Above and beyond being a retailer, S-Kultur is a cooking school, a café/bar, an experience, a community and a homey place to indulge in some of the best things in life.
by Michelle Hespe
German gia winner and 2019 Global Honoree S-Kultur epitomizes the approach to retailing that stores across the world are working hard to achieve in order to retain loyal customers. Having traded household goods since 1833, the family behind S-Kultur has its roots in traditional retailing, yet its ability to move the times and to evolve its offerings over the past 16 years is what makes it a true innovator.
In 2003, S-Kultur was launched as a modern household goods store with a luxury café bar. Then in 2007, the store became home to a Weber BBQ shop offering cooking classes and BBQ seminars. In 2011, the S-Kultur cooking school was opened in a 100 m2 space and in 2016, the latest and greatest flagship store opened, which merged the separate rooms, the store, the café bar and cooking school. Now there are 30 employees working in two locations in Germany, and the brand’s reputation continues to steadily grow.
“Realizing our dream was a long process in which we repeatedly questioned what we imagined the perfect store to be,” says the company’s CEO and Founder, Stefan Denzlinger. The idea became more and more concrete as the founder pair, Stefan and his business partner, Managing Director Dr. Kerstin Schulte-Eckel, discussed their thoughts with their designer, and then eventually, they put them on paper and began to create their dream with their craftsmen and a passionate and committed team.
“With the opening of our new store, we’ve worked on improving the existing structures and broadening our horizons,” explains Stefan. “We wanted to create a comfortable meeting place that our customers enjoy coming back to again and again – whether that be for a drink at the café bar, to shop, or to attend one of our courses. Our goal is to always keep moving and to reinvent ourselves through the experiences we constantly create and offer our customers. We also strive to remain close to our customers, and to avoid being an impersonal online shop. We want to be the local person that our customer knows, and a store where they can touch, feel and experience what we have to offer.”
Staying true to this ethos, Stefan and Kerstin made a conscious decision to not have a website, and instead use social media to express and spread word of their brand. “We’ve made Instagram and Facebook our storefronts and thus created more space in the store,” explains Kerstin. “What we’ve packed behind glass for centuries is now on social media, and that means we have more space in the store to create more interesting places that lead to more real emotions.”
The design of the store further cements S-Kultur’s approach to retail, with the products for sale not being the main things placed in front of a customer. And rather than placing a focus on window displays as many retailers do, the product offerings and experiences all happen on and around S-Kultur’s ‘presentation ribbon – a meandering path through the business where people can stop for coffee, test out products, shop, socialize, and visit the illuminated tables showcasing themed collections such as ‘baking’ or ‘preserving’ and watch presentations.
“We see shop windows as dead spaces featuring monotonous product displays that fail to create an experience or tell stories,” Stefan explains. “We believe that visual merchandising can be done better and faster through Instagram and Facebook. And so, we present our products along our ‘ribbon’, which meanders through our store like a golden thread, taking the customer on an enthralling journey.”
Intent on maintaining and nurturing a community within their retail world, Stefan and Kerstinsay that they will always be curious about what they can do next. “We know that we sometimes make mistakes, but we learn from them and turn all our experiences into positive changes,” Stefan says. “Our goal is to be unique, and we work hard on that every day. We don’t have an online shop because we want to offer unique experiences in our stores. We want our guests to touch things, smell, see and taste. That is what we are – the local specialist retailer.”
The gia jury and retail experts were full of praise for S-Kultur, saying they found the retailer authentic, and that Stefan and Kerstin’s team understand how to create a sense of community. “The store is underpinned by a true passion for cooking, integrating the art of barbecuing into the store’s concept. This and the café bar add to the whole experience, and additional things such as steaks being home-delivered, a catering service, recipes for customers, and over 200 events held every year including how-to classes all strengthen S-Kultur’s ties to the community while inspiring and educating customers.”
Kerstin explains that they both found that the application process for gia was an opportunity to think about their company – to write down what they are, where they came from and where the journey could take them. And attending the International Home + Housewares Show in Chicago gave them exposure to infinite retail and product ideas, and the chance to learn from other retailers and meet new wholesalers. But despite being confident of their approach to retail, they had no idea that they would be chosen as one of the world’s top retailers.
“Attending the Show and simply being in the retail industry, you see great concepts all the time, and we knew of some other world-famous gia winners from previous years. With so much competition it’s hard to believe it when you are chosen as one of the best in the world at what you do,” says Kerstin. “The moment we heard our company name announced on the stage, it was as though everything happened like a movie. We were simply overwhelmed and incredibly proud of what we had achieved.”
The exciting journey that Stefan and Kerstin are on will no doubt continue, leading the savvy business couple to more innovative ventures. For others in retail hoping to achieve such success, they have some simple words of wisdom: “Stay true to yourself and treat your employees and customers as if you are all a family. This is the only way you can be authentic and build a real fan base,” says Stefan. “And remember to talk to your customers. In each of our stores there is a café bar, and that’s where we can talk to our customers. If we are honest with them, then they tell us what we are doing right and what we are doing wrong. We are there for our guests, and they appreciate that. That’s why they keep coming back!”
To learn more about S-Kultur, visit www.skultur-gunzenhausen.de.
Sponsored and organized by The Inspired Home Show and the International Housewares Association (IHA), gia (IHA Global Innovation Awards) is the world’s leading awards program honoring overall excellence, business innovation and creative merchandising in homegoods retailing. For more information about the gia retail program, the co-sponsors, or participating in 2019-2020, contact Piritta Törrö. Additional information on gia is also available online at www.housewares.org/show/gia-retail.