Spirit Of Giving

Retailer Philanthropy Creates Customer Loyalty, Warmth Amongst Community

Community goodwill is good for the community, and independent gourmet housewares retailers agree it’s also good for business.

Store owners, during a recent GOURMET INSIDER® Roundtable, exchanged best practices for community outreach marketing and discussed how to build customer loyalty from such local support.

Moderated by Gourmet Insider executive managing editor, Emily Cappiello, the roundtable panel included Mary Tungland of Mary’s Gift Shoppe in Spirit Lake, IA; Marcia Jochem of Thyme in the Kitchen in Evansville, IN; Mary Liz Curtin of Leon and Lulu in Clawson, MI; Penny Klinedinst of Plum’s Cooking in Sioux Falls, SD; Debra Kouri of The Cook’s Nook in Tulsa, OK; Sara Monroe of The Pan Handle in Granbury, TX; Charles Nelson of Toque Blanche in Santa Cruz, CA; and Mark Snyder of William Glen in Sacramento, CA.

The Gourmet Insider roundtable, hosted by the Dallas Market Center during the 2019 Winter Dallas Total Home & Gift Market, was sponsored by Hertiage Steel (formerly Hammer Stahl), Wisconsin Aluminum Foundry/Chef’sDesign, Nordic Ware, Linden Sweden and Samuel Lamont.

Local charity is a centerpiece of most community outreach efforts by the roundtable panelists. A sincere willingness to give back to the community often serves the retailers best when balanced against a selective alignment with causes that best suit a given business.

“I get a lot of requests for donations, but I can’t always do that,” said Kouri of The Cook’s Nook.

“The hardest part is deciding what charities and organizations to help,” said Tungland of Mary’s Gift Shoppe.

However, retailers said that by being selective when it comes to donations and aligning themselves with those charities that are meaningful to them as a brand, it gives them an explanation when people come looking for goods.

“How many times do I get approached? Almost daily,” added Klinedinst of Plum’s Cooking. “We pick the most important charities that we stand for… so we’re not getting every PTA mom.”

Curtin of Leon and Lulu said her business engages officially with only registered 501 charities, which typically are far more organized and present fewer risks than individual-driven causes.

“We have to vet the charity very carefully,” Curtin said. “This becomes our marketing dollars… You have to ask: How are [charities]going to promote an event? Can they guarantee a certain number of people? That pre-qualification is important.”

Cause marketing is still marketing, panelists agreed. And a successful charity program, while contributing to a worthy cause, should contribute to new connections from which to expand a loyal store customer base.

Nelson of Toque Blanche agreed. “Were thinking about how we can use our donation dollars to coincide with our market position,” he said, noting local Farmer’s Markets as an example of a natural partnership for a cooking store. He explained that he sponsors a booth at the market, which enables a small vendor the chance to show their wares. The booth is outfitted with the store’s name and logo for branding purposes. This, he said, has been a successful marketing tactic for him.

William Glen’s Snyder said that, while not directly tied to the housewares industry, his store sponsors a local theater company. The community, he said, has been suffering from major losses in the arts segment and William Glen wanted to do something to ensure the arts in the community are not eliminated.

“We can’t always quantify the returns, but we hear it in the community that they are thankful,” he said.

Another tactic is to offer gift cards to charity event participants or to include them in gifts made for charity donations. This, said retailers, is among the simplest and most effective ways to get those guests back into the stores. Gift baskets featuring items from the stores are also appreciated by the benefactors.

“I will give just about everybody something,” Kouri said. “And I give items I would want to get. If something is on the clearance aisle because it’s not selling, I don’t want to give that.”

Panelists urged their fellow retailers to make sure parting gifts prominently feature store branding.

“It can be hard to gauge what your return is, but you are getting your name out,” said Monroe of The Pan Handle.

Added Thyme in the Kitchen’s Jochem, “We don’t always sell a lot of product the day of an charity event, but they come back.”

Even so, panelists advised it’s becoming more important to establish follow-up methods for measuring the effectiveness of a charitable event or promotion.

“Some events can be tracked year after year, and they need to be tracked so you can set benchmarks,” Curtin said. “You have to have a business plan for some of these events.”

Partnering with community service groups that can help with, and sometimes lead, promotion of special events and programs can help relieve the marketing pressures on small businesses with limited time and resources.

“The charities we work with are very organized when it comes to social media,” William Glen’s Snyder said. “We let them drive that for fund-raising, for example, and we post the results.”

Retailers noted that they can get plenty of mileage out of publicly expressing their appreciation to a community cause.

“We give a lot of shout-outs on social media,” Klinedinst said. “That comes back to us. People know they can count on us.”

Extra-curricular collaboration with other small businesses in a community also can generate rewards for independent retailers.

The Pan Handle’s Monroe teams with neighboring small businesses in her Texas town on programs to build the arts and honor the town’s history.

“We give time to these programs behind the scenes, and we all support one another,” she said.

Toque Blanche’s Nelson said that he is active in his Northern California community’s Rotary Club and Chamber of Commerce, which helps Toque Blanche establish itself with both potential customers as well as other small businesses to collaborate with.

“This generates a great response for our business,” he said. “One of the reasons I left corporate life to become an independent retailer was to be more active in our community.”

Authenticity and sincerity, no matter the generation of customers, are key ingredients to win-win outreach programs — a win for the community that converts to a win for the retailer.

“It’s a partnership… When you dig in with your heart and soul… it feels good to give back,” Klinedinst said. “People will find you… the shop has a culture of kindness.”

And retailers agreed that the store’s culture needs to flow from ownership through staff.

“You try to teach people how to care for someone who walks through the door,” Monroe said.

“Shopping is a social activity,” Curtin said. “We’re a friend of the community. We’re part of their special times. Our charitable effort is just an expansion of that. We want our store to be an oasis of happiness, and we are privileged to be able share that.”

Added Tungland, “Many don’t realize all we do to give back to the community. You don’t always donate by giving money. You donate by listening and by sharing your time.”

Said Nelson, “It’s part of our social contract.”