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Vendor-Owned Stores Find Sweet Spot

There’s a tight bond between members of the gourmet community. In this channel, the conversation isn’t all about profits and dollars; suppliers know store owners and their families by name, sales reps become familiar with each store’s unique assortment and community, and store owners from across the country look to network with each other for help and advice.

GOURMET INSIDER® recently spoke with two retailers who not only run and operate gourmet housewares stores, but also distribute specialty kitchenware products to the same channel. Jessi Kerner is the director of retail for J.K. Adams, a gourmet kitchenware store in Dorset, VT, that is owned by the Made in USA-cutting board company of the same name. Frances Ro is the president at Roland Products, Inc./Fissler USA, which distrib- utes kitchenware brands such as Hurom, Fissler, Bisbell and Curtis Stone. She also owns two retail kitchenware stores — both named Roland — in southern CA.

Gourmet Insider: How did the gourmet store become part of the company evolution?

Jessi Kerner, J.K. Adams: The J.K. Adams manufacturing company came first and was established in 1944 in Dorset, VT. At first, local community members would simply come by the factory and pick up the boards that we weren’t going to distribute or ship out.

Frances Ro, Roland: We didn’t intend to open a retail store at first. My dad and I had been in the housewares industry running a door-to-door Tupperware sales business in the 1980s. We were using part of our office space as a showroom for our salesladies and as we were growing, our direct sales and distribution supported roughly 20 other imported brands — from German down comforters or pressure cookers like Fissler, to Asian cosmetics. It reached the point in the year 2000 where it made sense to open the showroom, located in the heart of Los Angeles, to the public. In 2010, we opened our second retail location in Buena Park, CA.

GI: How did you expand your mix from your core products to a fuller gourmet housewares assortment?

JK: About 14 years ago, we started adding more VT-based products to the space, like maple syrup and specialty cheeses. The addition of housewares came out of local de- mand. Once we saw how well the specialty foods were selling — and being paired with our specialty boards — we decided to bring in more housewares that complemented the types of cutting and serving boards we manufacture.

FR: Roland is a very well known brand in Asian communities, so we were getting a lot of customers through word of mouth. Buena Park, in particular, is a very dense Asian community and we bring in patterns and designs that resonate with this demographic. In Roland retail stores, we carry all of the brands that we distribute, which is about 50% kitchenware, and then with our direct sales backgrounds, we had experience listening to our customers to fill product voids and we used our reps and vendor connections in the industry when we needed help or advice.

For more on vendor-owned stores, see the Nov/Dec issue of GOURMET INSIDER®.

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