Oil & Vinegar, an Oosterhout, Netherlands-based high-end store and online retailer of more than 300 olive oils, vinegars, and other gourmet goodies from all over the world, wants to add seven U.S. outlets this year to complement its eight locations in Washington, Montana, Virginia, North Carolina, Oregon, and Texas, nearly doubling its system to 15. The company is increasing its focus on untapped U.S. markets in 2012, with new stores slated for Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, and Louisiana.
Oil & Vinegar comp store growth from 2010 to 2011 was 8% and comp store growth Q1 2012 over Q1 2011 was 12%, and company executives believe the attractiveness of the concept is due to its unique touch and feel customer experience (customers can taste all products without purchase), unique gift-giving options for any occasion, and the Americans’ surging interest in cooking shows, identifying with celebrity chefs, and the appreciation of the unique products they use.
The culinary “boutique shop” concept brings together a wide range of international food and cooking products, all designed to please the senses and are presented in alluring, contemporary Mediterranean-style surroundings. In addition to hundreds of products stocked within, each Oil & Vinegar has a visually striking Amphora Wall lined with dozens of glass containers holding large quantities of oils and vinegars ready for pouring into customers’ personal vessels.
Such access to open containers lets store associates teach customers about different products and allows them to smell, taste, and touch products before they buy. With over 300 products available, Oil & Vinegar staff have undergone extensive study and are highly knowledgeable of the product offering and how to use each item, which creates a better experience for the consumer
Terry and Dana Hunter (husband and wife) are the franchise owners of the Oil & Vinegar store in Biltmore Park, Asheville, North Carolina. Dana was a dental assistant and office manager for the past 30 years. Terry is still currently working at his career as a sales rep for a dental company.
Franchise Chatter (FC): What initially attracted you to the Oil & Vinegar franchise opportunity?
Terry Hunter (TH): We were on vacation in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina in September of 2010, and happened upon one of the franchises. As soon as we saw the wall of amphoras full of oils and vinegars, we looked at each other and said, “Wow, this could be it!” We had looked at a number of other franchise opportunities but none really seem to fit until we saw Oil & Vinegar. The concept and the products were outstanding.
FC: What specific steps did you take to determine whether this was the right business for you?
TH: We looked into several oil and vinegar business models. We even looked into starting our own oil and vinegar business, but after spending several hours in conversation with Matt Stermer, the U.S. president of Oil & Vinegar, we decided that Oil & Vinegar was the right choice for us.
FC: What do you think about being one of the first Oil & Vinegar franchisees in the U.S? What have you found to be the advantages and disadvantages of being part of a relatively small franchise system (at least in the U.S.)?
TH: We are very excited about being one of the first franchise owners in the U.S.. There hasn’t been anything like Oil & Vinegar in the U.S. up to this point. We are part of an up-and-coming, new concept. We feel Oil & Vinegar will be a household name very soon. The only disadvantage we can see in being part of a small franchise system is that there are some things that are trial and error.
FC: What do your customers say they like most about your Oil & Vinegar store? What product lines do you sell the most of?
Dana Hunter (DH): Our customers love being able to taste almost everything in the store and the way the oils and vinegars are displayed in the amphoras and fustis. We sell a lot of the on tap oils and vinegars and dried herb mixes.
FC: What would you say are the top 3 factors that contribute the most to the success of an Oil & Vinegar store?
DH: I would say that the location, energetic employees, and wonderful products are the three most important factors.
FC: What have you found to be the most effective ways to market and promote your store to the community?
DH: We have found that offsite events like wine tastings and in-store events such as “Ladies Night Out” are great ways to market ourselves, in addition to monthly publications and resort maps.
FC: What is your typical day like as an owner of an Oil & Vinegar store?
DH: A typical day would involve us first arriving at the store to help set up and get the store ready for opening. Then we move on to more administrative work such as reading and answering e-mails, checking inventory levels, preparing reports, and making employee schedules. After that’s done, we work on the retail floor and are always meeting new and interesting people.
FC: What do you like most about being an Oil & Vinegar franchisee? What do you like the least?
DH: What I love the most about being a franchisee is being my own boss and working with the public. My least favorite thing is all the paper work.
FC: What are the staffing needs of your store? Has it been difficult to find good sales associates? Please describe your training process for sales associates.
DH: I started out with two full time and two part time employees (including myself) and after two months, I hired two more part time and one more full time employee. Now that summer has arrived, I am looking for at least one more part time person. Finding the right employees has been a bit of a challenge because they need to know how to cook, how to interact with the public, and have outgoing personalities. Training is left to each store, so I have created a training manual for every employee and I try to spend several weeks training them side by side as I want them trained.
FC: What are your growth targets for your Oil & Vinegar business in 2012, and beyond?
DH: We have been asked many times if we are going to open more stores and the answer we always give is that if we were younger and had more energy then yes, we absolutely would! We do want to take our store as far as we can within our franchise and help it grow in that way, but we do not have plans to open more stores at this time.
To learn more about Oil & Vinegar, check out their website.