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What’s Your Story?

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Allow me to wax nostalgic about retailing for a moment. Remember when the brand on the outside of a store often seemed to matter more than the brands inside?

Stores big and small that presented strong, distinct identities, inviting atmospheres and consummate service could cultivate unwavering customer loyalty and unconditional trust in their selections.

That was before the age of hyper competition — before suburban mall sprawl and national mass merchandising expansion often turned shopping into a chase for the best price for a given product and brand, regardless of the name above the entrance. No one had even heard of the Internet yet.

Ah, the good old days.

The irony shouldn’t be lost on today’s retailers big and small that many are trying to recapture some of that past mojo to solidify the uniqueness and allure of their own nameplates.

While chain store operators may sink some of that ambition into private labels and other brand exclusives, that’s not an option or even a preference for most independent kitchenware storeowners. Stocking upscale national brands that fully protect such stores has become more difficult. These shops need and value many of these brands nonetheless.

Therein lies the responsibility for each independent proprietor to look, feel and act even more independently. The race is on to craft and convey unmistakably unique qualities and tone — hallmarks of a strong brand — that define a store’s appeal and affirms its value to local shoppers beyond the selection and price of its chef’s knives, stock pots and espresso machines. Such an exercise in brand building can take many forms.

GourmetInsider.com recently reported that Ben Salmon, owner of Kitchen a la Mode in South Orange, NJ, creates merchandising fixtures to match his store’s aesthetic character. “I am my own brand, not just an accumulation of other brands,” Salmon told Gourmet Insider. “I want fixtures that speak to my brand and who my store is. A fixtures can communicate a lot about your store and who you are. They can also imply what the merchandise within is most likely going to be or give clues to what the story within that fixtures is.”

While Salmon includes some vendor-supplied fixtures in his store, he said designing his own fixtures helps him to develop engaging and persuasive cross-merchandised storylines encompassing several brands.

“A vendor’s goal is to sell their product,” Salmon said. “My goal is to sell my product from multiple brands.” Salmon’s message transcends the manner — from custom fixtures to cooking classes and more — in which a shop expresses its unique selling proposition.

Running the store as a branded “product” by taking extra measures to develop and promote its distinctiveness has never been more essential to independent operators finding it harder and costlier to cut through the sameness of widespread product availability that has affected their business.

It takes vision, creativity, commitment and a fair share of risk. Waxing nostalgic about the good old days certainly isn’t enough.


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