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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.”

Building Better Business All In A Faraday’s Work

by Micah Cheek

Faradays1Amid 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.”

Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. Cutting Department Managers

Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. has accelerated the realignment of its store management structure to support its customer-focused initiatives and omnichannel growth. These actions are part of the company’s continuous efforts to improve and capitalize on the opportunities presented by the evolving retail landscape.

Steven H. Temares, Chief Executive Officer and member of the board of directors of Bed Bath & Beyond Inc., stated, “With the evolution in retail, we continue to strengthen our digital infrastructure and invest heavily in areas such as analytics, information technology, pricing, e-commerce, marketing, supply chain, and our contact centers. As we work to continue to satisfy our customers through our omnichannel capabilities, the role of our stores is also evolving, and remains crucial to achieving our mission of being trusted by our customers as the expert for the home and heart-felt life events. The actions taken today to accelerate the realignment of our store management will allow us to better support our customer-focused initiatives as well as support our omnichannel growth, while driving operational excellence.”

The company, after an extensive and careful review, has initiated in approximately half of its U.S. Bed Bath & Beyond stores and about a dozen U.S. buybuy BABY stores, a limited realignment of its store management organization, primarily resulting in a reduction of about 880 department and assistant store manager positions. These actions accelerate a transition in store management roles that began more than a year ago through store hiring practices and attrition. These efforts simplify the store management structure and strengthen the company’s ability to meet the growing and changing desires of its customers by focusing additional staffing needs in non-management roles, and placing less emphasis on a management structure that supported a more rapid rate of store growth. There are no further reductions planned in connection with this realignment. After this transition is complete, the company expects overall staffing levels in-store to remain the same as before this realignment, or in some cases, increase.

These organizational changes are estimated to generate future annual pre-tax cost savings of approximately $16 million. Due to the timing of these changes, the pre-tax cost savings for the remainder of fiscal 2017 are estimated to be approximately $7 million. The company expects to incur pre-tax cash restructuring charges of approximately $17 million in fiscal 2017, primarily for severance and related costs in conjunction with these changes, all of which will be expensed in the second quarter.

Passing on the Flame of Culinary Inspiration

By Lorrie Baumann

_VJP9071Jill Foucré founded Marcel’s Culinary Experience in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with the idea that she was starting a recreational cooking school and also paying tribute to the grandfather whose cooking career had long inspired her interest in food and its preparation.

Her grandfather Marcel was a chef in France who emigrated to the U.S. in the late 1920s. He arrived in New York and made his way to Lowell, Massachusetts, where he opened a restaurant. Eventually, he adopted a more itinerant career – working at the Massachusetts beach resorts in summers and following the snowbirds to Florida for the winter season.

Foucré herself inherited some of that love for cooking. “I love to cook from scratch. I mean scratch-scratch,” she says. “I’m more of a cook than a baker. The precision of baking eludes me sometimes.” When she roasts a chicken, she saves the bones for stock, and she’s been known to roast a whole pig in her back yard for parties. “That was before I was a retail store owner,” she says. “I try to cook intuitively when possible. I tend to be a recipe cook, but I’m trying to do better.”

0670_031516Marcel’s, opened by Foucré and her husband, Bob Bye, in 2011 in a 125-year-old building that has always been a commercial retail space, combines the cooking classes that were the original inspiration for the business with a 3,200 square foot retail area, including the 450 square foot kitchen located in a back corner, from where casual shoppers can hear the laughter and the buzz of conversation of a class enjoying its experience and smell the aromas of the food they’re preparing. Marcel’s offers about 240 to 250 classes a year taught by the eight local chefs who teach at the store on a regular basis. Many of the chefs who offer classes in the store find Foucré, but when she does recruit someone new, she looks particularly for teaching chefs rather than restaurant cooks. Classes include hands-on cooking classes, free demonstrations of single dishes and classes for children, as well as classes offered as private events. For July, the scheduled classes include an imaginary road trip to Nashville, a celebration of Bastille Day, a fantasy visit to dine out in the Mediterranean region and a cocktail party with essential summer appetizers as well as day camp sessions for children with lessons offering them imaginary experiences in foods from the West Coast or, for teenagers, a four-day course on pasta. There’s something going on in the shop’s kitchen almost every day of the month. “The kitchen represents between 25 and 30 percent of the revenue, and the rest is the retail,” Foucré says.

