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Life After Mom & Pop

A gourmet housewares veteran recently raised an interesting question about the future of mom-and-pop retailers when mom and pop decide to turn in their aprons.

It is becoming increasingly challenging, the industry insider said, to keep independent stores in the family against the pull of other potentially more lucrative and generally less time-overwhelming career options.

After watching mom and pop toil seven days a week to sell pots and knives, do their children really want to endure that for the next 30 or more years? The answer could profoundly shape the future of this business.

Successful gourmet housewares storeowners are often the chief cooks and bottle washers, their passion compensating for all the blood, sweat and tears.

To expect the same from the next generation could be a fatal flaw. Without sacrificing the virtues of hard work, intuition, responsiveness and community devotion at the core of independent retailing, veteran owners hoping for seamless succession have to make the business more applicable to younger managers who may not be as naturally inclined to the traditional obligations and nuances of face-to-face merchandising.

It is still surprising to see so many independent operators minimally invested in website development, digital marketing and comprehensive management systems — as if, somehow, that threatens the hands-on authenticity of their brick-and-mortar heritage.

While some people may find handwritten gift certificates charming, for example, it doesn’t exactly convey a cutting-edge business culture to fledgling management recruits — family or otherwise — that will be counted on to attract and serve the younger customers that are vital to an independent gourmet store’s long-term success and sustainability.

I recently met an IT guru-turned-gourmet store principal who was able to connect his love of cooking and digital insight. His goal is a fusion of old-school, local merchandising flavor seasoned by new-school marketing and systems innovation that keep the store nimble and relevant to all ages of employees and customers.

There is something truly special about the way stalwart veterans of this industry have built their businesses from the ground up. But it’s all for naught if you can’t get the next generation of prospective operators to buy into such devotion.

Staying true to your roots shouldn’t allow those roots to pull you under when it comes to positioning the store as an exciting, progressive enterprise that can entice a new wave of entrepreneurs.

It’s not a given anymore that the kids will jump enthusiastically into the family business the way they once did.

Mom and pop have been vital to this industry and its identity, but they won’t be around forever. Planning for that today could leave the business in good hands when the time comes to turn in those aprons.

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