Where Everybody Knows Your Name

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Where Everybody Knows Your Name

By Jennifer Strailey - 08/15/2016

Photography by Richard Mauro Ricchiuti

Compleat Lifestyles in Centennial, Colo., is the last independently owned kitchenware store in the Denver metro area. The retailer, which recently celebrated its 32nd year in business, has sustained success and a loyal clientele in spite of fierce competition from nearby national chains, big box stores and online giants.

Owner Connie Stevinson attributes the store's endurance to three key factors: "Creating an experience for the customer in an enjoyable, personable, family-like atmosphere is No. 1," she says. "Second is the depth of knowledge and enthusiasm of our staff, and third is our diversity of products."

At Compleat Lifestyles, many customers are greeted by name, and there is always complimentary coffee available. "We joke that we're like ('80s sitcom) 'Cheers.' We know our customers names, and it's joyful here," enthuses Stevinson, whose dog Patches adds to the familial feel of the store. "People really warm up when there's a dog around. He's super friendly and kids love him."

At A Glance:
Founded: 1982
Owner: Connie Stevinson
Location: Centennial, Colo.
Employees: 12
Website: www.compleatlifestyles.com
Size: 5,000 square feet with a 3,500-square-foot retail showroom
Phone: 303-290-9222

The 5,000-square-foot store with 3,600 square feet of showroom space is located in a 40-year-old suburban strip mall that lacks the foot traffic of the local shopping mall. As such, Compleat Lifestyles is a true destination store whose customers come from near and far to experience its unmistakable warmth, unique product mix and staff expertise.

Compleat Lifestyles, owned by Connie Stevinson, pictured left, has a diverse product mix.

"I can't emphasize the experiential aspect enough. Brick-and-mortars need to offer experiences," stresses Stevinson. "People want to have fun, and they're missing that personal relationship that we provide when they shop online."

Compleat Lifestyles engages customers with weekly product demos, six to eight cooking classes a year, an anniversary event each spring and a holiday open house each fall. Monthly Girlfriend's Night Out events, where the staff invites their girlfriends to shop after hours with special discounts, are also a hit.

Dream Team
In 2011, when Stevinson learned that the original owners of Compleat Gourmet & Gifts (which she later rebranded Compleat Lifestyles) were ready to retire and considering whether to sell or liquidate, she thought, "No, we can't lose another local store!"

She had been shopping the store for more than 25 years, as well as supplying it with Rwandan handicrafts from Trading for Treasures, a nonprofit organization she founded to support fair trade.

Stevinson ultimately bought the kitchenware and gift store as a platform to promote fair trade — but only after learning that the existing team would stay on.

"Our staff helped us survive a Sur la Table opening a mile away in a major outdoor shopping center over two years ago," she asserts. "We have a sales team of experts and really good cooks who actually use our products. They're not college students just pointing out spatulas. Our staff has a depth of knowledge, and our customers really trust their recommendations."

Compleat Lifestyles employs a team of 22, including a housewares buyer who has been with the store for more than 20 years. Three additional employees have been with the store for more than a decade. As some of the older staff members have begun to retire, Stevinson has hired new employees from her devoted customer base.

"Customers ask us all the time if they can work at our store. They see how much fun we have!" she exclaims.

Patches, Stevinson's dog, is the greeter at Compleat Lifestyles.

Powerful Product Mix
Stevinson, who buys from more than 700 vendors, including some 30 fair trade suppliers, has created a compelling product mix that speaks to her shopper demographic like no other store in town. "Customers often remark that they could spend hours wandering around trying to soak it all in because we have such a variety of product categories," she notes.

Compleat Lifestyles is predominantly a gift and housewares store, with 38 percent of its sales coming from the latter. Sixteen percent of its sales are attributable to home décor; 15 percent to tabletop and textiles; 14 percent to women's accessories; 10 percent to Christmas décor; 7 percent to fair trade items and 5 percent to food.

Customers are treated to a fresh-brewed cup of coffee.

"It's a unique combo, and I really believe it's been key to the store's survival," reveals Stevinson. "Williams-Sonoma, Sur la Table, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target are all nearby. If all we did was housewares, it would be tough to compete."

Stevinson credits the original owners, who carried Brighton accessories, with adding women's accessories to the mix. "When bridal moved away from formal china and crystal, the former owners really had to diversify to survive," she explains.

