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A Winning Game Plan

All-Stars Focus On Personal, Industry Growth

During the Memorial Day weekend, I spent time touring Napa Valley wine country. A bit of a cork dork, my two-day adventure was packed from sunrise to well past sunset and included tours and tastings that allowed me to visit a host of vineyards.

I often felt, as an outsider in wine country, that these winemakers must be highly competitive with each other. That everything is some trade secret, non-compete and non-disclosure forms are rampant and seeing someone from the winery across the street must make for a really awkward run-in at the grocery store.

But after spending time with the producers, I realized that this wasn’t the case. Winemakers in Napa Valley are almost like one big team. They gather for tasting panels when new cases have to be tasted and mixed, the tour manager at Beaulieu Vineyards told me. At Stags’ Leap, I learned that it collaborated to make a special edition wine with its direct competitor, Stag’s Leap (note the apostrophe — they are actually two different vineyards). And, at Prisoner Wine Co., I was excited to hear that the community welcomed the new tasting room with open arms.

The Napa Valley wine industry isn’t just invested in the success of the individual — they are committed to the success of the entire wine region.

The same is true in the gourmet housewares retail industry.

While being an All-Star retailer is about a successful business at its core, there is another quality I always look for when narrowing down our annual list of honorees. Each retailer must show a commitment to bettering the industry, as well as their own business.

I’ve heard the phrase “A rising tide raises all ships,” a lot since I started in this industry almost five years ago. I realized that our 2019 GOURMET INSIDER® All-Stars have the same mentality. Yes, they are interested in their own successes and ways to move their businesses forward, but they are also invested in this industry.

Pam Gabriel, owner of Sweet Gourmet in Tyler, TX, plays by her own rules. She does what makes her feel comfortable with business logistics; does what makes the community respond to her with her marketing; and is not afraid to ask vendors and other retailers direct and difficult questions — and she gives them direct and difficult answers in return, when warranted.

Jamie Butler, owner of The Butler’s Pantry in Escalon, CA, is not resting on her laurels after being named an All-Star. The constant innovator, Butler is in the process of expanding her cooking class selection, leaning on advice from others in the industry to put together her program. She has also repeated the message of getting into the kitchen to her customers so much, that they are looking for more of a gourmet selection from her, allowing her to expand into cutlery and specialty cookware pieces.

Carrying on the legacy of a friend is Penny Klinedinst, owner of Sioux Falls, SD-based Plum’s Cooking Company, who keeps previous owner, Caroline Peterson, in mind through every evolution of the store. She was already a successful retailer and designer before jumping into the housewares industry and preventing the closure of Plum’s. One of the keys to her success is that she isn’t afraid to admit what she doesn’t know. This allows her to find the best people to guide her, whether it’s her store manager, another retailer, someone from outside the industry, or even her store’s previous owner, Peterson.

Similar to the wine makers in Napa Valley, all three of these All-Stars are interested in the continued success of the independent gourmet housewares industry. And for that, everyone wins.

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