The classroom kitchen is supported by a more industrial kitchen behind the store that provides pantry space, a large refrigerator and offers the chefs a place to prepare for the classes and for an in-home private chef business just launched in June. Bye, a full-time store employee, as is Foucré herself, stocks the kitchen and maintains the entire building, which includes a couple of rental apartments over the store, as well as the building that houses Marché, the cheese shop a couple of doors down that’s also owned and operated by the couple.

0042_031516On the sales floor around the classroom kitchen, Foucré stocks a broad range of cookware, a very few small electrics and a selection of tabletop items. Bakeware currently occupies the back corner opposite the classroom kitchen because Foucré has discovered that customers who are looking for a particular bakeware item because they need it for a recipe are willing to walk all the way through the store to find it, while those who are browsing for inspiration need to find something that interests them closer to the front door. “We definitely are a destination for gifts,” Foucré says. “We were very busy the day before Mothers Day. We had a table set up with things under $15 for kids to give.”

Although Le Creuset is the number two line in the store, most of the merchandise is chosen because customers can’t easily find the same item anywhere else in the area. Items represent an array of price points, so that Marcel’s has something special to offer the customer who needs a gift for $10 or less for a child’s teacher as well as the bride who’s registering for a mix of practical kitchenware and potential heirlooms. “What we’ve done with cookware is that we want to carry what we think is the top of the line for each type of cookware,” Foucré says. “We’re not trying to be 10 lines deep.”

The uniqueness of those items in the area is critical to bringing in customers who could also shop at Williams Sonoma, Crate and Barrel or any of the other kitchenware stores within a 10 mile radius of Foucré’s store in the western suburbs of Chicago. Like its younger sister store, Marché, Marcel’s Culinary Experience is located in a relatively affluent community of around 27,000 residents that’s about 45 minutes west of downtown Chicago. It’s a community of residents who understands the value of shopping local, which helps Foucré compete with the national chains, she says.

Also key to that competition is an intensive focus on the store’s social media marketing. Foucré has one part-time employee whose whole job is managing a program that includes a monthly newsletter that goes out to almost 6,000 people on the email list, a weekly email that lists the shop’s classes and a weekly email for Marché that goes to a subset of the Marcel’s email list as well as daily Facebook posts to entertain more than 4,000 followers and biweekly blog posts on the store’s website. Foucré also makes sure that her store is listed on the store finder features of her vendors’ websites. All of that is intended to lure customers into the brick and mortar shop rather than to sell merchandise online.

Customers register and pay for cooking classes online, but that’s the only thing that’s sold through the store’s website. “I have walked up to the edge of the cliff with merchandise a couple of times, but I have walked back,” Foucré says. “I don’t know that we can compete.”

Marcel’s is also heavily involved in marketing through community involvement, which has included staging houses for the Glen Ellyn Housewalk, an annual event that benefits Glen Ellyn Infant Welfare, as well as a broad range of donations for other community fundraisers. “We try to say yes to all of that,” Foucré says. “We’re active. We’re involved in the community. I live here. People know us.”

Kuhn Rikon’s New Corn Zipper and Corn Holder Countertop Display Units Target Summertime Sales

The Kuhn Rikon Corn Zipper and Corn Holders are fun kitchen tools that celebrate one of the favorite taste treats of summer, each with new CDUs designed to increase impulse sales.

Corn Zipper DisplayThe playful Corn Zipper unzips rows of kernels cleanly and safely off the cob. This handy tool is super sharp and easier than using a knife. The display holds 24 pieces, in a colorful, shallow countertop display unit. The Corn Zipper has a suggested retail price of $12 each.

Corn Holder DisplayKuhn Rikon’s Corn Holder Display holds 12 sets in a shallow countertop display unit. These cheerful holders feature a soft, textured handle for a comfortable grip that keeps hands clean and cool. A corkscrew-style tip twists into the cob and remains firmly attached. The clever design allows the holders to stack together for convenient storage. The Corn Holder Set comes in a set of eight (four pairs), for suggested retail price of $12 each.

The new displays are available for immediate shipment.

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