After Stevinson purchased the store, she remodeled to bring the retail space up to date, expanded the selection of women's accessories and added more products from what she calls "give-back companies" that donate a certain percentage of each sale to charity.

"Promoting social good is really my passion," says Stevinson, who has devoted 10 percent of her selling space to fair trade products, including handcrafted baskets and jewelry from Rwanda, Bridge for Africa telephone wire baskets, handmade jewelry and ornaments from Guatemala, scarves from India, Chavez for Charity bracelets and candles from the Bridgewater Candle Co., which raises money to feed orphans.

Stevinson approaches Compleat Lifestyles as a "social business enterprise" that provides her the opportunity to educate people about how purchasing decisions can impact lives locally and globally for the better. Supporting local, Colorado- and USA-made products is also a priority.

Compleat Lifestyles tracks its thriving gift registry business through its POS system.

Best Sellers
Compleat Lifestyles' best-selling lines include Brighton, Demdaco, Mud Pie, Juliska, Nora Fleming, Le Creuset, Cuisinart and Beatriz Ball.

"But gadgets are my driver," Stevinson affirms. Each week Compleat Lifestyles sends an email to its Loyalty Club customers offering 20 percent off the Gadget of the Week. "We have a 22 percent open rate, which is high, because people want to know what the gadget of the week is," she explains.

Gift and accessories are part of the mix, but gadgets drive traffic.

That! Gadgets, such as Spread That!, Scoop That! And Thaw That! are strong sellers, as are Microplane and the StemGem Strawberry Huller from Chef'n.

Knives are another important category for the store with J.A. Henckels and Kyocera ceramic knives leading the pack. While in cookware, All-Clad and Swiss Diamond are top sellers.

Customer Communication
Compleat Lifestyles boasts a low opt-out rate on its newsletters and weekly Gadget of the Week communications. Stevinson attributes her customer retention to a disciplined approach to email communication that rarely goes beyond the weekly email and two newsletters promoting key events each year.

Both its Anniversary Celebration and Fall/Holiday Open House events are promoted through its bi-annual electronic newsletter and postcard mailers. The newsletter offers information on new products, new cookbooks and book signings, upcoming events and promotions.

Compleat Lifestyles also offers enticing discounts throughout the year, which keep customers coming back for more. For example, shoppers receive an Anniversary Celebration discount each spring. The store turned 32 this year, so customers were offered 32 percent off a single item. "This year was the best anniversary sale ever," notes Stevinson. "Our volume was the same as the week before Christmas."

Compleat Lifestyles offers its customers a memorable shopping experience.

Stevinson captures new customer information by offering a 20 percent discount for Loyalty Club members, which gives each customer 20 percent off one item every month, subject to manufacturer-required exclusions.

The business uses the RetailPro point-of-sale system and has a custom field therein to manage the loyalty program.

When it comes to social media, Stevinson admits that she views Facebook as "a necessary evil."

Because maintaining a social media presence is necessary but time consuming, she has hired someone to manage Compleat Lifestyles' Facebook page, as well as posts on Instagram and Pinterest, which she says takes about eight hours a week to maintain. While Stevinson doesn't advertise on Facebook, she does pay to boost posts to promote the store's Anniversary Celebration and Holiday Open House.

Compleat Lifestyles is known for its knowledgeable staff.

Courting Millennials
Compleat Lifestyles has developed a loyal customer base, but as is the case for all retailers, continued success depends upon cultivating new and younger shoppers.

"Building our bridal registry is playing an important role in attracting younger consumers," notes Stevinson, who mentions the store's gift registry in emails, on the website and to customers shopping in the store.

With this younger customer in mind, Stevinson closed her 3,500-square-foot home accent store adjacent to Compleat Lifestyles to make room for Compleat Couture, a nonprofit that sells new wedding dresses donated by the industry to provide housing and supportive programs for single-parent families in need.

"Having Compleat Couture right next to my store has helped expose us to a younger audience. It's also helped our registry," adds Stevinson, who is on the nonprofit's board.

Knowing that an online presence is essential to success with today's bridal registries and younger shoppers, Compleat Lifestyles has contracted with Bridge Catalog, a gift registry and e-commerce software company that allows shoppers to browse and purchase a brick-and-mortar's wares through a professionally designed site, the product data of which is input and maintained by the vendors. Stevinson hopes to have the new site up prior to the fourth-quarter sales surge.

"Online competition is our biggest challenge," notes Stevinson, "And I believe that will continue to be the case in 2016 and beyond."