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Registered Independent

By Jennifer Strailey - 07/01/2011
Now We're Cooking
Cookware is the most requested item on bridal registries. In this second installment of The Gourmet Retailer's 2011 Cookware Series, we share bridal registry sales strategies from successful retailers, plus new products from leading manufacturers.

Stainless-steel cookware is a vital part of the product mix at The Chef's Shop in Great Barrington, Mass.
Photo by Vito Palmisano

Like many independent retailers of kitchenware, you may be wondering how to compete for a greater share of the billion-dollar wedding registry market as consumers become increasingly wrapped up in big-box store gift-giving. While the competition is unquestionably fierce, independents distinguish themselves with unparalleled, personalized service that has new generations of customers saying 'I do' want to register with my local kitchenware retailer.

Courting engaged couples for their registry business can be well worth the effort. According to The Knot Market Intelligence 2010 Bridal Registry Study, 1.5 million or 88 percent of engaged couples in the United States registered for gifts last year. The third-annual study from the media company that runs the top two wedding websites – and – further found that the average family member spends $146 on a wedding gift, while friends of the couple typically spend $79.

For the last decade, cookware has topped china as the most favored registry item. The Knot study found that the average number of gifts a couple registers for is 151, with bakeware (91 percent) and kitchen appliances/electrics (90 percent) being the most popular registry selections.

Cookware is the most favored registry item.

The growth potential for independent retailers determined to build their cookware and high-end category sales through wedding registries is limitless. Successful specialty stores are expanding their registry business through a focus on outstanding customer service both for the engaged and their gift-givers, online and in-store incentives, and making the entire process convenient and enjoyable for all involved.

Good Things in Small Packages
Janis Johnson, president and founder of the Dallas, Texas-based Gourmet Catalog & Buying Group, a company dedicated to the success of independents by providing solutions to big-box advantages, has been a champion of mom-and-pop retailers for more than 30 years. She is a firm believer that there are benefits to being small and that independents can leverage those assets to win over customers with their bridal registries and beyond.

'In-store assistance is the No. 1 advantage small retailers have to support their in-store registry,' Johnson says. 'Most stores advertise that they have bridal registry, and taking the next step by truly marketing a bridal registry program and training the staff to follow certain protocol will result in a greater dollar volume generated by the registry. In addition, this level of customer service will ensure return visits.'

Every time a couple registers with your store, you have a captive audience and the opportunity to educate potentially lifelong customers. Use this time to get answers to key questions about the couple's culinary lifestyle, says Johnson, who recommends that retailers ask the following:

  • How frequently will you prepare meals at home?
  • Which of you will be doing the cooking?
  • What pans are currently in your kitchen?
  • Do your pans need to be upgraded, or have you already focused on quality?
  • Do you enjoy entertaining?
  • Are you inclined to assemble meals, rather than actually cook foods?

(For retailers new to the registry business, Johnson also recommends a service used by many Gourmet Catalog retail members called Your Registry. The California company, owned by Elsa Pinto-Melikian, assists independent stores with the set-up of in-store registry, which also extends to online, and includes a basic program and custom a la carte service.)

Fast Fact
The average number of gifts an engaged couple in the United States registers for at retail.
Source: The Knot Market Intelligence 2010 Bridal Registry Study

'Because consumers have become educated about cooking through the Food Network and other related channels, brides may have a much better idea of what they want to cook than what pans they need in their kitchen,' Johnson observes. 'By taking advantage of the opportunity for a mini-training session with brides and grooms, retailers may in the long run sell more cookware via the registry process.'

It's a strategy that has worked well for Marg Junkhan, who has owned the 2,000-square foot Cook's Emporium in Ames, Iowa, for more than three decades.

'When couples register with us, we offer them advice and talk to them personally to feel out where they're coming from, Junkhan says. 'In most cases, couples have had a home together, so this is a time to upgrade from discount store stuff and mom's hand-me-downs.'

After an informative session with Junkhan or another of the Cook's Emporium staff, 'A lot of brides realize that they want to register for cookware that they'll use for the rest of their lives,' she notes, adding that most of her brides opt for individual pieces rather than sets.

When it comes to making recommendations, Johnson advises leaving the aesthetic choices up to the couple and weighing in specifically on functionality.

'Most brides and grooms know what they like in terms of color and style, so the educational process should be reserved for what the retailers know and can impart to the newlyweds-to-be,' she notes. In other words, explain the benefits of cast iron for slow cooking, a small nonstick skillet for eggs, etc.

