As small business owners themselves, independent gourmet housewares owners are often some of the biggest champions of local artisans and their goods. With that said, many gourmet insiders have agreed that carrying locally made/sourced products in-store is a great way to help independent gourmet stores differentiate themselves from other competing retailers.
“It’s a great way to showcase products that are not found everywhere. It’s a point of difference from other retailers, in particular, the big box chains,” said Samantha Hines, co-owner, Cookshop Plus West Hartford, located in Hartford, CT. In addition, she said, these types of products often have a broad customer appeal as they can be used in a variety of ways, from those looking for gifts to others who pride themselves on purchasing from artisans.
“This merchandise appeals to two types of customers — those visiting the area looking for something locally made/sourced as a souvenir or as a gift, and also those who want to support small businesses in their area and buy local.”
Kirsten Gjesdal, owner of the Brookings, SD-based The Carrot Seed Kitchen Company, echoed this statement and said that locally made products are more difficult for larger shops to source but easier for small stores to find and stock.
“We have greater ability to quickly add new lines, make connections with local makers and tap into local resources that big brands aren’t aware of. Local products are very popular with my customers, especially when building gift baskets or giving presents to friends and family who have moved away from home,” she said.
These days, retailers have a wide pool of goods to select from, as locally made products often include everything from hand carved wooden cutting boards, handcrafted knives, kitchen dishtowels to a wide variety of shelf stable foods — which have the potential to become some of the hottest sellers.
For example, at Cookshop Plus, Hines explained that often, local makers of some of the foods she carries will come in for tastings and events, which help to not only sell the products, but also help generate foot traffic.
“Local Connecticut-based vendors often come in and do tasting/sampling events with us. These events really generate sales and it’s great to have things happening in the store,” she said.
And when it comes to spreading the word about such events and a retailer’s selection of local goods in general, both Hines and Gjesdal take to social media and e-mail marketing to highlight these products.
“We show off the local products on social media and make sure to mention it to customers when they are looking for the perfect gift. Our most successful marketing for local products happens on Small Business Saturday. Each year, we invite a selection of our local producers to set-up a table in our shop. They can do a food sampling or an ask-the-maker type activity. This brings awareness of the local brand, builds rapport with the maker, and significantly increases sales,” said Gjesdal.
For Hines, while social media and e-mail marketing are an essential part of her marketing strategy, in-store events have proven to be a boon for spreading the word and driving sales.
“The main concept we like to do is to hold pop-up shops in store on Saturdays that feature a local vendor. We market these events, and this is when there is the largest volume of sales. The local vendors we work with are mostly food based, so usually it is a tasting event. Someone — usually the owner — of the local company comes and runs the event,” she said.
Not only does this generate interest and awareness of the products but customers love to speak to the maker of the products, she added.
“Then, customers are aware we have the products available for purchase at all times in store. We have found this is the best way to launch a local product and build a following of the product.”