If a picture is worth a thousand words, how much are live product demos or in-store education classes worth?
Apparently a lot – at least that’s the thinking of a few kitchen startups in the Bay area opening their own experiential retail storefronts where consumers can get their hands on products and try them out.
Over the past few months, I’ve spotted three new retail storefronts that have opened or are about to open in the Bay Area. If you’re like me, you might be wondering what’s going on here? After all, running a brick and mortar storefront isn’t cheap and runs counter to the current trend where, by and large, companies are going all-in on digital futures.
My guess is because these products offer new approaches to age-old activities like cooking and brewing coffee, they could benefit from a little up-front explanation. And like New York City, influencer-heavy San Francisco is often seen as a logical place to open future-forward retail concepts in order to get the word out and get feedback on new products.
So which connected kitchen brands are leaping into retail? Here is what I’ve found on each:
Fellow Store and Playground
The first of these retail spots to open is from Fellow Products, the company behind the Stagg EKG kettle. Last fall, Fellow launched a showroom in downtown San Francisco called the Fellow Store and Playground to feature their products. The space, which looks like the love child of a Starbucks and Apple store, is less about just moving kettles as it is about engaging with folks in influencer-heavy San Francisco around the company’s products.
“We didn’t open a store to sell you a kettle,” Fellow Products CEO Jake Miller told Sprudge about their new store. “We opened a store to teach you how to use it.”
To accomplish that, Fellow is offering brew guides, classes, interactive displays and even scheduling a series of evening events in the space.
Last fall, a sign went up on a window located in downtown San Francisco’s Howard Street promising a new store called “Anova Kitchen”. The new storefront, which had a “Coming Soon” on the window, is located on the bottom floor of the company’s new headquarters.
The intention for the space is similar to that of Fellow Products space: demo, sell some product, etc. Last fall, an Anova spokesperson told me they not only had plans to show off their products, but they also planned to feature some from their new parent company, Electrolux (who knows – maybe they’ll even have robot vacuum cleaners).
Anova Kitchen is supposed to open some time this spring.
Finally, the latest kitchen tech startup looking to open up a retail spot is the still somewhat stealth Brava Home. The smart oven startup, which we’ve covered pretty extensively at The Spoon, looks like it’s about to part the velvet curtain and tell the world a little more about itself and, apparently, part of that strategy is a retail storefront.
Spotted at the Stanford shopping mall in Palo Alto, the new store features the tagline “Make Home Your Favorite Place to Eat.” It also has a URL on the window – bravapaloalto.com – which redirects to Brava Home’s site where they describe the retail storefront as a ‘showroom.’
I’ve confirmed with Brava that the store will open this summer.
Retail Apocalypse or Connected Kitchen Revival?
While these new storefronts seem to run counter to the current line of thinking that we’re in the midst of a brick and mortar apocalypse, big tech brands like Apple, Microsoft and Amazon have shown the value of physical retail as a way to showcase new technologies and approaches to old behaviors. Others, like B8ta, have found traction with their hands-on IoT-driven showroom concept.
Still, running retail stores are expensive, and as the high-profile implosion of experiential kitchen retailer Pirch has shown, often it’s hard to convert demos and in-store education to actual sales. While this batch of kitchen startups are much more modest and don’t involve ten of thousands of feet of expensive Manhattan real estate, it’s still too early to tell if the efforts will ultimately result in significant upticks for their brands.
But, if there’s one thing I’ve learned from the Smart Kitchen Summit startup showcase, people do love getting their hands on new cooking products and trying them out for themselves. Whether it’s a coffee robot, 3D food printer or a new type of oven, there’s nothing like actually seeing it in action.
We’ll have to see if these new retail storefronts bear fruit long term. For his part, Fellow Product’s Miller is optimistic and hasn’t ruled out expanding in the future. In an email, he told me, “We exist to help people brew great coffee through beautifully functional design, so anything we do, including retail, needs to support our mission. Although I don’t see a future where Fellow operates hundreds of stores, I can imagine extending our retail presence to select cities.”