'Most brides and grooms know what they like in terms of color and style, so the educational process should be reserved for what the retailers know and can impart to the newlyweds-to-be.'
– Marg Junkhan, owner, Cook's Emporium, Ames, Iowa

Make it Personal
Exceptional customer service and personal attention are the hallmarks of the Provisions Gourmet & RSVP Shop's bridal business in Roanoke, Va. The newly revamped 5,000-square-foot store formerly was a collection of smaller cookware, wine and gift stores, until it unified beautifully under one roof earlier this year.

'Customer service is the name of the game here,' asserts Manager Debra Cunningham. 'We bend over backwards to make brides happy. For example, if I'm going past the bride's house on my way home, I'll drop her gift off.'

Provisions Gourmet also keeps scrupulous records of every gift purchased from the registry, along with the name of the person who gave the gift to assist brides in thank-you notes after the wedding. As the stationery store in town, Provisions usually is tipped off to upcoming weddings, when couples enlist its paper goods service.

'We always use that as an opportunity to invite customers to register with us,' Cunningham notes. And when they do, Provisions's owner, Kathy Oelschlager, always sends a thank-you gift to the happy couple.

Cultivating Better Gift-Givers
Educating engaged couples about the advantages of a Dutch oven or copper cookware is an important first step in building a successful registry business, but streamlining the gift-giving process for their wedding guests can be equally important.

To help guide engaged couples and gift-givers, Cook's Emporium creates a bridal registry display that includes cookware.

For every couple that registers at Cook's Emporium, the store creates a small display featuring a representative sample of the items in their registry. The display, which includes the couples' names and wedding date, is located on a shelving unit near the front of the store.

'The response has been great,' says Junkhan of the bridal registry displays, each of which includes at least one pan, should the couple register for cookware. 'If you just hand someone a registry sheet, they're sort of lost. The displays really help because customers don't have to walk all over the store looking for the registry items. It's really encouraged them to buy more.'

Tess' Kitchen Store in Grass Valley, Calif., is another small-town kitchenware retailer making a big impression with its bridal registry.

Provisions Gourmet offers a variety of cookware for inclusion on a couple's bridal registry.

'The strength of our bridal registry is individual attention,' says Owner Steve Rosenthal, who uses an eye-catching bulletin board to inform customers about the couples registered at his 4,400-square-foot store. 'Right now, we have 13 names on the list. It draws the attention of customers who didn't know we have a bridal registry. It's also a fun, gossipy kind of thing. People will come in and say, ‘Oh, I didn't know Mary was getting married.''

Making the registry fulfillment process affordable is another consideration. Many couples are sensitive about their guests spending too much on wedding gifts, says Rosenthal, so this often dictates the level of cookware a couple will assign to their registry. One way of getting around this, while helping your registry customers to get the good stuff, is to create group registry gifts.

According to The Knot Market Intelligence 2010 study, 69 percent of couples registered for higher-priced items in expectation of receiving group gifts. Their guests got the hint. The survey found that 65 percent of married registering couples received at least one group gift.

Establishing Your Online Presents
The good news for retailers with in-store wedding registries is that the tradition of visiting a store in person to make one's registry selections remains a rite of retail passage savored by more than half of engaged couples. Fifty-seven percent of couples in The Knot study conducted their initial registry set up in store. Now for the potentially sobering news: 79 percent of couples went online-only with their registry management in 2010, up from 69 percent in 2009.

While Junkhan has been selling kitchenware successfully for more than 30 years, she's the first to admit that e-commerce is not her strong suit. But she's also a savvy small-business owner who understands the power of an online presence. Enter Holly Boman, Cook's Emporium's marketing manager, who has been charged with developing the store's Facebook image, streamlining its e-newsletter communications, updating the retailer's brand and more.

'We've been on Facebook for a year and a half, and our next thing will be to put video segments on our website and post cooking demos on Youtube,' says Boman, adding that these efforts 'really helps us to connect to the younger customer base online.'

Cook's Emporium also woos the soon-to-be-wed with incentives, which it communicates through its e-newsletter and Facebook presence. When couples register, they receive what Junkhan calls 'a packet of goodies' containing brochures from the different cookware lines carried by the store, along with a $25 gift certificate the couple can spend with Cook's Emporium as they wish. Included in the packet is a 10-percent discount completion offer, should the couple not get everything on their registry.

While Tess' Kitchen Store revamps its website, Rosenthal doesn't want to lose traction with the all-important online registry buyers. His solution is to outsource his web orders to a company that creates Tess' registries online, complete with click-thru photos and product information. Tess' then fulfills the orders.

'It's been working well for us – it's really a no-brainer,' admits Rosenthal, who had received an online order for $350 worth of product before the store opened that morning. 'We more than offset the cost of the service, and, hopefully, we're building a lifelong business with our registry customers.'