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All Star Lessons
Thriving stores adapt to challenge

Welcome to our fourth annual Gourmet Insider® All Stars issue (July-August 2014). This year we are celebrating three retailers who have each had to overcome challenges throughout the course of operating their stores and who have each uncovered new strategies and opportunities to achieve and sustain growth.

Having begun retail life as a franchisee, Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium in Brandon, FL, managed to survive the demise of the original franchise, the only former franchisee to do so, and has found renewed life around a new identity as a culinary education center for its community. The combined skills of Chef Dave West and his merchandise-savvy wife Karen have helped Rolling Pin become a fixture in this Tampa-area community.

Greensboro, NC’s The Extra Ingredient has faced what would be many an independent’s worst nightmare with not one, but two major gourmet chains— Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table— opening stores in the same, albeit large, shopping center. Despite this challenge Art and Martha Nading have carved out a unique and community focused identity that continued to draw customers week in and week out, even in the face of the most recent economic challenges.

Pans On Fire’s Linda Wyner solved one challenge— a store that was bursting at the seams— with a new location, only to find that what appealed to customers in one site didn’t necessarily translate to the next. Taking a lemons-to-lemonade approach, Wyner went to school on her new customer base and reworked her mix and approach. The result has been substantial growth.

Each of these three retailers embodies gourmet housewares retailing at its best. It’s not always pretty, not always easy, but with hard work, creativity and a willingness to adapt to changing conditions, the end result can be very positive. This seems appropriate this year amid growing signs that retailers, and, in particular, independent retailers, are under renewed stress from an economic malaise that appears tougher to shake than a bad case of the flu.

Reports from the first quarter selling season have not been strong and there are already signs emerging that many independent retailers are starting to hunker down and tighten their purse strings in anticipation of further slowing sales.

While I am never in favor of reckless spending, I would issue a word of caution to those who are about to dramatically trim their sails, paring back new orders, retreating from implementation of new programs and hunkering down with existing merchandise. You cannot cut your way out of a bad selling environment.

In tough times there is a natural tendency to retreat, retrench and wait out the storm. However, past history suggests that those who emerge strongest from difficult times are those who put themselves in a position to gain by other’s retreat. Now is the time to lean in, to think more creatively, to act proactively, not reactively. It is a time to analytically assess what’s working and what’s not; to invest in the former and shed the latter.

Are each of your key classifications delivering what you need? If not, maybe it’s time to reassess your mix. Is traffic declining or is the traffic still good but your conversion rate down? If it’s the former then maybe it’s time to think about some creative traffic building strategies. If it’s the latter, maybe its time to re-examine your sales associate training and work with vendors to strengthen demonstration and salesmanship programs.

The key is don’t sit and wait for things to get better. Don’t start cutting travel to shows or eliminate investment in new merchandise and programs. Consumers want new and if you don’t have it they will find it elsewhere.

At this month’s Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market, Gourmet Insider will hold a Retail Roundtable that will explore holiday promotional strategies. But not just the fourth quarter holidays; all holidays from Mother’s and Father’s Day to National Pizza Day. The focus will be on developing creative promotional strategies that can turn any day into a holiday sales event.

We will share these strategies in the September-October issue and would encourage you to share your own thoughts on creative ways to build business. Together we bring new ideas that help strengthen gourmet housewares as an industry.

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