After working under a housewares corporation for a few years, Karmin Billadeau knew that she wanted to do something more for herself and career. With her passion for the gourmet industry and the knowledge she gained through her experience, Billadeau struck out on her own, opening Karmin’s Kitchen Table in Bismarck, ND in April 2016.
However, starting an independent gourmet retail store from scratch wasn’t without its challenges. Billadeau needed to develop a new brand and stock her store, but those hurdles, she said, were worth it to get where she is today. Billadeau recently spoke with Gourmet Insider about starting again from the ground up.
Gourmet Insider: You came to the table with housewares experience already. How did that help prepare you going in?
Billadeau: My past experience in housewares was a huge benefit to me when it came to picking the right assortment to carry in my store. I had been around a lot of lines from various price points and was able to pick the products that I truly loved and was passionate about. I had great relationships with vendors that I had worked with and was able to continue those relationships with the new store.
GI: You had a hand in designing the store. How did you model it and why do you think it brings a unique feel to your business?
Billadeau: I knew I wanted the store to have a warm feeling, like you were walking into a familiar kitchen. I used ideas from Pinterest and repurposed furniture for fixtures. For example, our knife cabinet is an old gun case and the table my mom used to use as a child has some spices on it. The neat thing is that I have an old picture of her sitting next to it that hangs on the wall. It is a great way to start a conversation with customers.
GI: Speaking of customers, you had to create an identity for your store from scratch. How did your customer base play a role in that?
Billadeau: My brand identity for the store really came from listening to the customers from my past experiences working for a major corporation. The housewares department was just that, a department within a store. I knew that they needed a full kitchen store, that the community needed a full kitchen store and that’s what we tried to give them.
GI: How is it different working for yourself now that you’ve been in businesses a few months?
Billadeau: When you have an idea, you can run with it right away. You want to demo a product on a Saturday? You can do it. When you hear a customer saying, “I wish I knew how to make fresh pasta,” we can have a class on it and we can all learn how to make fresh pasta.
The other thing that I have been able to do is get involved in the community. We started offering “Cooking with the Community” classes once a month. We invited a local “celebrity” from the community to cook their favorite recipe. For $10, the public can join us for the evening to see how the dish is prepared, take home the recipe and sample the dish. All ticket sale proceeds are then donated to the “celebrity chef’s” charity of choice.
GI: What piece of advice can you offer to someone who is ready to strike out on their own in the housewares industry?
Billadeau: You need to be organized. The process was very quick for me because I was organized and had a great support system around me. The help I received from HTI Buying Group was great. They have a list of vendors that made the initial buying process not so overwhelming. I truly love the housewares industry and it is the best decision that I have ever made.