in an changing time and I think there’s a part for online, but there will always be a part for brick-and-mortar and that customer experience.”