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The Main Event-Retailers Get Creative With Classes, Demonstrations To Generate Buzz In Their Communities And Beyond


In-store events are certainly a best practice when it comes to drawing new and current customers into a gourmet housewares store. They offer storeowners the opportunity to get to know customers in a more personal way and the opportunity to introduce new goods and merchandise.

The retailers that participated in the summer 2018 GOURMET INSIDER® roundtable tapped into just how their recent collaborations — be it via classes with customers, vendor-sponsored demonstrations, or larger-scale events with other local businesses — have proven to be a successful tactic on growing their stores. 

Held during the summer Atlanta International Gift & Home Furnishings Market and hosted by AmericasMart, the roundtable was made up of eight independent gourmet housewares retailers. Participants included: Jamie Butler, owner, The Butler’s Pantry (Escalon, CA); Susan Dolinar, owner, Nibblins, (Winchester, VA); Melissa Turpin, co-owner, Honeycomb Kitchen Shop, (Rogers, AR); Merit Brand Wolff, owner, Wine Sage & Gourmet, (Hendersonville, NC); Mary Moore, owner, The Cook’s Warehouse, (Atlanta, GA); Tamera Pence owner, Bella The Corner Gourmet, (Lewisburg, WV); Laurel Greif, co-owner, Le Cookery, (Hilton Head, SC); and Jodi Campbell, co-owner, Cook On Bay, (Beaufort, NC).

Moderated by Emily Cappiello, executive managing editor of Gourmet Insider, the roundtable was sponsored by GelPro, Jura, ScanPan Global, AmericasMart Atlanta, Darbie Angell and Twisted Wares.

For many of the panelists, in-store events are often selected based on customer trends, be it something that is buzzing locally or wider consumer trends, as a way to draw interest. 

Butler of The Butler’s Pantry explained that she has had great success with charcuterie classes thanks to her customers’ interest in entertaining and their desire to incorporate local foods into their menus.

“I live in an agricultural area and so I bring in local farmers and educate people on why to buy local. With the charcuterie workshops, I bring in a lot of local cheeses. Customers like that because since cheese boards are expensive to make, they are able to then taste the cheeses so they are more comfortable before going out to buy them,” she said.

As for Dolinar of Nibblins, she’s tapped into the popular Keto diet, based on her own experience with the lifestyle, and the interest of customers in her area. While adding some shelf-stable Keto-friendly ingredients to the store’s offerings, she found that many customers were seeking support groups on living a Keto lifestyle. To that end, she also has added Keto-diet driven cooking classes, as well as a monthly support group.

“We are trying to appeal to those people that are trying to cut sugar out of their diet. We were actually overwhelmed by our first support group, I expected 20 to 25 people and we had 60 people show up. And it’s people that didn’t know about our store so we’ve tried to become involved in [the Keto]movement to help get known in our area,” she said.

In a similar fashion, Wolff of Wine Sage & Gourmet explained that since she has a combination wine and kitchenwares store, she pairs courses from her cooking classes with wine, which expands the pool of potential customers from those that are just interested in cooking.

In addition, panelists noted that events that are in collaboration with others helps create even more buzz and generate more exposure for the store as well as the collaborative partner.

Turpin of Honeycomb Kitchen Shop stated that the farm-to-table movement is driving the culinary scene in her community and therefore, the store does a lot of outreach with local chefs.

“The culinary scene is growing and customers want to recreate that experience at home, so we bring in customer favorite chefs to teach classes. This helps us and them, Honeycomb owns the event but then we work with the chefs to cross promote it, so both parties gain from the event,” she said.

Meanwhile, Moore of The Cook’s Warehouse agreed that in-store events, be it with local partners or a vendor, helps grow customer base. She hosts several vendor-related events a year, which allows her to tap into a brand’s fan base to bring their loyal consumers in. 

“Collaboration can create more outreach than a store can do on its own. The more we can do together, the better we are. Collaboration is key for today’s business success. Have the vendor participate with you. They are great salespeople and you definitely want them in your stores to have that authority,” said Moore.

Another strategy the panelists have been embracing when it comes to driving event-driven traffic into the store includes classes that may not focus on cooking, but tie into the kitchen and home in some way. This brings in more potential customers than classes totally focused on cooking, food and preparation techniques. For example, Butler does wreath making classes and centerpiece design events in her store in addition to classes centered around a cooking theme.

“This has brought in a lot of new people. I’m just trying to not just focus on the people that are already in the kitchen. I am trying to bring in those that are maybe intimidated by the kitchen to help them realize it’s not intimidating,” explained Butler.

Greif of Le Cookery is also focusing on potential customers that may not be comfortable in the kitchen, however, she explained that these customers do show an interest in cooking, partially because of their presence at local farmer’s markets. To tap into that potential, she sets out easy to use kitchen tools and gadgets to show people that prepping and cooking isn’t as difficult or time consuming as one may think.

“We will have kitchen tools out and are there to demonstrate them after people buy their vegetables,” she said. “Once they see how easy it is, they think they need a tool like this in their kitchen.”

Although community events may draw people in, there needs to be something that captures their interest and makes them return customers. Panelists agreed that using their email newsletter campaigns is the top way to make new customers into ones that will keep coming back.

“We have an email list up front and we do email newsletters and those subscribers get a special deal each month and I tell them what cocktail we will have at our next event, and this is drawing people back,” said Cook On Bay’s Campbell. 

Meanwhile Pence said for her tourist-driven customer traffic, it can be a challenge to have them return. To combat that, she has developed a loyalty rewards program that brings backs locals and tourists alike — especially around their birthday.
   “I installed a loyalty program and [customers]are so excited about that. On their birthday, they get a free piece of birthday cheese. It hasn’t brought back all of the tourists, especially ones that live far away, but it brings back enough of them and definitely all my regulars. Getting them in the store to see new things and hear about the new events, [the program]been really helpful for me this way,” she said.

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