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Overcoming New Hurdles

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In years past, independent gourmet housewares stores knew their competitors, who were often up the street or around the corner. Maybe the competition was even friendly, but stores similar in style could thrive by each offering local shoppers something unique and special.

Such is not the case today.

Gourmet housewares retailers are seemingly competing against everything and everyone. It’s no longer just about the local Williams Sonoma, Bed Bath & Beyond or even Amazon.

It’s a challenge that Carol Schroeder, owner of Madison, WI-based Orange Tree Imports faces each day. Bridal has long been big business for housewares and a growing number of gourmet housewares stores owners today are looking for ways to expand and enhance their bridal registry experience in a digital world.

While Schroeder competes with a host of retailers, whether they have stores local or operate solely in the world of e-commerce, she brings to light an interesting and frustrating aspect of today’s bridal registry business. Not only is she competing with other retailers large and small, but is also dealing with couples spending time registering for honeymoons and experiences.

“We find that couples are registering for their guests to give them money towards their honeymoon,” she said. This shifts dollars away from retailers that sell housewares.

While Schroeder may be able to develop unique offerings to attract shoppers to her store’s bridal registry, competing against businesses that focus registries outside her core competency — such as honeymooning — is quite the hurdle.

Thinking about all of the changes afoot in consumer shopping trends, buying trends, eating trends and searching trends — on top of having to run a business — is enough to make anyone join into a craft cocktailing class instead of just hosting one for your customers. (Recipes for said cocktails start on page 34 in our feature story on barware.)

However, Michael Liss, owner of Black Mountain, NC-based Common Housefly said something at the 2017 GOURMET INSIDER® summer roundtable, which took place at AmericasMart Atlanta in July, that resonated with me as we were pulling together this issue.

He said that he and his staff have focused on one or two things the bigger stores don’t maximize potential on and has made an attempt to own them. Liss has leveraged the store’s proximity to many local coffee roasters to partner with them in order to build up his knowledge base and demonstration skills. He has done the same with cutlery, another popular category for the store.

“When you walk into a big box, it’s hard to even get someone to pay attention to you until you walk to the register. But we will walk you through every knife you are interested in,” he said.

While an independent gourmet housewares store may try to be everything to everyone, it simply can’t. By focusing on what you can do the best, customers will keep coming back. They know that they will get the best service, the best selection or the best local product from you.

Pick your specialty and allow your store to own it. Your customer will thank you.


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