Cook's Warehouse: Recipe for Success
By Allison Zisko
Mary Moore is on the move.
At a time when other specialty-store retailers may be just trying to hold ground and stay afloat, Moore's business, The Cook's Warehouse, is thriving. Sales at the Atlanta-based gourmet specialty store were up 16 percent last year, its dot-com business grew 27 percent and 20 employees were added to the payroll. But perhaps most indicative of its recent success is that Moore opened her fourth store last September, a store that incorporates a unique cross-marketing opportunity with a neighboring Whole Foods that underscores the strength of The Cook's Warehouse brand name.
The newest store location, in the East Cobb neighborhood of Marietta, Ga., offers the same format and product mix as the other three stores--roughly 5,000 square feet of brands like Wusthof, Zwilling, All-Clad and Le Creuset. What's different in East Cobb is Moore's partnership with Whole Foods, which has granted her 32 linear feet of space that is branded The Cook's Warehouse within the Whole Foods store next door. The Cook's Warehouse is responsible for all the housewares products sold there; Moore and her team pick the products and manage the inventory.
"It's great exposure for us. The sales there have been very good," said Moore, who spoke to HFN during last month's Gift & Home Furnishings Market in Atlanta. Business was up 28 percent in December 2011 without the new store, and up 65 percent with it.
Whole Foods carries some housewares products in its stores, but it doesn't deal with a lot of vendors, according to Moore. "We can offer a much broader selection and assortment for them," Moore said. The Whole Foods housewares assortment is made up of primarily gadgets considered essential to people shopping in a grocery store, like silicone utensils, pot holders and the like.
The partnership provides cross-marketing opportunities for both retailers. They play up each other's offerings, and Moore uses Whole Foods produce during the cooking classes in her store. "It's a nice thread that runs through the business," she said.
Moore is also broadening the product mix in all her stores (one in midtown Atlanta, two in the Atlanta suburbs and one in Decatur, Ga.). Currently, gadgets account for roughly 60 percent of her business; she also has strong cutlery and cookware departments. Wusthof is her number-one brand in cutlery, but she has also increased her business with Zwilling, and that is "coming on strong." The Cook's Warehouse carries a full assortment of Zwilling cutlery, along with its Staub and Demeyere cookware brands, and late last year it opened a Zwilling shop-in-shop in the East Cobb store, a first for Zwilling in the U.S. and a first for The Cook's Warehouse.
"We are very pleased with the partnership and results from our first U.S. shop-in-shop at The Cook's Warehouse," said Patrick Accorsi, vice president of sales at Zwilling. "Mary's staff is passionate and extremely knowledgeable, which has been clearly demonstrated in our above-average sales figures. We attribute our mutual success to an excellent selection of high-quality products and a well-trained staff."
Moore also wants to expand her tabletop assortment. "We're extremely utilitarian," she explained, "so we have an opportunity to grow with gift and tabletop." Moore's strength is culinary--before founding The Cook's Warehouse in 1995 she managed the kitchens and cooked at Atlanta restaurants Partners Morningside Cafe and Indigo Coastal Grill, and has shared her cooking expertise via numerous television and radio broadcasts and speaking engagements--but she credited a great buying team for expanding the retailer's reach. They have done well with WMF's Bistro collection, Acacia wood serving pieces and whiteware, and have started working with vendors such as tag and Fortessa. The tabletop focus will be more on serveware and accessories than dinnerware, Moore said.
Moore, a member of The Gourmet Catalog group, shops several trade shows to keep her assortment fresh. They include Atlanta--great for doing business, she said--the International Home + Housewares Show Chicago next month--"great for color trends, design trends and new products"--and the Canton Fair and the Hong Kong Houseware Fair in April.
Moore said she loves having an added half day in Chicago (the International Housewares Association, which owns and organizes the show, has changed the opening day to mid-day Saturday from Sunday morning) but hopes vendors will cooperate by staying for the duration of the show and not leave early, as has been rumored, according to Moore. "Part of the beauty of this industry is the strength of relationships. I think when vendors leave early, they are not respectful of the opportunities [to grow relationships with retailers, especially smaller independents.]" She said she plans to make the most of that show and hopes everyone else will too.
Moore already has a full plate, but she has plans to grow. Although 2012 will be a time for her to focus on infrastructure and honing back-office functions like staff training and point-of-sale systems, she will nonetheless keep her eye out for expansion possibilities. She has one site in Georgia in mind and is considering moving beyond the state, though nothing is imminent, she said.