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Registration Open for Las Vegas Winter Market

Registration for the winter 2018 Las Vegas Market – the nation’s fastest growing gift and home décor market and the leading furniture market in the western U.S. – is open at www.lasvegasmarket.com/register. More than 4,000 gift, furniture, bedding, lighting, flooring and home décor lines are available to buyers at Las Vegas Market, creating an extraordinary showcase of innovative, trending designs and a total home destination. The winter 2018 Las Vegas Market runs January 28 – February 1, 2018 (Sunday to Thursday).

Between Blocks and Boards

By Micah Cheek

JK Adams for webWhen I met Kristine McCutcheon from Larch Wood Enterprises, I spoke without thinking. I asked, “Can you talk to me a little bit about these cutting boards?” McCutcheon was quick with the response. “These aren’t cutting boards, they’re butcher blocks.” Lots of consumers treat butcher blocks and cutting boards as synonyms, but differences in grain, thickness and structure can inform what a board can handle. “They have different structures for different purposes. Boards are for serving and blocks are for cutting,” McCutcheon added. She went on to explain how different types of boards are designed for different tasks.

Traditionally, butcher blocks are made with end grains. An end grain faces towards the top of the board rather than along its length. Wood is made of individual fibers, and when the end grain is facing up, all of those fibers are standing vertically. On the molecular level, the knife’s edge cuts between these filaments rather than across them. This can be demonstrated with spaghetti. If you have some dry spaghetti standing vertically, and some lying down horizontally, it’s easier to put a knife through the vertical strands, because the knife moves between them rather than having to cut through. Over time, this means fewer deep cuts and grooves in the board’s surface, as the wood fibers close up around knife incisions. Many butcher blocks are also thicker, to insulate against the impact of a knife. Some boards, like the Traditional Butcher Blocks from John Boos, can measure 10 inches thick and come equipped with legs to stand on.

While the butcher block is designed for heavy chopping and fabricating, cutting and serving boards are made for more gentle use. Cutting boards are usually made with the grain going lengthwise, rather than up and down. This makes for a harder surface to cut on, but highlights beautiful long lines along the wood grain. These boards also tend to be thinner than butcher blocks and light enough to carry to the table. As this build requires less cutting and fabricating, edge grain boards tend to be less expensive as well.

Two seasons ago, JK Adams redesigned its butcher blocks with features to make it easier to navigate around the kitchen. “On our end grain boards, we tried to add more features. [We added] silicone feet to protect countertops, juice grooves, and handles or undercuts that allow someone to move or carry them around a little easier,” says Jon Blatchford, CEO of JK Adams. These changes further blur the line between blocks and boards, making a block that is easy to carry, which makes it easy to serve on. There is some discussion on how grain alignment can affect a knife’s blade over time, but Blatchford notes that for knife edges, the grain orientation matters less than the material itself. “Hardwood is the key,” he notes. “[Compared to] plastic, bamboo or synthetic materials, hardwood tends to be the best on a knife blade and is the most sanitary.”

The care and maintenance regimens for cutting boards and butcher blocks are very similar. In addition to hand washing and immediate towel drying, all wood boards need to be conditioned with mineral oil or a food-safe, wax-based wood conditioner. “The more you oil them, the better they’re going to be,” says Blatchford. “You’re truly making an investment that you’re going to only make one time if you treat them well.”

Making Customer Service a Cottage Industry

By Micah Cheek

Linda Kunz-Bayens, Owner of Cooking At The Cottage in Louisville, Kentucky, has made a name for her store by cultivating a kitchen class that is worth traveling for. The shop is best known for its cooking school, which draws students and date-night guests from hours away. “There are some other cooking classes in the area, and just recently we’ve had two new schools open up. Maybe when people are traveling for business, instead of sitting in a restaurant, they’ll seek out the classes that are going on around town,” says Kunz-Bayens. “They’ll learn something and maybe feel less alone or awkward getting dinner alone. It’s something they can feel like they fit right in doing.”

The school offers culinary education on everything from the cuisine of Sardegna to classics from Uzbekistan. Kunz-Bayens brings in local chefs who specialize in these cuisines. “We’re lucky we have a very diverse community. It’s just reaching out to different instructors, chefs, food truck operators, restaurateurs, whether they be big or small, for people to be able to experience the cuisine and decide if it’s something they like and ask some questions,” she says. “This way they can come and try five or six things, hear the backstory of the cuisine, and decide if that’s something they want to pursue making. And you’ve got the instructor there to say, ‘Here’s where you can source Vietnamese fish sauce,’ for instance.”

Fans of Cottage cooking classes come from all different walks of life. Some people save up to make a big trip to the store for classes, and some with more disposable income will make it a weekly event. Some customers will travel up to two hours to spend a weekend in Louisville that includes Cooking at the Cottage. Kunz-Bayens can count on regular customers to take up about half the seats for classes, the rest being strangers who are looking to try something new. “We have quite a number of gift card sales. People will give a cooking class as a gift for a wedding or holiday,” she says. “Maybe people who have come to date night want to come back and bring their friends or their bridge club, so they might come back with four more couples in tow. For some people, it’s part of their regular entertainment.”

