A Kitchen Kaper’s Tale of Success

The Krachtmans, from left, Brian, Bob, Rick and Ron, run 13 stores.

The Krachtmans, from left, Brian, Bob, Rick and Ron, run 13 stores.

By Allison Zisko

Through its active Pinterest page, its ever-evolving website and its plans to enhance the mobile version of that website, kitchen specialty store Kitchen Kapers is comfortable with the newest technology. But that ease is grounded in an old-fashioned understanding of customer service and its owners’ complete familiarity with the housewares industry after being in the business for 38 years.

The 13-store chain, based in the Philadelphia area, is run by three brothers—Bob, Rick and Ron Kratchman—whose parents opened their first store, in Voorhees, N.J., in 1975 (their mother, Pearl, is still involved, overseeing the accounting department). The stores are a cross between Williams-Sonoma and Sur La Table, said Bob—“not as stark and edited as Williams-Sonoma, but more so than Sur La Table”—and appeal to a customer less characterized by income level than by an “interest in food and better health.” About 10 percent of its customers are professional cooks.

These customers come to check out the vast assortments of tools and gadgets, high-end cutlery, cookware and bakeware, or to simply grab a free cup of coffee, which is always available in every store. The brothers believe that if their customers are going to invest in a coffee machine they deserve to taste the coffee first. The newest Kitchen Kapers, in Marlton, N.J., about 15 miles east of Philadelphia, has three Jura machines, a Keurig, a Technivorm and a Nespresso bar always ready to go, as well as an assortment of coffee beans and some choices in loose tea. The store has regulars that come in with their travel mugs and promptly leave after filling them, but that amuses the brothers more than irritates them. “It’s a good traffic builder,” Bob said.

The customers who stick around a little longer can enjoy a wide selection from among the top brands, as well as a few niche ones. Cuisinart is a constant presence in the store, and has been for 38 years. “My Dad didn’t know what Cuisinart was but he said, ‘I’ll take two,’” joked Bob. Nespresso and Breville are other mainstays, along with Riedel, Henckels, Chantal, Emile Henry and a host of others. Soda Stream and Keurig are two brands “that didn’t mean anything not long ago and now are at the top of every conversation,” said Rick. Kitchen Kapers stocks both.

The chain also carries lesser-known names and products, such as Charles Viancin silicone lids, a simple yet decorative alternative to plastic wrap that customers love. There are plenty of other silicone lids on the market, the brothers said, but this one is a hit. “It came out of nowhere,” Rick said. Corkcicle, the rod-shaped gel-filled wine chiller, has likewise gotten a lot of attention, they said.

Strong categories for the store include coffee, cutlery, cookware and gadgets. Ron believes that cookware sets are not as strong as they used to be; Bob said he has always recommended open stock cookware to customers because no single manufacturer can be an expert in all pieces. In the fourth quarter, anything wine- or beer-related is popular, the men said, though wine aerators have flattened overall, according to Rick, who oversees the stores. Beer items, on the other hand, are strong and go hand-in-hand with the current trend for craft brews as well as home beer-making kits. One thing they said they would like to see for wholesale are more beer-specific glassware with brewery labels or logos.

The stores offer a better/best assortment and sometimes over-assort in an effort to support a brand, according to Bob, who does most of the buying for the stores. In toasters, for example, Kitchen Kapers offers the standard two- and four-slice options, and it makes sure to include Cuisinart and Breville, two brands with which it has strong ties. “We support the vendor as well as a category,” Bob said.

The brothers do not have a set merchandising strategy, though they often come home from trade shows with specific themes in mind, and then direct the staff in each store to implement those themes as the individual stores see fit. There are no planograms, but there is a commonality among the stores.

All three Krachtmans shop a number of trade shows throughout the year—the Atlanta Gift & Home Furnishings market in January and July; the Ambiente fair in Frankfurt, Germany, in February; the New York International Gift Fair; the International Home + Housewares Show in March; and occasionally the New York Tabletop Show in April.

The Krachtmans’ extensive product knowledge is evident in their online business and their social media efforts. The website they debuted in 2000 has been revamped several times and recently added a microsite and blog, hostthetoast.com, that focuses on entertaining-related topics. They just hired a blogger who stays on top of the trends. A Pinterest page has been up for about a year and it’s filled with “what’s cool, what’s out there and interesting,” according to Bob’s son, Brian, who also works in the store, focusing his efforts on the web. The Pinterest page is meant to be inspirational, said Bob, and although it is hard to track conversion, or the movement of customers from the Pinterest page to the web page to the cash register, “We felt it was important to be there … When people pin and repin, it’s got to do some good.” Kitchen Kapers also has a Facebook feed and a Twitter account which it uses mostly to announce book signings and other in-store events.

Kitchenkapers.com now accounts for about 20 percent of total sales. The next project will be able to adapt the full website to a mobile version, since more and more consumers shop with their phone, Bob said.

Another area the Krachtmans would like to improve is their in-store product demonstrations, by featuring more knowledgeable demonstrators than in the past. “We need the cooperation of our vendors to make it happen,” Bob said.

The biggest threat to business, the Krachtmans agree, is the deterioration of minimum advertised price and vendors’ “uneven” enforcement of it. Larger specialty chains and other channels tend to violate MAP pricing frequently, according to the Krachtmans, giving their competitors an unfair advantage. The practice of showrooming, whereby consumers touch and feel and learn about a product in a store and then purchase it online at a lower price, is another frustration.

Kitchen Kapers has maintained a relatively steady store count of between 12 and 14 stores for the past decade. All of its stores, whether in urban, suburban or mall locations, are within one hour’s driving distance of its warehouse in Cherry Hill, N.J., which makes it easy to ship and maintain inventory. It often gets invitations to open stores in places like Washington, D.C., and Boston, Bob said, “but we’re careful with what we do.” The company can still fit one or two more stores within that one-hour parameter, and if an appropriate opportunity comes up, they will consider it, said Bob. “We want to grow the existing stores and the website. If more opportunities come our way we’ll look at that but we’re not looking to open 10 stores next year. We want slow, controlled growth.” The brothers declined to provide annual sales data.

When asked what sets Kitchen Kapers apart, Rick replied, “It’s two things. The first is that Bob is a good buyer. He is good at filtering through products to provide an assortment that is thorough. You can compare what we carry to the big boxes and the national chains. The second thing is that we are blessed with a great staff that knows the product. We provide customers with a great experience by being thorough. We give customers information without high-pressured sales. That’s how we differentiate.”

“We’re serious and we’re passionate,” added Bob.

“Sometimes to a fault,” added Rick. “At trade shows vendors may perceive us as intense but we are passionate about our business.”