by Micah Cheek
Like many retailers, Mary and David Weldy have felt the pressure of competing with Amazon and other sales sites. But Mary and David aren’t worried about losing money to online markets, because they have made their store everything that Amazon isn’t ― an immersive, informative experience that’s worth traveling for.
Culinary Apple is located in Chelan, Washington, a tiny resort town in the heart of Apple country and on the edge of Lake Chelan. The store actually got its start from being a gift shop and hub for apple tourism. “We shopped for everything apple! Apple candles, apple teapots and apple aprons, to name a few. That’s how we became the ‘Apple Store,’” says David Weldy, Co-Owner. “We private labeled our apple jams, jelly and butters. We started selling beautiful apple gift baskets with these items including fresh harvested apples. And then we ultimately got into buying a fudge factory and putting it in the store.” After separately opening a kitchenware store as well, the Weldys decided to put their two businesses together. “We took the best of each store and developed that. Look at all that fresh fudge! Roasted glazed nuts! [You come in and] all of a sudden you see so many things that you wouldn’t expect in a kitchen store,” David adds. Dubbed Culinary Apple, the new store has been curated with items for each wave of customers that will come in throughout the year. During the summer, Chelan’s population swells from 7,000 to 25,000 with the influx of tourists and people who own second homes on the edge of the lake. “We’re kicking off our high season now. Our peak time frame is June, July and August,” says Mary, Co-Owner. “We have what’s called ‘Conference Season.’ We do conference gifts and attendee gifts. That’s March, April and May, and again in September, October and November, which is our harvest time for apples. Even though our visitors and tourists have gone back to the other side of the mountains, we still have our conference attendees.”
Lots of Culinary Apple’s kitchenware business comes from the seasonal residents who need to outfit their second home with new tools or something they forgot on the trip. “Obviously kitchen gadgets are a huge part of our business,” says David. For a time, the store was also outfitted with a wide variety of electric appliance options as well. But as time passed, the profits from small electrics began to shrink. “We don’t carry a lot of that product like we used to. We’ve already eliminated Vitamix, they’ve sold their soul to Amazon. We were doing Soda Stream, but all the big box stores got involved in it, so we moved away from Soda Stream,” says David. “We reduced our electric lines, and got a lot of shelf space for things that turn better with higher margins.”
The Weldys have created a strong engagement program for customers both online and in the store itself. “We created our own rewards program,” says Mary. “We have over 6,000 people in our rewards program. We send them an email, and our monthly open rate for that email is about 22 percent.” David adds, “We have so many people coming in for that birthday reward. We send them 10 dollars and they walk out with 100 dollars of merchandise.” Culinary Apple also has a schedule of sales that coincide with tastings and tool demonstrations. “Because it’s Reward Friday, when you let people know they can come into the store and get 20 percent off anything that isn’t excluded, we have a lot of people in the store. And a lot of them go to the Gadget Playdate.” The return from the Gadget Playdate can be substantial. Mary adds, “I would say on average, we have a solid 30 people that purchase, and they purchase on a pretty good volume. We’ll actually have customers come in on Thursday to take a look, and then come in to buy on Friday.”
When the rewards bring them to the store, customers will meet a Culinary Apple team that the Weldys have seriously invested in educating. “We do a phenomenal business in knives, and it’s because our team knows a lot about knives,” says Mary. David adds, “A few weeks ago we had WÜSTHOF do training in store for the staff followed by a sales training trip to Seattle for knife skill training by Shun. Then we went to Progressive [International] and did about a six-hour training with them.” To make sure their staff is as knowledgeable as possible, Mary and David take their team to as many company training programs as they can. “We gave up about $2,500 in sales by closing our store, we spend about $800 to take our team over, but that was so inexpensive compared to the team building, training and brainstorming. Every time we get back to the store we see how enthusiastic everyone is to share what they have learned. It just pays off dividends.”
The experienced staff integrates into a store experience designed to appeal to all the senses. “When you come in you’ll smell nuts roasting, or someone in the back making fudge. We’re still getting lots of baby boomers, so we play that music that appeals to them. It makes them feel good,” says David. “Then they’re greeted with one of our team. ‘Hello, would you like to try a cinnamon-glazed pecan?’ And then they get a taste. It’s about appealing to all the senses.”
Culinary Apple has leveraged its fruit-focus theme to leverage deals with manufacturers. “We just completed an agreement with Dexas. They have a beautiful apple cutting board that we sell in the store. We have a co-op that looks for apple products to give to their growers for their big annual fall harvest party,” says David. “We [also] did that with JK Adams with their apple cutting board. These are the kinds of things we’ve done to grow our business. You’ve got to think outside of the box, not just waiting for that next customer to walk into your store, but reaching out to corporate clients and asking for there business. Like our sign says on our front door, ‘Culinary Apple a store to experience.’”