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02.08.2015 admin
With 20 years of independent retailing under his belt, Robert Navarino, owner of The Chef's Shop in Great Barrington, Mass., has seen highs and lows.
From top to bottom: Each month, The Chef's Shop plans in-store events and promotions to drive traffic to the store.
Between the natural light that pours in from floor-to-ceiling windows in the front of the store and the warm greeting of its knowledgeable staff, The Chef's Shop in Great Barrington, Mass., is a welcoming space.
The 3,000-square-foot gourmet kitchenware store is a year-round destination for home cooks, located in an area that's known as a New England haven for relaxation and culture.
With high ceilings and bright white walls as the backdrop, the store is attractive and inviting, open and well-organized.
Over the years, Navarino has had time to hone his approach, find the perfect location, and try a few things that have and haven't worked. Before going into business for himself, Navarino worked for the buying offices of Hecht's Department Stores and Bloomingdale's By Mail. During those boom years, The Chef's Shop sold rustic kitchen and dining room furniture upstairs. Since he entered independent gourmet retailing, there have been a lot of changes in the industry and in customers' buying habits. Today, with the Food Network, and people researching more and shopping more on the Web, most customers know what they're looking for when they come into the store.
The Chef's Shop offers top cookware brands, including CIA, Lodge, Cuisinart Green Gourmet, Swiss Diamond and Regal Ware. Like many of his peers, Navarino is using Facebook to connect with his customers, and share special offers and discount coupons. No matter what season, when customers walk in, they're offered a complimentary coffee (made from the Nespresso Espresso Maker, which the store sells) or tea (from Tea Forte, also in the store's inventory) to enjoy while browsing. The retailer also works with nearby, independently owned grocery stores, managing and stocking their housewares departments. Ellen Folmer, the satellite store inventory manager, keeps The Chef's Shop's three stores-within-stores stocked. As customers' buying habits have changed, the product selection at The Chef's Shop flagship store has evolved. Nestled in a separate room off the side of the store is the tabletop area, which is illuminated with lower lighting to recreate more of a dining room atmosphere. For The Chef's Shop, these second-homeowners account for about half of the store's business. To help customers find those environmentally friendly items, The Chef's Shop recently launched the Green Chef program, which highlights products with a simple hangtag. For example, Regal Ware's American Kitchen cookware line, made in the USA, qualifies as a Green Chef item. Located on Metro shelving in front of gadgets is storage – one of the biggest up-and-coming categories today, Navarino notes. In addition to adopting the waste-not-want-not creedo, The Chef's Shop's clientele is embracing glass storage for another reason. In addition, cleaning tools such as the Eclipse line from Casabella and natural cleaning products from Cucina are in demand.
Navarino is growing his selection of shelf-stable specialty food products, selecting unique, local and regional items to complement his store's mix.


Last year, Wendy Weinberg and Sherri Gorelick teamed up to open the mini cupcake bakery located inside The Chef's Shop in Great Barrington, Mass.
Weinberg, who had a career in corporate textiles, admits it took her a while to embrace the idea. While keeping true to its big flavor, little bites philosophy, the duo is considering expanding their product line.
Robert Navarino, owner of The Chef's Shop, says Barrington Bites "has been great for the shop, as well.
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Some of the business strategies he abides by are to embrace change, pursue new opportunities and give customers what they want.
Recently, knives were relocated to the wall behind the register; displaying knives, which includes good, better and best brands, in a more visible spot has increased the category's sales.
Targeting cooking enthusiasts, it also has that old-time hardware shop appeal, says owner Robert Navarino, adding "We're well-merchandised. In 1994, the kitchenware store moved about 15 miles south to a Main Street location in Great Barrington. As owner of the building where The Chef's Shop is located, he also leased the second floor space for offices. The Chef's Shop also does email blasts, using CounterPoint POS Software to store customer information, including email address and sales history. To boost sales during the late winter doldrums, Navarino decided to use his busiest month, December, to drive more purchases. More than 10 years ago, The Chef's Shop took over the housewares department at two Guido's Fresh Marketplace stores in Great Barrington and Pittsfield, Mass., and two years ago at LaBonne's Market in Salisbury, Conn. Since leasing its in-store demo kitchen to Barrington Bites, a mini cupcake bakery, the gourmet kitchenware shop has seen an increase in foot traffic and been able to connect to more people in its community.
The section also features wine aerators and accessories as well as an assortment of good, better and best wine glasses from Spiegelau, Vinum and Riedel, the department's best seller.
While white may be the top color in casual tabletop nationally (according to NPD Group), in the Berkshires, it's all about earth tones. Less than three hours from Boston and Manhattan, the region offers a wide range of year-round leisure activities for outdoorsy types as well cultural seekers. About 30 to 40 percent of the store's clientele are year-round residents, while tourists account for 10 percent of the store's sales, Navarino estimates.


