As the competitive retail landscape continues to evolve, so must the way independent gourmet retailers in their quest to stay top of mind with customers. One of the most attractive and beneficial tactics that retailers like South Orange, NJ-based Kitchen a la Mode are tapping into is welcoming in locally made, artisanal products.
According to owner Ben Salmon, the store has always been a strong proponent for regionally made products, and has found that its selection of such goods resonates with customers and helps him stand out.
“It is harder for big box retailers to bring in small batches of goods, so an independent store that is open and willing to try it, can find success by doing so. It supports the store’s bottom line and also helps the store stand apart in the crowded retail landscape,” he said.
In an effort to find new local vendors, Salmon recently hosted an open call “audition”. The event was held at Kitchen a la Mode where Salmon invited local artisans and makers to come in to chat about their handmade products to see if there was a potential to sell the goods in the store.
“We marketed the event on Facebook, which helped us generate lots of exposure — our customers shared it quite a bit and really helped get the word out. It was a great event and we met with about 10 people. We ended up with a good amount of new products after and are looking forward to doing the next one,” said Salmon.
Salmon timed the event for June, so that the products selected could be in-store for the busy holiday shopping season. During the event, he invited the makers to bring in samples and to discuss realistic wholesale pricing, quantities and other logistics.
“I put them through the same questioning as my vendors. I ask, ‘how do you source materials?’, ‘how do you make them?’ Also, value and pricepoints are very important to me, I don’t focus on high-end item, so it becomes very important that the artisan fit all of that criteria,” said Salmon.
With that said, he decided to bring in the local goods he did select to carry, on consignment.
“Selling on consignment helps me and the maker. It allows me to bring in more product at one time — the more you have, the more you sell. If you have a collection of something on display, a customer might ask if I have more of it. The more I have available, the stronger story I can tell my customer,” he explained.
Salmon brought in wood cutting boards, dishtowels, trivets, candles and something he had never carried before — bath soaps.
The handmade soaps proved to be one of the most successful products that Salmon brought in, he explained. The line is called Beloved Soap and young adults with autism. All of the proceeds of the soaps, which sell for $5 a bar, go towards employment training and education for the group. This story, explained Salmon, appealed to his customers.
“When they came to the open call, they were just getting started, so we have become their exclusive retailer. The line does so well here, we have now become a destination for their soaps and bath salts, which as a consumable good, brings customers back in to restock,” he said.
Soaps and bath salts is not something that Salmon had ever carried before but by working with the local makers on consignment, it allowed him to experiment with the new category a little more.
“If you want to expand your store’s categories, you can get away with it a little more as a local independent store. Locally made products are relevant to your store because they are locally made. So a kitchen store can get into bath items a little more easily. By working with these artisans, you can branch out,” he said.
In addition, the open call also doubled as marketing for the new lines that Salmon did decided to bring in. This helped not only Kitchen a la Mode, but also helped spread the word about the makers.
“By marketing the event on Facebook, I kept them updated and followed up with posts announcing when the new products were coming in, alerting my customers to come into the store to see what’s new,” said Salmon.
With that said, Salmon merchandised all of the new locally made products in the front of his store, something he often does.
“I introduced them on a fixture in fronts, with all of categories together and displayed it under the umbrella of goods that are locally made within 10 miles of the store. As product sold and as I changed up my front of store story, the items dissolved into other parts of the store,” Salmon explained.
As for his next open call event, Salmon is planning to ask for specific items that he’d like to bring in such as more woodwork, ceramics and he is also on the hunt for a local glass blower.