These are shortcuts to your favorite social networking and bookmark sites. Add this story to your Facebook page, del.icio.us, DiggIt, and many others!
The word kitchen woven into the name Dominic’s Kitchen Store is apt because, as might have happened under the direction of any congenial host, the store is remarkable for the comforts it offers anyone who crosses its threshold.
Slip in the door to chat or pull up a chair when chow’s on, it’s all part of the hospitality at Dominic’s Kitchen Store.
Establishing itself as a focal point of Park Ridge, IL, community life is very much a part of how Dominic Cimilluca conducts business. Even on an average working day, locals stop by to chat about how things are going. Some are business operators who want to talk over professional matters, but that doesn’t keep the conversation from wandering to the foibles of mutual acquaintances. The talk is profitable in more ways than one, as some of his colleagues work with Cimilluca in his community initiatives.
Browsers stop by, too, and are made welcome, whether or not they become purchasers, and they often make the transition. On a recent occasion, visitors included a customer returning a kitchen timer, one who received a friendly primer from Cimilluca about the advantages and disadvantages of various such products available at the store, which went a long way toward facilitating selection of one that fulfilled her needs.
It’s all in a days work for Cimilluca, and just what was wanted when, in April 2009, he moved the store to a 4,200-square-foot space around the corner from the original 1,500-square-foot location opened in 2003.
The location is perfect for gathering the neighborhood to him. Across the street from the local suburban rail station and near a major intersection, the store is at the epicenter of the Chicago suburb. Yet, even with all its geographic advantages, Dominic’s Kitchen Store wouldn’t be what it is without the approach to business taken by its proprietor.
Bringing folks into the store for events centered on cooking and eating is consistent with Cimilluca’s foodservice background. In fact, he absorbed the hospitality business at his family’s restaurant, one named Dominic’s. Cimilluca focused on restaurant and hospitality studies at Kendall College and worked as a chef and in foodservice management positions before considering his own eatery. Yet, because he wanted to raise a family without being absent for holidays and other life events, he began to consider alternative businesses.
“Somebody said, ‘Park Ridge needs a kitchen store,’” Cimilluca noted. “I knew nothing about retail, but I said I’d do it.”
Given the circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that he operates Dominic’s Kitchen Store a little like someone might operate a neighborhood restaurant, creating a gathering spot for local consumers to spend quiet time and have fun with friends and neighbors.
“Guy’s Night,” for example, has been a centerpiece promotion for Dominic’s Kitchen. The bring-your-own-beer event includes sports broadcasts and Cimilluca’s cooking in a demonstration kitchen that was an important addition and a prime reason he moved his operation to bigger quarters. Participants get a 10% store discount and the fee is $20. Usually. At the last Guy’s Night held earlier this fall, retired hockey great Bobby Hull of the Chicago Blackhawks was in attendance, and a $40 fee got participants all the usual amenities plus an autograph. The Guy’s Night slated for November 18 was set to include former Chicago Bears kicker Kevin Butler and viewing of a Thursday night football Chicago/Miami match up.
The fees are important, but not as a profit generator. Cimilluca noted that Guy’s Night developed out of a bring-your-own-wine “Lady’s Night” promotion that Cimilluca ran around the holidays at his old location. That promotion also offered 10% off merchandise but was free, and it might draw five participants. Guy’s Night at the new location, with the charge, draws several times that number.
“When people pay, they have a vested interest,” Cimilluca said. “Then they show up.”
Yet the good times aren’t attractive only to guys. Demand brought back Lady’s Night, this time with a fee attached and a couple’s night is under consideration as well.
The success of Guy’s Night also prompted another male-oriented, although not necessarily male-exclusive, event. The Hot Sauce Challenge eating event ran successfully, if against the advice of Cimilluca’s lawyer, as an adjunct to a Father’s Day grilling demonstration. Cimilluca conceived a pepper-eating contest as a follow up, planning it as additional entertainment for the November 18 Guy’s Night participants.
“The challenges give them something to talk about,” Cimilluca said. “We give them a 15% discount for a year, and it keeps them buying. They’re proud to use their discount.”
Cimilluca also runs cooking events, but didn’t initially use the store for all of them. He has held cooking classes and similar proceedings in the new store but has partnered with a nearby catering operation to hold participatory events. As he upgrades the store’s kitchen, however, he’s bringing his entire cooking crowd back to home turf.
“You want them in the store to buy,” Cimilluca said.
Events aren’t alone in making the new Dominic’s Kitchen location attractive to customers. With additional space came the opportunity to upgrade merchandising. Store manager Amy Crawford has driven that effort, taking a typically local tack and scouring everything from garage sales to HomeGoods for novel fixtures. For example, a metal and glass box for storing tea and coffee on a counter became the display medium for cookie cutters.
With Crawford scouting, merchandising execution has largely fallen to store associate Amy Fox and Cimilluca’s wife, Brandy. So, ladders located at a garage sale became racks to display items such as kitchen utensils. And wire dress mannequins turned up to show off kitchen aprons.
In fact, one mannequin was at the heart of a display still evolving during an October store visit. Created as an outdoor setting in front of a wall painted sky blue, the display only needed a clothesline accommodating more aprons to transform a store corner into a scene of backyard domesticity.
In another merchandising twist, the store struck a deal with a local craftsman who makes case goods out of repurposed wood pulled from old barns and other antique structures. The furniture pieces are sold through Dominic’s on consignment but, while they’re in the store, they serve as another form of alternative fixture, one that contributes to the warmer, friendlier atmosphere Cimilluca wanted for the new location.
Dominic’s Kitchen events and merchandising both demonstrate an embrace of the local community that is paying off much as it might for a great neighborhood restaurant, and, with Cimilluca running the store, that’s just the way things should be.