The Chef's Shop's Green Chef program includes items that are made locally or regionally, or with sustainable inputs such as bamboo, or that are biodegradable or reusable.
One top seller has been the glass storage containers from Italian glassware manufacturer Bormioli Rocco, a Green Chef item.
Navarino says his customers are concerned about the side effects of Bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that is used to harden plastics, and line the inside of food and beverage cans.
Storage and cleaning categories are a way to expand into something that's complementary to gourmet kitchenware, he says. Barrington Bites offers more than 30 flavors, including classics such as Pure Vanilla and Pure Chocolate. The idea to open a mini cupcake bakery struck Gorelick, who also sells insurance, when she was traveling in California. Barrington Bites is starting to wholesale its mini delights to area businesses, and is catering weddings and events. And that I lived there many years ago.  Back in 1995 when I first moved there, I unknowingly moved myself right into what Zola calls the “Belly of Paris” (the Les Halles neighbourhood in the 2ieme arrondissement).
The Soda Stream, one of The Chef Shop's best-selling items, brings in repeat business for the CO2 cartridge refills. In the past, The Chef's Shop has written a print newsletter, but that has fallen by the wayside in recent years due to lack of time, Navarino notes. Other recent activities included an intro to outdoor grilling, just in time for Memorial Day and the unofficial kick-off of summer grilling. Customers who spent $100, $200 or $300 in December received 10, 20 or 30 percent off in March, respectively. Blame it on the economy and, to some degree, the proliferation of discount online retailers.
Some of its more unique creations are Salted Chocolate Caramel, a devil's food cupcake with sweet caramel buttercream sprinkled with fleur de sel; and French Toast, a cinnamon and nutmeg spiced vanilla cupcake made with maple syrup buttercream sprinkled with brown sugar bacon. It was in Sausalito that she discovered Cara's Cupcakes and was inspired to start up a cupcake business back in Western Massachusetts. Plus, there's nothing more enticing than the delicious aroma of baking cakes wafting throughout the store. My tiny studio apartment was situated around the corner from the rue Montorgueil, but as I came to learn over the 5+ years I lived there, the quartier offers so much more for the food enthusiast than the gorgeous market atmosphere in the rue Montorgueil. As a result, Navarino has reduced the number of small electrics in stock to tried-and-true sellers, including KitchenAid Stand Mixers, Cuisinart Food Processors and Nespresso Espresso Makers, to name a few.
Gluten-free varieties such as Ginger, a ginger-spiced cupcake with whipped Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Buttercream, and Chocolate Souffle, a flourless chocolate cupcake that comes with chocolate or vanilla buttercream, are staples on the menu.
In all, the small electrics department, which is adjacent to cookware, has been reduced by four feet. Meanwhile, seasonal flavors (Strawberries & Cream, Raspberry Almond Buttercream, Eggnog and Pumpkin) come and go throughout the year.
Meanwhile, Navarino has expanded the store's bakeware selection, which has proven to be a lucrative move.



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