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Retailers Eye New Opportunities With Gifting

Gifting opportunities are abundant in kitchenware stores, and finding creative and unique ways to encourage gift-giving can lead to added profits and traffic storeowners declared during a GOURMET INSIDER® Roundtable discussion at the winter Dallas Total Home & Gift Market.

The Gourmet Insider Roundtable assembled nine independent retailers; Rebekah Stelling, Bekah Kate’s, Baraboo, WI; Nancy Schneider, The Chef’s Shoppe, Edwardsville, IL; Garrison Gunter, Cook and Craft, Old Greenwich, CT; Fran Avery and Melanie McMullen, Crave Gourmet Baskets and Gifts, Lake Charles, LA; Tony Curtis-Wellings, Faraday’s Kitchen Store, Austin, TX; Vince Menchella, iQliving, Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Linda Wyner, Pans on Fire, Pleasanton, CA; Karen Chandler, Kitchenwares on the Square, McKinney, TX; and Dave West, Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium, Brandon, FL.

GOURMET INSIDER® editor-in-chief, Peter Giannetti, moderated the roundtable discussion, which was sponsored by the Dallas Market Center, Enclume, Enrico Products, Smith’s Consumer Products and Meco.

Panelists examined the gift potential within gourmet housewares for year-round opportunities. These included the importance of gift cards, inspirational merchandising and gift-wrapping, combining foods with hard lines, easy-to-shop registries for any occasion, and partnerships with local businesses for a combined “shop local” gifting initiative.

And while opportunities for gifting are aplenty in the gourmet, independent retail environment, store owners noted that customer service is key to maximizing
the potential.

“The core of building an everyday gifting business still lies with customer service,” Pans on Fire’s Wyner said. “You need to ask, ‘Are you shopping for yourself, or someone else?,’ and take it from there.”

Training sales staff to know when to ask these questions, and which follow-up questions to ask are key, Wyner said.

“We need to have our staff be particularly facile in knowing how to combine products to create a story on the fly. That means probing the customer and finding what their needs and goals are.”

For Curtis-Wellings of Faraday’s, he simplifies the questioning process by offering in-store themed combination gift guides that are readily available to both sales associates and shoppers for quick and easy gifting inspiration. One popular example he cited is filling a colander with pasta accessories.

“When a customer comes in looking for a gift, we’re ready to hand them five or six different themed lists they can look through. They can change the gadgets in it, but we’ve created that foundation with a product, like a colander or wok, and then we help them fill it and cellophane wrap it,” he noted. By keeping the focus on kitchenware, Curtis-Wellings said that the store maintains its image and reputation as a kitchenware store, not a gift store.

Kitchenwares on the Square’s Chandler offers similar gift-creating options in her retail location, but takes the process one step further. For Chandler, who has had success with selling customized corporate gifts, including a discount for the gift-basket recipient’s next in-store purchase has resulted in new customers and added sales.

“Corporate gifting is a big part of our fourth quarter business. We tag every item in the gift basket with a Kitchenwares on the Square sticker and include an incentive with a 10% off discount. Those have close to 70% redemption,” she said.

Creating a customized, themed gift basket also encourages the combination of hard lines with consumables. The combination has led to higher turnover rates of some harder-to-sell items for Cook and Craft’s Gunter.

“Interestingly, we have a hard time selling some key products individually at first, like plain maple syrup or an individual whisk. But once you put two of them in a basket together, they fly,” he said.

That has also been a key selling point for Chandler’s corporate gifts. While a bottle of wine is a standard gift that Chandler sells, she said adding a hard line to the package makes the gift more memorable.

“If you get a gift that you use in your home everyday, like a piece of cookware, the recipient will always remember you for that,” she said. “This has been great for us. Customers come back and ask ‘What’s the newest gift that everyone can use?’”

Looking beyond custom gift baskets, every retailer at the roundtable also noted that they offered some version of a registry or wishlist system for customers to create and shop from. While some retailers’ registry programs are more developed than others, everyone agreed that there is room for improvement.

“We don’t have an online presence, so it’s very hard to compete with the big boxes,” Rolling Pin’s West said. “The difference is we offer cooking classes that you can give as a gift. Customers know they are ‘shopping local,’ and we offer a unique experience. This is why customers choose to register with us.”

Crave Gourmet’s Avery and McMullen agree. While they do not have a formal registry system, their “hard-to-find” product mix, as well as focus on customer experience, have encouraged strong gift sales.

“A lot of our business is gift because we offer enthusiastic customer service, and we have a unique mix of items,” McMullen said.

Another way Faraday’s Curtis-Wellings overcomes the competition from the big-box retailers with respect to registries is by allowing customers to print off registries from other stores. From there, Faraday’s sales staff will help shoppers find the same or similar items for the registrant.

“Customers will come in and say, ‘Can you pull up Target’s registry?’ It started as a push from the customers because they do want to shop local even if the registry was created somewhere else,” Curtis-Wellings said.

And while registries can offer great gift opportunities for special occasions and once-in-a-lifetime events, iQliving’s Menchella also created a rewards program that promotes year-round gifting opportunities.  This program tracks purchases and offers a point for every dollar spent on full-priced merchandise. Once a certain point level is reached, consumers earn money back to redeem in-store.

“We’re not giving things away, and this actually helps us maintain our margins,” Menchella said. “It works the best for keeping customers coming back and back, and also helps us keep a record of all of the customer’s purchases.” Additionally, by signing customers up for the program, iQliving can also track birthdays and anniversaries for added promotional opportunities.

Another popular way that gourmet insiders are capitalizing on gift sales is through the sale of gift cards. Gourmet insiders universally agreed that redemption rates for gift cards and gift certificates is very high, however, a challenge is creating a system that allows consumers to redeem gift cards online. One way store owners are combating this challenge is by making the store visit part of the gift.

“Shopping in my store is an experience. It’s how people spend a day out, and when you give a gift card from our store, you’re gifting that experience,” Bekah Kate’s Stelling said. Stelling also offers custom designed envelopes and wrapping designs for gift cards to get the recipient excited before entering the store.

Rolling Pin’s West agreed, but said that a challenge is finding a way to market that experience. One solution he created is offering gift cards specifically for Rolling Pin cooking classes, for which the store runs up to 10 per week. As a result, West saw gift card sales in his 2014 fourth quarter rise 20%.

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