Over the last few years, providing customers with an in-store experience has emerged as a top priority for independent gourmet store retailers seeking to stand out among the competition. And, while cooking classes are often the go-to choice, several retailers have found success thinking outside the box.
Beth Styles, owner of Lemon Gem in St. Louis, MO, offers customers a wider variety of classes that go beyond culinary lessons. She is a firm believer that events — when planned efficiently and with the right people — are a very low-cost, low-hassle way of getting people through the door. Here, Styles chats with GOURMET INSIDER® about her approach to classes and how others can get more creative with their own.
Gourmet Insider: You regularly host a mix of classes and events that go beyond cooking skills. How does this attract customers?
Beth Styles: Well, we’re fortunate that our event space is upstairs from our retail, and it’s important to us to have one that is available to all kinds of creatives and other small business owners who don’t have a physical space to share what they’re passionate about. We’ve found in general that people just really enjoy the experience of learning something new, whether it’s how to make your own pesto, how to successfully plant and keep alive a succulent garden, or even how to plant a garden that’s bee-friendly.
GI: Why is it important to provide customers with a mix of events in the store? How does this help boost your customer base?
BS: I think it’s nice to show your customers and surrounding community that being a retail shop (at least for me!) is about more than just selling products; it’s also about being part of a surrounding community and trying to offer experiences that the people living in and near it can connect with. So, even if we have a class upstairs and no one buys anything in the shop before or after (although that rarely happens), I see it as a group of people who now know our store exists, and hopefully they’ll remember us the next time they’re looking for kitchen goods and gifts.
GI: How do you source the experts that you bring in to teach the classes?
BS: Some of the classes come from us reaching out to people and some from people reaching out to us. We assess on a case-by-case basis if it seems like it would be a good fit and something that our customers would be interested in. I also have an ongoing list of class ideas or suggestions from customers. I take time to find a possible match for those with regard to someone to teach it.
I also really like the idea of the cooking classes being taught by peers versus professionals, meaning we don’t necessarily seek out professional chefs to teach the ideas we come up with. A lot of times it’s meeting someone who is just really passionate about it on their own, or someone wanting to test the waters for a new business idea. I think it makes people taking the class a bit more comfortable and the atmosphere a bit more relaxed.