By all measures, the classes at Cooking At The Cottage have been a success. Kunz-Bayens builds on that success to lure those students to become shoppers too. Kunz-Bayens runs the retail half of the store with a focus on good old-fashioned customer service. Exceeding the customer’s expectations is the name of the game for Cooking At The Cottage. “We’re willing to box or do whatever a customer needs, and if we have that product in our classroom we’re happy to get it out and let them play with it,” says Kunz-Bayens. “Unless it’s something critical, if they need a certain size baking pan and we don’t have it, we’ll say, ‘Here, take this home and bring it back when yours comes in.’ I haven’t had any problem with that. I guess there has to be trust. They just leave their name and number. I think all of us hear all the negative things about people and it starts to change their view. People are amazed when you do something nice for them.”

To keep prices competitive, Kunz-Bayens leans toward hard-to-find items and buys in bulk. “Our solution to that is to cross-market them in the store and with cooking classes, and then also to offer them at the lowest price the manufacturers will allow, rather than having sales,” says Kunz-Bayens. “Obviously you have to sell quite a few more than you would if you were doing MSRP, but people have learned to trust us. I’m hoping to build their confidence over time, so they don’t have to constantly be price shopping. Just because we’re a small independent doesn’t mean we’ll be priced higher.”

When organizing and reorganizing the Cottage, Kunz-Bayens pays special attention to how repeat customers will feel on their walk around the store. “You go to a store and you know where something is, and then they move it someplace. A lot of times I’ll give up and leave instead of seeking it out,” says Kunz-Bayens. “None of us have the time that we once did, we’re trying to spend it wisely. If you’re in a hurry, that might not be the time you want to look around and see what’s there.”

Cooking At The Cottage also exceeds customer expectations with an in-depth newsletter. “We send a cooking newsletter out twice a month by email. It has recipes and techniques, as well as cooking class times,” says Kunz-Bayens. “Instead of just saying, ‘Here’s the pots we’re selling today,’ that’s just another person pushing stuff. But when you’re giving them something, they look forward to it. We send close to 12,000 out twice a month, and these are not lists that we’ve bought; these are people who have asked to receive it. The average open rate is 25 to 28 percent. It’s giving people something they would enjoy, and want to hold onto instead of just trying to sell them more stuff.”

For the future, Kunz-Bayens wants to make changes on multiple fronts. Bringing attention to the retail side of the business is a priority. “We’re more cooking school with a retail shop. A lot of people have no idea that we have retail products in the store,” she says. “So [we are] educating people that we’re both, and that one doesn’t diminish the other.” Kunz-Bayens also wants to build up the digital storefront, saying that the Cooking At The Cottage website and is due for an overhaul. “I think there might be three or four little videos of products that people have tried and recommend – we need to amp up the social media presence,” she says. “When you’re working with a small staff, it’s a matter of finding someone to do it.”

Space Available in IHA-Sponsored Trade Mission to SE Asia

Western-branded products continue to increase in popularity with consumers in Indonesia and the Philippines as people continue to be more cognizant of western cooking styles, lifestyles and home décor. Housewares suppliers interested in the home and housewares markets in southeast Asia can meet with key retailers and learn more about the business climate during a trade mission to Jarkarta, Indonesia, and Manila, Philippines, November 5-14 sponsored by the International Housewares Association. Spots are still available in the trade mission, which is limited to 12 IHA member companies.

In Jakarta, participants will meet with targeted key buyers representing Ace Hardware, Sogo/Seibu, Central, TheFoodHall and Kawan Lama. In Manila, targeted retailers include Gourdo’s, SM Group, Rustan’s, Landers and True Home/True Value.

IHA’s trade missions offer members turn-key introductions to international markets through retail tours and one-on-one retailer and distributor buyer meetings. Participation is limited so that companies will receive optimal exposure to the market and retail contacts.

“The registration fee includes meeting arrangements, group transportation and several group meals. IHA does all the work so participants can focus on their business rather than the logistical details,” explains Lori Szudarek, Senior Manager, International Trade Development.

Complete information and sign-up details for the trade mission are available on IHA’s website at https://www.housewares.org/members/trade-mission-southeast-asia.

For more information about the trade mission or IHA’s international events and marketing opportunities, contact Szudarek at Lszudarek@housewares.org

Good360 Aiding Hurricane Victims with Household Needs to Rebuild Lives

Victims of Hurricane Irma also will receive assistance from Good360, the charity the International Housewares Association has partnered with to provide hurricane victims with home goods products as they rebuild their lives and homes. Last week IHA announced its partnership with Good360 to help Texas recover from Hurricane Harvey.

Good360 is working closely with the Federal Emergency Management Association to help shelters with immediate needs such as personal items, toiletries and water. The recovery and rebuilding phases in Texas, Florida and other areas affected by Irma will last for months and years. IHA members can help Good360 pre-position product to help in the rebuilding phase. Companies with products that can help in any stage of the disaster can easily complete Good360’s online donation form https://good360.org/good360-donation-intake-form and the Good360 staff will get the donated product to the right place at the right time to best assist the victims of Harvey and Irma.

When making a donation, companies should note that they are members of IHA to help Good360 track the donations. Companies can also request their donations go to a specific area of need.

“Along with the millions of residents dealing with the devastation of Irma, more than 50 IHA member companies are located in Florida and were greatly affected as well. The work of Good360 and the generosity of the housewares industry will help make a difference for millions of hurricane victims in Florida, Texas and other areas impacted by Irma and Harvey,” said Phil Brandl, IHA President and CEO.

Members with questions about donating product can contact Jim Alvey, Good360’s director of corporate development, at jalvey@good360.org or visit Good360.org for more information.

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