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Making Things Happen

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With summer now in full swing, it’s time again for GOURMET INSIDERS® All-Stars issue. As in past years, the 2017 honorees bring with them a host of similarities and differences in how they each run a successful gourmet housewares-retailing operation.

Choosing just three retailers is never an easy task for the Gourmet Insider staff, and we spend hours deliberating our selections as there are many high quality retailers from which to choose. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of our effort is the opportunity we have to watch our All-Stars in action in their stores. The passion, excitement and commitment each has to their craft clearly goes beyond the need to simply make a sale. Each shows a desire to help their customers find a solution to problems they face in their kitchens.

Senior editor, Lauren De Bellis, spent a day with Nancy and Scott Schneider at The Chef’s Shoppe Gourmet Kitchen in Edwardsville, IL. We selected the Schneiders for many reasons, but mostly because they are risk-takers. They went out, took a chance and learned several new businesses — such as the finer points of fudge and popcorn — in order to be what their customers needed them to be.

Lauren returned to our Long Island office buzzing about the Schneider’s sales tactics, employee training and the sense of community she felt while at their store. That sense of community is their strength and the catalyst behind the Schneider’s evolution.

A conversation about strength and evolution would also include Jennifer Baron, owner of A Cook’s Companion in Brooklyn, NY. Baron spends a great deal of time on the sales floor. That time well-spent with her customers throughout the past quarter-century has given her a keen understanding of what her shoppers need and when they need it, from Mason Cash pudding bowls at Christmas to cast iron products used to make flatbreads.

Spending a few hours with Baron in her store is the equivalent of taking a college business class. She is efficient, savvy and pays close attention to her customers. Her store continues to thrive and attracts the famous and not-so famous culinarians among us. During our visit, we spotted celebrity chef Anne Burrell perusing Baron’s gadget wall.

Across the country in Sonoma, CA, Laura and Stephen Havlek of Sign of the Bear Kitchenware and Tableware continue to be trend-setters in the gourmet housewares retail world. Not only are they present on their sales floor, but their pure joy in what they do almost tempts you to try not to smile while shopping.

Laura greets everyone with a smile and mentions how delighted she is to have them in the store, while Stephen spends time explaining even the simplest tool to a customer. Shoppers leave with questions answered, smiles on their faces and gift-wrapped goods.

At the cash wrap, customers told Laura and her staff how they stumbled upon the store or why they were in shopping and were greeted with enthusiasm. By the end of my few hours with them, I was exhausted and inspired at the same time.

But while all of these All-Stars are on top of their game, they are all continuing to strive to be better.

The Schneiders belong to a group of small, independent business owners in different industries and in different areas of the country. While these business owners run the gamut of pet store owners or uniform supply companies, they are used as a resource for each other when implementing new best practices, dabbling into new areas or sparking ideas that can be tailored for their businesses.

Laura Havlek, who has an academic background and was heading for a career in academia before buying Sign of the Bear, is always asking questions. She will tap me, her staff, her peers — anyone she needs to — because it makes her a better retailer.

Baron is not above doing anything to make sure her customers are happy and inspired as well — from putting on a brave face in a tough business climate to donning a hula skirt to encourage people to check out the store.

Our All-Stars are making things happen for them based on their needs for the business. But making things happen for them also means making things happen for their vendors, their staff, their customers and this industry.


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