In March this year, retail store K’OOK! from the Netherlands became one of five global honorees celebrated at the IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia) in Chicago.
In 2005, two friends with a passion for cooking and a desire for a new life, joined forces and established a small 35 square meter retail store in the Netherlands’ Wormerveer. Fast forward eleven years, and K’OOK! is now 180 square meters, and recently voted as one of the best retail stores in the world!
If you had known Anne van der Spoel and Karen Schoen when they were engrossed in their former careers—one in advertising and the other an assistant with the fire fighting department—you might not believe that the two would go on to have a store dedicated to cooking and now recognized as a global innovator in Chicago. In fact, the two women are still coming to terms with their achievement themselves.
“On the night of the gia awards in Chicago, when our name was read out as one of the five global honorees, we couldn’t believe it,” says Anne with a laugh. “We’d checked out all of the other 23 national winners in the competition, and we knew how great they were. We are still flabbergasted. We put news of our win on our Facebook page, and over 1000 people congratulated us on the first day. Then it really started to sink in!”
The women found the process of entering gia very beneficial, as it meant them putting every aspect of their business under the spotlight. “Entering the awards makes you look really closely at everything you do on day-to-day basis, but also makes you stand back and look at the bigger picture. It was a great process for us to go through.”
Ever the innovators, the business has become a dual one. The store is always incredibly busy and has a loyal following, but the pair also recognized the opportunity to create a food festival on the river that their store overlooks, and now it too is a successful business. Held in July and in its third year, the festival attracts over 12,000 people and over 60 food trucks with delicious offerings, which serves to spread word of K’OOK! even further.
The women also run an Italian Food Weekend in their store, with Stefania Balducci of the Pasta al Pesto cooking studio visiting from Italy to run cooking workshops for the four days. “This year we also had a sommelier from Umbria to organize wine tasting for two days,” explains Anne. “The Italian weekend is combined with a pop-up restaurant with room for even more people to enjoy the Italian cuisine.”
Everything in K’OOK! is designed by Karen and Anne. “From the cabinets to the kitchen and coffee bar, to the checkout and the decoration, it is all created by us, and this gives our store its own particular style,” explains Karen. “We went for an industrial feel, and the décor includes black steel in combination with white timber, white walls and a concrete floor.”
Spotlights are used to draw visitors’ full attention to the enormous array of cooking products in the store, with things such as hanging lamps over the kitchen bench, the checkout and a coffee table creating a pleasant, homely atmosphere. The pair, entrepreneurs at heart, also has their own product line in store, which includes picture postcards, bags, olive oil and coffee.
The large modern kitchen in K’OOK! is a recent addition, and this special space is the new heart of the store — used for demonstrating products and for guests to sample dishes and products. Workshops for up to ten people can be hosted in this area, and it draws other interested people in from the street to watch. Once a week, on Saturdays, there is also a product demonstration and tastings, so the store has become a place for people to gather socially.
K’OOK! also has a beautiful coffee bar. Shoppers can sample coffee or any of their other special drinks at the table in the shop window or at the kitchen bar. The coffee bar can be clearly seen from the street, which is an enticement for passers-by.
In the back of the store, there is a separate corner for food products. The placement of this area was deliberate, so that customers who come in for the very popular olive oil have to cross the entire shop floor, passing directly by the many wonderful products on display. This corner is dubbed ‘The Filling Station’, for obvious reasons.
At K’OOK!, the customer firmly takes center stage. “Whether it is personal attention, service, the shop layout or the activities we organize—everything we do, we do for our customers,” says Karen. “We aim to be a store where people love to browse and feel that they are truly cared for. In the coming years, we will focus on retaining our current customers through continual innovation, and on broadening our horizon outside the region, through advertising and social media. We are also aiming to entice more people to our web-store.”
The gia expert judges and jury were very impressed with K’OOK!’s approach to innovation in social media. For example, to ramp up knowledge and spread the word of OXO kitchen utensils, they invited a group of bloggers to the store to test the products and make comments. Word spread like wildfire.
“However no amount of advertising can beat the sight of happy customers, so that is what we focus on, making our customers happy. And then we are very active on social media—Facebook and Instagram—with at least two posts a week. Some 4,500 customers receive our monthly newsletter,” says Anne.
Branding is very important to the ongoing success of K’OOK! The immediately recognizable bold black and white logo is proudly displayed on hanging signs outside and on bags, and staff members wear black T-shirts with ‘K’OOK!’ emblazoned across the front.
“We and our staff receive regular product training from our suppliers so that we are always learning and fitting products into our brand. We take our staff to trade fairs, wholesalers and suppliers to give them a feel of the brand names we stock in our store.”
Really, the story of K’OOK! is one of two friends who wanted a different life, and were brave enough to go out there and get it. “What started off as an exciting adventure 11 years ago, has now become a flourishing business,” says Karen. “But no matter how much has changed at K’OOK! over the past decade, the team enthusiasm has remained the same. Our customers have good reasons for saying: ‘This is a shop that really makes you want to buy things.’”
For more information about the gia (IHA Global Innovation Award) program, the co-sponsors, or participating in 2016-2017, contact Piritta Törrö. Additional information on the gia program is also available online at www.housewares.org/show/gia-retail.