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Charting A New Course

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Well, we’re near the end of quite a year, marked by up-and-down sales cycles that have become predictably unpredictable and an unprecedented presidential election campaign whose near-and far-term implications remain anything but clear.

Amid so much uncertainty, independent gourmet retailers fight their usual fight to see another year, which can be challenging enough when things seem far more certain. This was a year that saw another wave of attrition in the gourmet kitchenware channel. That may not be all that unusual, but this year it seemed more unsettling with the closing of some longstanding, flagship stores. Some were casualties of an unforgiving new marketplace, others retirements without a next generation to take the reins.

In the wake, many store owners are confronting their futures with more urgency. As they should. But the need to prioritize business challenges and opportunities in the immediate foreground should not compromise the vision required to move from an operation that chases sales day-to-day and month-to-month to one that is better equipped to manage unexpected hazards and detours without straying far from a well-charted course.

This edition of GOURMET INSIDER® serves up some ways to get started on that course. The 10th annual Gourmet Insider State of the Industry Report provides key sales statistics across core categories. While its understandable to view business within the tunnel of its own year-over-year performance, the ability to take a wider view of the market and to benchmark against others facing the same circumstances can be an invaluable business asset. Big data is not just for big companies. The smallest of operators will benefit from this and other detailed analytics previously unavailable to them.

This edition of Gourmet Insider also examines the succession challenge faced by the gourmet channel and what can be done to recruit new store owners. It is a challenge that can’t stop at identifying people with a passion for selling cookware and cutlery. It must position the channel as one that combines all the intimacy, expertise and dedication of a traditional gourmet specialty business with the kind of state-of-the-art merchandising, marketing and operational infrastructure that appeals not only to a new generation of owners but also to a new generation of shoppers.

There are many things independent retailers can do to navigate these uncertain times. Improve digital capabilities, from POS management to e-commerce. Diversify marketing by optimizing social media and participating in cooperative loyalty programs that are available in many communities. Subscribe to market analytics. Scour trade magazines. Shop the shows voraciously. Take advantage of the advisory services offered by the buying groups. And be open to suggestions that challenge your instincts.

Today and tomorrow have converged, that’s how fast things change in this new marketplace. A good short-term plan must do more than get you through the next year. It needs to help chart the course for a stronger future.


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