WASHINGTON’S GOURMET CAPITAL
Kitchen Bazaar revises expansion plans, but stays focused on kitchen equipment
WASHINGTON (FNS)–While some may say 13 is an unlucky number, it is an indication of good fortune for Kitchen Bazaar, a 26-year-old Rockville, Md.-based culinary retailer that opened its 13th store this month.
Although they have revised more aggressive expansion plans, company executives said they are counting on customer service, displays and broad inventory to successfully steer them through the ’90s.
Even in a weakening economy, Kitchen Bazaar is doing something right. Sales for the publicly owned company in fiscal year 1990 ending Jan. 31 increased 36 percent, reaching a record-high of $10.67 million. Several years ago, Kitchen Bazaar had reported a five-year plan to grow to over 30 stores. The company now says it will get there eventually, but probably not in the next couple of years.
“As far as the company is concerned, we’re prepared to go forward with expansion plans subject to financing being available,” said Alan M. Shefter, president of Kitchen Bazaar. “But there is tightness in the money market today. As such, we have revised our plan.
“We are being very selective about sites,” Shefter explained. “To date, every store we have opened has been profitable in its first year of operation. That is our objective as we go forward. Consequently, we have to be very selective about the sites we choose.”
Shefter added that he is studying other metropolitan areas carefully, but declined to say how many and where they would be. Instead, he stressed that “within the demographic profile of our customer, there are few geographic limitations to our expansion.”
Last month, the company opened a unit in the St. Charles Mall in Waldorf, Md. The first out-of-state store opened in Cambridge, Mass., in the middle of September.
Five of the chain’s 13 stores were opened last year in such major Washington, D.C., suburban malls as the Galleria at Tysons II, McLean, Va.; Fair Oaks Mall, Fairfax, Va.; Fashion Centre, Pentagon City, Va.; Lake Forest Mall, Gaithersburg, Md.; and Columbia Mall, Columbia, Md. Kitchen Bazaar’s expansion, albeit revised, comes at a time when many neighboring stores have expanded their gourmet sections and such stores as Williams-Sonoma and Crate & Barrel have added more stores to the local market.
But Shefter remains confident Kitchen Bazaar, which offers about 12,000 items, will be able to carve a successful niche, attracting the second generation of gourmet cooks who were born with the advent of the food processor in 1973.
“We cater to a broader spectrum of the culinary community,” Shefter said. “We’re upscale verus carriage trade. Our merchandise is exciting to look at. I think in this climate you really have to give people a reason to come to the store.”
Shefter also added that Kitchen Bazaar differs from Crate & Barrel, which he said is more of a lifestyle retailer, because it offers a broader inventory from home furnishings to kitchenware. “Unlike Crate & Barrel, Kitchen Bazaar is solely dedicated to the kitchen,” said Shefter.
Like the other Kitchen Bazaar stores, merchandise at the 5,000-square-foot store in Pentagon City is stacked in wall bins, on racks and hung from walls. One wall features more than 1,000 gadgets, ranging in price from $2 to $15. “We want to give our customers an impulse to buy,” said Shefter, who added that the gadget category, which includes egg separators, magnetic can openers, clam knives and radish presses, is one of its highest sales volume categories.
Appliances, ranging in price from $20 to $350, are displayed on working centers. And some merchandise is arranged according to themes. For instance, a pasta bowl filled with pasta is surrounded by a cookbook on Italian cooking and a bottle of wine.
Kitchen Bazaar’s staff of two buyers shop at home accessories shows in Europe, San Francisco and Chicago, seeking items that are unusual. Customers can find a $600 French hammered copper flounder poacher, a $50 Chinois sieve for fine sauces, a $225 jet stream oven by American Harvest that cooks pizza in just five minutes, and a variety of different sizes of mold pans. Kitchen Bazaar’s sales people are hired because of their affinity towards gourmet cooking.
“We want our people to be excited about the products we sell,” Shefter said. Kitchen Bazaar salespeople undergo an intensive sales training program on sales techniques and product knowledge.
Salespeople also are constantly trying to build a strong relationship with their customers, who range in age from 25 to 54. Sales people test the merchandise, which comes in daily, and they also do special ordering of items for customers.
In addition to informed salespeople, Kitchen Bazaar also offers consumers The Kitchen Bazaar Times, its own publication which features merchandise specials and news about the food world. Published eight times a year, the publication is mailed to about 250,000 customers.
Kitchen Bazaar also draws customers to stores through special appearances by culinary experts. Most recently, Dinah Shore was in the store demonstrating recipes from her new cookbook. Other celebrities and personalities known for food preparation who have come to Kitchen Bazaar include Julia Child and Dom DeLuise.
The retailer also uses cooking contests and instructional seminars to create excitement. Almost every day, the store also offers free samples of food mixed, baked or fried using one of the newly arrived appliances or bakeware.
“I’d like to think of our store as a center of kinetic kitchen activity,” said Bunny Polmer, company spokesperson. “Whether there’s espresso brewing in the kitchen or bread baking in the oven, we can attract a lot of walk-in customers.”
While cookware makes up about 13 percent of the company’s net sales, no other merchandise category accounted for as much as 10 percent of the company’s sales in the last fiscal year. Cookware, mostly from Le Creuset and Calphalon, ranges in prices from a $15 Wagner cast iron frying pan to a $600 French copper stockpot.
In addition to the gadget category, another big category is coffee/tea accessories, including coffeemakers and filters. Some of the major vendors in this category include Chemex, Melitta, Krups and Braun. Bakeware, appliances, cutlery and ceramics account for the remainder.
Kitchen Bazaar was conceived in 1964 by founder and former chairman Sherman Shapiro and Edith Schubert, the former owner of Washington-area china and glass store The China Closet. At the time, Shapiro was running the gift and lamp concessions in the GEM department store chain. Shapiro bought out Schubert’s share in 1973.
Shefter joined Kitchen Bazaar in 1967 as an treasurer/controller. In 1987, the company went public, raising $2 million to fund the company’s expansion plan. The majority interest in Kitchen Bazaar was acquired by a Washington-based investment group headed by Richard D. Kaufman.
Kitchen Bazaar operates other units in Seven Corners Center in Falls Church, Va., Connecticut Avenue in Washington, Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Md., Annapolis Mall in Annapolis, Md., Townsontown Centre in Towson, Md. and Gadget Gallery in Harborplace in Baltimore, Md.