Store closures highlight shift from retail to e-commerce

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Vancouver’s Cook Culture store will close at the end of August; owners are turning to online sales

Longtime Vancouver cookware store owners Jed and Regan Grieve plan to close their Cook Culture store at 377 Howe Street at the end of August and move to online sales.

The duo’s brick-and-mortar store in Victoria will remain open for the time being.

Their move out of a physical footprint in Vancouver comes as retail executives in the sector strategize and try to determine how much capital to allocate to physical versus digital operations.

Even retail executives whose businesses are fully online have found themselves grappling with tough decisions. Earlier this month, Vancouver-based e-commerce furniture seller Article laid off 216 employees, or 17% of its workforce.

CEO Aamir Baig said at the time that he had overestimated how much consumers’ shift to online shopping during the pandemic would persist post-pandemic, and that his workforce had ended up being larger than he could not justify it.

Jed Grieve said VBI that he and his wife wanted to close their store to focus on online sales, because that’s where their revenue growth happened.

The duo’s YouTube channel has about 20,500 subscribers and distributes a company newsletter to about 30,000 email accounts.

“We wanted to double our growth,” Grieve said. “Where we have seen growth over the past five years is the interaction with our customers outside of the store.”

He said he believes his customers are sophisticated and research online before making purchases, in part because his store sells high-end cookware and the prices of products are higher.

“Customers no longer come into the store to be educated,” he said.

In 2014, the Grieves spent an undisclosed amount to buy David Werner’s then 15-year-old cookware business named Cookworks. They renamed the business Cook Culture and flourished in part because their store had an on-site kitchen where the Grieves offered cooking classes to 16 people at a time.

COVID-19 prompted them to stop providing this on-site instruction, and they recently decided that the cooking class activity was not one they wanted to return to.

As a result, they have a store that’s too big for their needs, Grieve explained.

They spoke with their landlord, who quickly found a new tenant and allowed the Grieves to cancel their lease early.

Not having to pay tens of thousands of dollars in monthly rent for their 3,300 square foot store frees up capital to build a new studio on the couple’s property on Vancouver Island.

This venue should be where the Grieves produce educational videos for YouTube subscribers.

The couple maintain a 2,500 square foot warehouse in the same building as their Vancouver store, although their civic address is at 815 West Hastings Street. They plan to use it as a distribution hub because its central location makes product delivery more cost effective than moving distribution to Vancouver Island, Grieve said. Customers will also be able to pick up their orders here.

Closing their store reduces the number of employees to two full-time employees and one part-time employee, from four full-time employees.

About a third of the couple’s “millions” of annual income comes from e-commerce, Grieve said.

“It’s impossible to give a revenue growth rate at this time,” he said. “I could give a projection but it’s not a reality.”

Other entrepreneurs who had brick-and-mortar businesses left their businesses because they believe e-commerce sales are the future.

Vancouver Canucks eye doctor Alan Boyco sold his 18-location image optometry business to Specsavers last year.

He said VBI that he made this decision in part because he thinks brick-and-mortar optical stores are “doomed.”

Online tools for determining vision prescriptions and pupillary distances are about to get so good that consumers won’t pay optometrists for these services, he added.

Online eyewear seller KITS (TSX: KITS) operates a cafe that displays some of its eyewear, but CEO Roger Hardy said VBI that it does not plan to open new physical stores.

“I wouldn’t want to be in this business,” he said.

Data from eCommerceDB pegged the value of e-commerce in Canada at US$35.5 billion in 2021, up 14% from the previous year.

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