Kitchen Electrics: Curated Collections
Facing increased competition and smaller margins, more gourmet retailers are rethinking their offerings in small kitchen electrics and focusing on what sells. While the lion’s share of sales are still in brick-andmortar retail, online sales have been increasing, and the small electrics category is no exception. According to the NPD Group’s consumer tracking service, online dollar sales of small home appliances jumped 10 percent in 2016 to top $5.8 billion. That’s after posting 14 and 13 percent growth in 2015 and 2014, respectively, according to the Port Washington, N.Y.-based market research firm. In brick-and-mortar retail, sales decreased 1 percent to $15.2 billion after posting 1 and 5 percent declines in 2015 and 2014, respectively. Since opening Kitchen a la Mode in Orange, N.J., in July 2008, Ben Salmon has adjusted his inventory in response to customer demand. In fact, before he opened, the bottom was falling out of the economy and seeing the downturn, “I was able to be nimble and adjust my inventory (for holiday 2008),” he explains.
NPD Group 2016
Online dollar sales of small home appliances jumped 10 percent in 2016 to top $5.8 billion.
These days, his store is stocked with cutlery, kitchen prep tools, barware, tabletop, cookware and gift. Salmon, a self-described risk-taker, says the small electrics category is “the most challenging for me.” It is not so much that his customers are showrooming his store; they’re not even thinking of Kitchen a la Mode for popular small electric categories, such as single-serve coffee makers, even when the local big box store is sold out. He has since stopped carrying single-serve coffee makers. “Even my best customers don’t think of me first,” he says.
His No. 1 selling small electrics line is Smeg, the Made in Italy small countertop appliance brand that launched in the U.S. market in October 2014. The line, which has a retro flair and is available in on-trend pastel hues, is as well built as it is designed, and it’s one of the few lines where “form meets function,” he says. “People aren’t coming in for a toaster, but are leaving with a toaster or come back a second time to purchase,” he says. Salmon, who merchandises the Smeg line in a lit display inside the store’s entrance, says his customers “fall in love first and need second.” Beautifully designed countertop appliances that create a strong desire — “that is where the success is going to be in small electrics,” says Salmon. For more than seven years, Soda Stream, which has a carbonator exchange program, has been Kitchen a la Mode’s No. 1 highest grossing vendor. The store does a “huge” Soda Stream carbonator business, Salmon says. His store’s convenient main street location and his service-oriented staff drive the repeat Soda Stream business. “Can you imagine going to Bed Bath Beyond and exchanging a $14.99 carbonator behind a guy who is trying to return a 10-year-old coffee pot?” he says.
SELLING WHAT SELLS
Draeger’s Market, based in San Mateo, Calif., has also pared down its selection of gourmet kitchen electrics. The top-of-the-line Vitamix model continues to sell well, thanks to webrooming, explains Kathleen Taggart, director of Drager’s Market home department and cooking school for the three upscale grocery stores. Webrooming, where customers research products online but opt to buy them in a physical store, has been increasing across all retail channels, up from $1.2 trillion in 2012 to $1.8 trillion in 2017, according to Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. At $395 billion, the online retail industry, while growing at double-digits, remains a small portion of the overall retail industry.
At The Gourmet Shop in Columbia, S.C., owner Linda Hiltner sells the KitchenAid Immersion Hand Blender, of which she is a huge fan, and Capresso coffee makers. When it comes to small kitchen electrics, “I try to avoid them as much as possible,” she admits. “There’s not a lot of room (in the store) and not a lot of margin.” Established in 1979, The Gourmet Shop focuses on cheese, kitchen tools, glassware, tabletop, pantry items and its in-store café.
BUCKING THE TREND
Tumacookery in Tubac, Ariz., is among the gourmet stores that carry a broad selection of small kitchen electrics. “We try to sell a wide range,” says Randy Wade, who co-owns the gourmet kitchen store in Tubac, Ariz., with Karin Rosenquist. The majority of the gourmet store’s clientele is retired, and Tubac is a seasonal residence for many. “They want to cook in small amounts,” Wade says, and powerful kitchen electrics that are small in size, such as mini food processors, are in demand. Tumacookery sells quality small electrics from Breville, Cuisinart, Fagor, Jura, Chef ’s Choice, Blendtec, Bodum, to name a few. The range includes stand mixers, toaster ovens, electric kettles, blenders, induction cooktops and more. Coffee makers also are a “very good category,” says Rosenquist, and one customer favorite is the 5-cup Zutto model from Zojirushi. The store stocks coffee brewers from Bialetti, Capresso, Jura and Gaggia, and to a lesser degree manual pour-overs. Tumacookery has partnered with Tucson-based roaster Arbuckles’ Coffee to offer its coffees alongside the coffee makers. “We do sell a lot of coffee,” Wade adds. Multi-cookers, those one-pot multi-tasking countertop appliances, continue to be sought out by consumers seeking convenient home-cooked meals. At both Kitchen a la Mode and Tumacookery, one of the hot sellers is the Fagor Multi-Cooker, which is available in 4-, 6- and 8-quart sizes. The multi-tasking countertop appliance is more than a slow cooker; it can also pressure cook, steam, brown, sauté, simmer and be used to make rice and other grains, yogurt and dessert. “The multi-cooker rage has hit little Tubac,” says Wade. Customers have been so pleased with the Fagor Multi-Cooker’s performance they often tell their family and friends, which leads to additional sales, he says.