“It’s always a kitchen party and everyone is invited,” said Sarah Nicholas, owner of the VA-based Ladles & Linens Kitchen Shoppe, which has locations in Lexington, Roanoke and Richmond.
That statement, she explained, is what turned the store from one she inherited to one she made her own. Nicholas, an FBI agent turned culinary school graduate turned television cooking show host, had spent some time figuring out what to do next.
She was settling into her family life in Virginia with her husband and two small children when Tina Miller, the previous owner of Ladles & Linens, approached her to buy the brand in 2016.
“This opportunity literally fell into my lap and I realized I could incorporate cooking classes and it would blend really well with my show, ‘The Story Of Cooking, which is on PBS,” she said.
After attending the 2017 GC Buying Group Start the Year event as well as the International Home + Housewares Show alongside Miller, Nicholas was ready to take the reins. But while she was ready to make the store her own, she wasn’t quite sure how to begin incorporating her own style and evolving the retail stores.
“The brand had been around for 20 years. At first, I didn’t want to mess with anything because the stores had been successful for so long. I didn’t want to be the person that came in and destroyed a business that had been around for 20 years,” said Nicholas.
However, after an interview in a local magazine that zeroed in on the change of ownership, her own words about creating a “kitchen party” atmosphere changed everything.
“I read it back and talked about it with my staff and we agreed that’s what we want everyone to feel when we walk into all of our stores — like it’s a party in your own house and everyone has gathered in the kitchen. We wanted the customers to feel like that’s who we are, and we want the store to feel like that’s who we are. We want people to come into the store and feel like everyone’s invited, it’s happy, it’s upbeat — it’s always a party. And, usually, parties start in the kitchen,” she said.
So, Nicholas went to work putting her own spin on the stores with the most important people in mind — her customers. “I started polling my customers about what they liked about the store and what they wanted to see more of and we got a lot of responses. In turns out that how they saw us was much different than how we saw ourselves,” she said.
The eye-opening results of that survey, Nicholas said, forced her to look at rebranding Ladles & Linens beyond the products on the shelf or the overall design of the store. She gathered her managers together and held a team summit to figure out how to bring together a cohesive brand message centered around a “kitchen party” feel.
“We decided to really make this more of a cooking and entertaining kind of store instead of a place that people come in to get a kitchen towel or a spatula. We wanted to create a happier, more lifestyle-based environment and we want each customer to leave having made a personal connection to us,” she said. While small changes were happening inside each of the stores, it turned out that Nicholas had to tackle a more substantial challenge — making the store a more visible brand.
For more on the growth of Ladles & Linens, see the May/June issue of GOURMET INSIDER.