It’s no secret that small businesses across the U.S. close on a daily basis. As gourmet housewares store owners know all-too-well, the challenges of running an independently owned store are many and internal and external economic factors for some can be too much to overcome. But something happened this year that caught the ear of GOURMET INSIDER® editors.
Top retail names in our world, including Broadway Panhandler and Kitchenware Outfitters each closed their doors, with owners Norman Kornbleuth and David and Barbara Freeman respectively heading into retirement and leaving behind viable retail operations. The closing of these two stores and others served to raise an important question about the future of gourmet housewares retailing. What can be done to attract a new generation to the business?
During the past several weeks, we spoke with retailers, product suppliers and trade groups about the need for the industry to attract fresh, young talent. There was also much discussion about succession planning, a topic that for many has been overlooked but one that clearly has become a much larger blip on the radar. (See story on page 16.) The challenges in running a successful business are always there, and from year-to-year change. The impact of Amazon and e-commerce overall remains the 800-pound gorilla in the room. But issues such as the shopping habits of Millennials and tighter credit lines from lenders are macro-economic factors that now face the gourmet housewares segment.
While each business owner will develop their own solutions to meet these challenges, there may also be steps that those inside the industry can take to find solutions and help newcomers successfully open a new store or purchase an existing location.
The path Samantha Fagan took to opening Culinary Square in Troy, NY, is of particular note. Armed with a master’s degree, the 28-year-old wanted to turn her passion for cooking into a business. While family members and local business groups provided her with advice regarding financing her endeavor, her biggest challenge was choosing the right products for her store. After months of legwork and delaying her store’s opening, Fagan connected with HTI Buying Group. With guidance from the HTI team, she was able to meet vendors, get advice on product selection and get insight on store layout. When asked by Gourmet Insider if any vendor had mentioned the existence of buying groups, Fagan simply responded, “No.”
While Fagan ultimately opened her doors and is now running her business in upstate New York, this was nearly a missed opportunity to bring fresh blood into the business.
In addition to sharing key pieces of information, such as the existence of buying groups, there is also a continual need for successful retailers to mentor those new to the business. Brad Pitner of Mt. Pleasant, SC-based The Coastal Cupboard is a wonderful example of a successful retailer that has tapped into the knowledge base of others. Pitner admits that his store might not be open today if it was not for insight from his father, John; their store mentors, The Cupboard of Ft. Collins, CO; and GC Buying Group.
“This is an overwhelming industry to get into,” he said. “Between learning about the fixtures, merchandising and techniques, The Cupboard and Gourmet Catalog really gave us the whole picture.” The level of community described by Pitner is what has long made gourmet housewares retailing a successful business.
Today, that sense of community is needed — maybe more than ever.