Home U.S. gia Winner The Cook’s Shop Puts Housewares to the Test for Customers
March 16, 2024

U.S. gia Winner The Cook’s Shop Puts Housewares to the Test for Customers

By: Chandler Harvey

Managing Editor

Ken and Dagmar Kupsche are the husband-and-wife-team behind The Cook’s Shop, a kitchenware store set against the historic landscape of Marietta, Ohio.

The Cook’s Shop was honored for merchandising excellence as the U.S. housewares winner among thirty-two retailers from around the world at the IHA Global Innovation Awards (gia) gala during the Inspired Home Show.

Inside The Cook’s Shop

The Cook’s Shop’s journey began as a restoration project of a 1912 building that once housed a furniture company, mortuary and music store. Marietta, in the Appalachian foothills of southeastern Ohio, is rich in history, the first permanent U.S. settlement in the Northwest Territory. Marietta is even the subject of a New York Times best-selling David McCullough book, The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West, which Ken Kupsche says drives a lot of tourism. Once it was decided Ken would take an early retirement, he and Dagmar talked for a long time about what could be done in the space and what would work in the city.

The Kupsches understand retail. Ken had been the catalog vice president of direct marketing for a company called Woodcraft Supply, and Dagmar worked as an apparel designer for The Limited.

“We knew we had to be a wow store. You walk in the door and go, wow, a destination,” Ken said. “We are a town of 14,500 people. Two hours out of Columbus, three out of Pittsburgh; Charleston, West Virginia, is an hour and a half away. There’s nothing around us. So we wanted to be a destination, and that’s guided us. We looked back to what Williams Sonoma was when they first started. Chuck Williams did a store for cooks, and that’s what we wanted to do.”

Ken & Dagmar Outside The Cook’s Shop

Embracing the town’s heritage and their passion for cooking, the Kupsches embarked on a mission to offer a curated selection of kitchenware.

However, the journey was not without obstacle. A fire just months after opening in 2009 led to the loss of the store’s inventory. Though the building was saved, most of the restoration had to be redone.

Dagmar chooses to see it as a “lemons to lemonade” moment. “In those short five months, we found what worked and what hadn’t moved,” she said. “So we took a curve and went from there.”

Rebuilding took three months, but they had learned lessons about what resonated with their customers and adapted their offerings accordingly. A commitment to quality, American-made products became a cornerstone of their business, comprising around 31% of their inventory.

When it comes to the display of their products, Ken and Dagmar must take an interesting approach, as the town does not have flood walls and has been underwater 30 times in the past 100 years. Most of the merchandise is kept on baker’s racks to be easily moved upstairs, Ken said. “We’ve got to be mobile. We’ve got to be able to move stuff out. It’s part of the process.”

Historic Flood Photos Inside the Shop

The Cook’s Shop Interior

The Cook’s Shop is woven into the community with a passion not only for cookware but also for people. Ken and Dagmar are deeply rooted in the town, actively supporting local causes and historic preservation efforts and even sponsoring the town’s high school mountain bike team. Their store has hosted cooking classes in the past, and they hope to bring classes back this summer. They organize biannual historic meals to showcase the town’s heritage. And, then, there’s the couple’s French bulldog, Roux — as in the sauce thickening technique in French cooking — who has become somewhat of a mascot for the store. The store sells miniature versions of Roux because he is so popular.


Roux’s Shop

Ken and Dagmar take a customer-centric approach with a dedication to customer satisfaction. They test the products to offer personalized advice, guiding customers to the right products for their needs. “It’s the quality, I think, that sets us apart,” Dagmar said. “If I sell you something that isn’t good, and you’re not happy with it, you’re going to come back and tell me that, right? And I’m going to take it back. That’s not doing anything for either of us. Everything that’s in here is pretty much tried and true. When I carry a new product, I get samples. If it’s a food product, I get samples.”

The Cook’s Shop Skillet Lending Library where customers can try a pan before they buy

Because of the shop’s location in the Appalachians, many of the ingredients used in international cooking are hard to come by in Marietta, which served up an opportunity for Ken and Dagmar to carry food products such as Thai for Two spices and bundles from Verve Culture.

The Cook’s Shop “Pantry”

“People love the fact that they can try something, and if they like it, they’ll go out and invest in the spices. But this at least gets them into it,” Dagmar said. “COVID really pushed us to be more into food items. It was one of the things that allowed us to keep our store open. COVID was horrible for many businesses, but in the kitchen world, it made people start cooking at home. It brought families back together.”

Looking to the future, Ken and Dagmar remain committed to brick-and-mortar business, exploring opportunities for growth while staying true to their core values. “We have to be on the cutting edge to a degree, but not so much that it makes us uneasy,” Dagmar said. She noted they are one of the first independent retailers to carry originally direct-to-consumer Made In cookware, an opportunity they hopped on immediately. “We’re willing to do what it takes. I think we do a lot of homework,” she said. “If my customer isn’t happy and they’re bringing something back, that’s not a good thing for me. I want to see them for a repeat, but I don’t want to have them coming back with a return.”

It’s this mentality that has led customers to make the journey to The Cook’s Shop from long distances. A few years back, the Kupsches surveyed their customer base by zip code and were pleasantly surprised to see a large portion of their customers coming from two to three hours away.

“Opening here, it had to be that wow factor,” Dagmar said. “It had to be a destination because the locals are wonderful, but it’s not big enough to support what we have. We knew it had to go beyond that.”

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