Ask Jennifer Baron what point-of-sale system she uses in her Brooklyn store, and she will tell you, “I don’t use a POS system.”
But ask the owner of A Cook’s Companion about her top sellers, what items are low on inventory or what’s not selling and she doesn’t bat an eye while responding. She knows this all without the need of modern technology.
That intricate knowledge of her business, along with a razor sharp focus on the needs of her loyal shoppers, were among the many factors that made Baron a 2017 GOURMET INSIDER® All-Star.
Baron’s career in the world of gourmet housewares retailing began more than 30 years ago after she migrated from the Midwest to New York. Her retailing chops were cut at Broadway Panhandler, the New York City independent gourmet housewares landmark that closed in 2016 after more than 40 years in business. After spending six years at Broadway Panhandler, Baron had an epiphany.
“I realized that it wasn’t possible to get a springform pan in our neighborhood,” she said. “I started thinking that I could really do this myself.”
That one thought about a simple bakeware product proved to be the catalyst of a long, successful retail career. Baron soon began looking for retail space that would suit her needs and also be affordable. She secured a 400-square foot storefront that did well enough to allow her to open a second location, a tabletop store called A Perfect Setting, within two years. After having the two stores, she strategically decided to sublet the second location and focus on the growth of A Cook’s Companion, which continues to thrive in the Brooklyn Heights section of the borough after 20 years in business.
But, said Baron, no matter how successful the store has become, it is the groundwork she laid from the beginning that continues to allow her to reap the benefits. The key ingredient to her successful recipe has been visibility to her staff and her customers, she said.
“Success depends on face time,” she explained. “You have to be in your store and you have to be on the floor. We see people come and go right on this block because the owner is never there. As the owner, the customers want to see you and they want you to be present.”
Baron said that she makes sure to work almost every weekend when the store is busy, enabling her to interact with her customers and address their needs.
“They are very kind but they are all very straightforward with me,” she said of her customers. “But I really look forward to their feedback. But, you have to be accessible to them and a fixture with them.”
Baron also explained that while being front and center in the store as owner is important, it is the environment you cultivate within your store that really makes a difference. She said that even when times are tough, being a calming presence for customers helps to solidify her place in the community.
“Through the years, we have been here with them through a lot,” Baron said. “When they come in, we need to make sure it looks terrific in here because they may be hurting too.”
She noted that while 2016 was a tough year for the independent gourmet retail channel, it was also a difficult year for the country as a whole. So, she said, around the holidays she made sure to give her customers an experience in her store.
“We wanted them to come in here and really get the experience of [the holidays]. They don’t need to know the extent of our business issues. Sometimes you just have to put on the face and let them enjoy,” she said.
To read the full story, see the July/August 2017 issue of Gourmet Insider.