Local retailers seek local products. That’s the theme across the nation as specialty retailers, many of whom also find they benefit from customers looking to shop at local businesses, try to return the favor with nearby producers.
“We always focus on finding local products,” says Dan Saklad, owner of, along with wife Diana, Whisk in Cary, N.C. “We are local, so we do everything we can to support local producers.”
Supporting local is one thing, finding a producer that is a good fit for your kitchenware store is another. Some retailers, like Ben Salmon, owner of Kitchen a la Mode in South Orange, N.J., have gone so far as to hold events to recruit local and regional makers of kitchenware and other related household products.
Salmon, who holds an “open call” for local and regionally made products, has an eye toward setting up a locally made section in his store. He is excited by the response he received to the notice for the open call–posted on Facebook–which to a vendor is a bit like a casting call is to an actor. “It was such a long list,” he says.
One goal of the event is to garner enough quality, locally made product that a local section would make sense for his store. Local and regionally made product is attractive to shoppers looking for gifts, a category Salmon wants to expand.
“When you sell quality merchandise, people don’t need to replace it very often, but you always have to buy gifts,” he says. “And a local section is a great way to expand gift offerings.”
Judging from the early responses to his call, a wide range of household products will be up for review, including sponges from Newark, candles from South Orange (after meeting the candle vendor, Salmon has plans to work with her to launch a house-made candle line) and a woodworker from aptly-named Maplewood, who sources all his material from that zip code.
That last story inspired a new marketing angle for Salmon. “There’s also an environmental piece to the product,” he says, noting that the process between production and delivery of a product uses “an awful lot of fossil fuels.”
Going local reduces that environmental impact. “Instead of harvesting the wood in one zip code and shipping to a manufacturer in another, then to a warehouse and a store totaling two more zip codes, here the wood is harvested and sold locally, which is awesome for the environment,” he explains.
Not every retailer has local artisans at their disposal. For Dave West, owner of Rolling Pin Kitchen Emporium, his Brandon, Fla., location is a little light on regional crafts. “Florida does not have many products like that,” says West, who tries to find nearby vendors but the pickings are thin. “We do local when we find it, but it is mostly food.”
Across the country in Seattle, Amy Pomp Lorette, general manager of Mrs. Cook’s, also says food is a big local seller, with items successful enough to keep reordering.
“We do most of our food sourcing locally,” she says, adding that the Mrs. Cook’s buying team scouts for product during field trips. “We discover new products at Farmers Markets, other gourmet stores and sometimes the producers seek us out.”
She agrees that gift giving is a big driver for local product. “Our customers really seem to appreciate the local aspect of products,” she says. “We carry some flour sack towels that feature local neighborhoods and are locally made, and are popular hostess gifts. Our most successful and long-running locally made item is a handmade pizza stone.”
For Martha Nading, owner of The Extra Ingredient, Greensboro, N.C., local and regional products are an important business category. “We sell lots of local items,” she says. “We love to support Greensboro, Guilford County and North Carolina. I have local foods, hand-turned wooden bowls, wooden cutting boards, candy, kitchen towels and dish cloths. Most of these items I have found simply by the craftsman or Inventor showing up on my doorstep.”
Nading says the store encourages customers “to put together local gift assortments,” and also finds product by surfing local media. “North Carolina has a great magazine called Our State, and Greensboro has a great magazine called O’Henry; both of these are good resources for products in their articles and their ads,” she says. “Some local products are so successful for me that they are on my HOT list to review on a weekly basis. Others are a flash-in-the pan.”
North Carolina being North Carolina, certain local specialties find their way to the store. “During the 32 years I have been in business, I have probably bought 100 different BBQ sauces brought to my door,” Nading says.
In Evansville, Ind. the local specialty appears to be chocolate based, says Marcia Jochem, owner of Thyme in the Kitchen.
“There is a lady here who makes amazing fudge and we have her products in here year-round,” Jochem says. “We believe in supporting local businesses and we try to work locally and regionally to do that. Sometimes we hear about a producer in the community via word-of-mouth, and other times they come to us.”
For Traci Hoem, manager of Plum’s Cooking Company, Sioux Falls, S.D., many of the local items come via her own connections in the community. “We are a local business and we have to support each other,” she explains.
The store sells a wide range of locally produced products, especially foods, including hot sauces with names like “Kiss of Death” and “Diabolo Verde.” How did she find them? “The guy who makes them lives in town and I knew him personally. I’ve lived in Sioux Falls forever,” Hoem notes.
In short, locally and regionally made product allows smaller retailers the opportunity to do what they do best: be creative and tell a story. Consider Salmon’s locally-made-and-harvested wood products and the environmental marketing spin he plans for them.
“I am already getting all these ideas and I haven’t even had the open call yet,” Salmon says.