Small Business Spotlight of the Week: Colbrook Kitchen

It’s the most wonderful time of the year– when all of us are scrambling to finalize our gifts and holiday plans.  There is nothing more daunting than finding last minute presents, especially if you happen to be struck with the writer’s block equivalent of gift giving.

Let us help you jog your brain for some ideas, whether you’re looking to fill a box under the tree or for stocking stuffers.  This week’s Small Business Spotlight is Colbrook Kitchen.  As cooking and entertaining enthusiasts, Piper and Kennedy curate the website to reflect their best recommendations for kitchen gadgets.  If they don’t use it, it won’t be featured on their website. Their gift guides have suggestions for everyone from new cooks to people moving into new houses to wine lovers.  So if you’re looking for potential relief from gift giving block, check ’em out.

Piper and Kennedy talk some more below about their website:

How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?

Colbrook Kitchen is an online merchant that searches out, finds and offers Cool Tools for Cooks–home cooks, who want to cook better, easier, faster–with great results. These are all high-design, high-functionality tools that we personally use and recommend, so … (our two mottos:)  If we don’t use them, we won’t sell them! and  We’ve made the mistakes, so you don’t have to.  

Our philosophy is best summed up by William Morris, the great 19th century English artist, who said, “If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” We agree!

What are some industry specific challenges you faced?  

There’s a lot of competition in this business space, including a couple of 500 pound gorillas. We had to find a way to differentiate ourselves and to add value to our customers. By carrying only those products that we personally use and recommend, and by writing original content that describes how and why we chose the product, along with recipes and useful tips, we think we have achieved those goals.

What was your biggest learning curve/experience?

Everything! We’ve both worked in the high tech world, but when we bought and the read the book “Web Marketing for Dummies” we underlined nearly every word. We handle our own shipping and consider that an important part of the customer experience, because we want to delight our customers, not only with the quality of the products, but with the quality of their experience. When our customers open their packages from us, they’re greeted with colorful tissue (in our corporate colors, of course) sealed with a sticker displaying our logo and URL, and recipes that use the Cool Tools they’ve purchased. We want them to feel as though they’ve received a gift, even though it’s one they’ve paid for.

What made you use crowdSPRING?

We were looking for a logo, and a friend recommendedcrowdSPRING, based upon his experience. We went in without knowing what to expect and were more than delighted with both the process and the result. By writing a detailed requirements document, we were able to get a variety of approaches to our logo and find one that worked perfectly for us, all at a reasonable price. The infrastructure that crowdSPRING provides is simple to use, yet effective. We’re both lawyers by training and experience, and we appreciated the simplicity and comprehensiveness of the agreements that crowdSPRING designed. They work for us, and apparently they work for the artists too. That’s a win-win!

What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?  

The craziest story is probably how we got started. We’ve both always loved to cook and entertain…and to find the perfect tool to make it all easier to do. Along the way we came up with some ideas for tools we wanted to “invent”. Knowing nothing about creating a product, we decided to go to the International Housewares Show in Chicago to see what was out there that might be competitive, to get some ideas, and maybe to find a manufacturer to bring our ideas to life. So we registered and got badges that dubbed us a “Trade Guest”. Little did we know (although we soon found out) that “Trade Guest” on your badge means that you’re regarded as a lurker and not a buyer, and even the nicest manufacturers’ representative won’t give you the time of day.

So to get people to talk to us, we had to develop a cover story: we started saying that we were planning to start an online-only business selling a limited number of high-design high-functionality tools to make life easier for home cooks like us, and we would write original content about why we thought they were “cool”. In addition, we’d sell only those products that we personally used and felt comfortable recommending to others.

The reaction was extremely positive and immediate: people started talking to us, saying they liked the idea and that no one was doing that. By lunchtime, we’d refined our pitch and, that night at dinner, our cover story became our business plan. For now, the rest is history!

If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?

Nothing major. At just over 1-year old, we’re still learning and perfecting …but everything we’ve done so far has contributed to our knowledge base, and we’re using the lessons to continue to grow the business. Let’s check-in again a year from now and see how our plans for 2013 have panned out!

How do you see your company growing in the future?

More customers and more sales, while maintaining the personalized service that we provide now: in the product selections, the “voice” of our content, and the ordering and fulfillment process.

Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company. 

Be smart, work hard, have fun!