When Sarah Nicholas was looking into a new career path, retail had never crossed her mind.
“I had never considered opening a retail store before, but I had considered opening a cooking school,” she said.
But, when the opportunity to purchase Ladles and Linens Kitchen Shoppe, a Virginia-based independent gourmet housewares brand with locations in Lexington, Richmond and Roanoke, came up in conversation, it was an offer she couldn’t refuse.
Nicholas, formerly in the FBI, wasn’t sure that her path would ever lead her into the food industry, although it was something she was passionate about. After college, she joined the FBI where she worked in legal and was a trainer at the National Academy. After realizing that her passion was really in the kitchen, she left the FBI and enrolled at International Culinary Center in New York City. Shortly after, Nicholas scored a cooking show on PBS, titled “The Story Of Cooking,” which is now three seasons deep. It was in-between filming seasons where she began to want something else to devote her time, attention and passion to while the cameras were away. When her mother, a friend of previous owner, Tina Miller, mentioned that Miller was looking for someone who would want to come in and take over the store, she decided to explore the opportunity.
“This opportunity literally fell into my lap and I realized I could incorporate cooking classes and it would blend really well with the show,” she said.
Once Nicholas told Miller that she was interested, the ball got rolling, she said. Nicholas explained that Miller started showing her the ropes in September 2016, introducing her to the staff and handing down all of her business knowledge. Nicholas also attended GC Buying Group’s Start The Year conference as a way to begin meeting other independent gourmet store owners and managers and get a feel for the industry.
“Tina and I worked really well together and she helped me every step of the way,” Nicholas said.
The stores officially became hers in March, but Nicholas explained that even though she is now the official owner, Miller continues to be there to offer support and answer questions as needed.
“I have a great relationship with [Miller], and she is always going to be around for me. She wants to see me succeed in this business and I want to make sure that her legacy succeeds too,” explained Nicholas.
While the overall transition went smoothly as the stores passed from old owner to new, Nicholas said that now her work begins.
“Of course, learning retail and the day-to-day was challenging, but the real challenge is getting to know the clientele. All three stores are in different locations and they are all in different types of locations,” she said. “I have one store that has clientele that is a bit funky and artsy and they don’t buy the same things as they others,” she said.
She is spending a bit more time at each of the stores in order to hone in on what those customers are demanding, which will also allow her to put her stamp on the product selection. In the meantime, she said, she is boosting the inventory of local goods, has added a selection of candles and has some other new products she spotted at trade shows coming in.
Additionally, she said, she is planning to spend more time on social media and other digital marketing initiatives in order to connect with younger shoppers.
“It’s a well-branded business, but I am trying to get it out there in different ways,” she said. “I want to try some new marketing techniques, really increase the social media and start incorporating Pins from Pinterest,” she explained.