Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Store opens in Anchorage with a splash!

We were fairly sure that the people of Anchorage would take fondly to our concept when we signed on Brent & Vickie Rose to open in the 5th Ave Mall.  But following the first two weeks of business, our heads are spinning as to how much Alaskans love Oil & Vinegar!  After opening on November 1st, the store has been packed with customers every day.  At this rate, we may well have our top performing store a year from now.

Now,  more about our newest franchise owners in Alaska and a peek at their beautiful store.


Name:   Brent and Vickie Rose                                                  
Opening Date:  November 1, 2012                                                        
Location: Anchorage, Alaska
Phone Number:  907-333-4982                                               

How did you learn about the brand?

We actually learned about Oil & Vinegar from our oldest daughter, who discovered the store while living in London for an internship. She had taken a day trip to Bath and found the store there. She immediately called home and told us we absolutely had to see this store.

When we went to England to visit her, we took the train to Bath and fell in love. We bought a bunch of product and, upon our return, did some research to see if there were any locations in the United States. We discovered the location in Bellevue, Washington, and started a conversation with Matt Stermer to see how we could become part of the concept.

What was appealing to you about joining the Oil & Vinegar franchise system?

We have been interested ever since visiting the location in Bath. Vickie has always loved to cook and has wanted to start some sort of food-related business for a long time. Originally, Vickie wanted to have her own restaurant or catering business, but that is a lot more work than we wanted to get into on our own.

Matt let us know that franchise opportunities were available, so we took the information and kind of filed it away so we could talk about the idea. We started to get very serious about the idea of opening our own Oil & Vinegar in Anchorage. With the support from the corporate side, it was the perfect way for us to still do something food-related and operate our own business. The concept of Oil & Vinegar is inspired by cooking and we now get to share that with the community.

What makes your business different?

We actually met each other while working at McDonalds. I (Brent) had managed a location for 5 years – Vickie did the same, focusing more on accounting and lower-level management. We believe since we each have that management experience while operating in a franchise, we have a better insight into this business and hope to make it a success.

What challenges have you overcome to get where you are now?

Financing a new business is always a challenge, so there were some hurdles we needed to get over and that took several months, but other than that, nothing really stopped us.

Do you see any parallels between your previous work and now?

Again, our experience working at McDonalds will come in handy with this new business of ours.

What are your expansion or development plans?

For now, we are going to focus on getting our first location in Anchorage up and running. With our location, we will be catering to both the greater Anchorage area as well as the bush communities with our mail order side. In Alaska, this is actually better than opening another location, as many areas tend to be remote.

We will be located at the 5th Avenue Mall, which is right between two convention centers and the military base, so we hope to see lots and lots of traffic at our store.

Do you have any other interesting hobbies or passions?

We have a small airplane that we love to fly on the weekends! We also love cross country skiing and snowshoeing. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

New Store Opens in New Orleans market

We are excited to report the opening on October 9, 2012 of the 9th Oil &Vinegar location.  A grand opening event is scheduled for Thursday, November 8th.   Read on to find our more about our newest franchise partner, Pemmie Sheasby, charged with development of the brand in the state of Louisiana.

Name: Pemmie Sheasby
Opening Date: October 8, 2012
Location: Nord du Luc Shopping Center - Covington, Louisiana
Phone Number: 504 610-5963      

An interview with Pemmie Sheasby, new Multi-unit partner for the state of Louisiana.

How did you learn about the Oil & Vinegar brand?

I was at a convention in Idaho where I learned about the brand, and later had spent some time in Spokane where I visited the Oil & Vinegar store in the mall that had just opened. I really liked the concept – they took me through the store and had me try different items, and I just fell in love with the idea. I took a franchise brochure with me but at that time it was not right for me to start my own business.

Fast forward several years, and after doing a lot of research, I decided I wanted to go for it and open my own location in the New Orleans market.

What makes your local business different?

In the New Orleans market, the variety of international products we offer and the knowledge of the staff really set us apart from the other competitors and/or stores selling gourmet specialty items.  We let people try all the products before buying. If you try something and don’t like it, you don’t buy it. It’s all about the taste.  Our focus on providing personalized advice and gift packaging for the guest looking for that unique and healthy gift idea will also allow us to differentiate our service.

We are also truly a family business – I have 3 daughters, all plan to be involved.

What challenges have you overcome to get where you are now?

The hardest part was picking the location of the store. I also financed the store by using my 401k, risking my retirement.

What are your expansion or development plans?

At the beginning of 2013 my plan is to start exploring opening a store in Baton Rouge, then in 2014 expanding to Lafayette.  The goal is to open a total of three stores within the next 2-3 years.  Each store will employ about 10 people.

Do you have any other interesting hobbies or passions?

I love to play golf, I take ballroom dancing. Love to cook, scrap-booking, and I love to sing.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Gearing up to open our first store in California this Fall

Oil & Vinegar, which offers various gourmet culinary products, set to open in Valencia in the fall

By Jana Adkins
Signal Business Editor
661-259-1234 x599
July 28, 2012

Oil & Vinegar, a culinary boutique shop bringing together a wide range of international food and cooking products, is opening this fall at the Westfield Valencia Town Center. It will be the company’s first store to open in California.

More than a mundane shopping experience, however, this retailer builds the smell, taste and touch experience into the store for customers. Stocked with oils, vinegars and herbs, spices, pastas, sauces, chocolates and thousands of items – all focused on the flavor – the store brings home the experience of an old-fashioned deli where shoppers taste and learn while they browse.

Looking for a business opportunity, local residents Richard and Lynn Levinson discovered Oil & Vinegar at one of the last exhibition booths at the West Coast Franchise Expo at the Los Angeles Convention Center in November 2011.

“We fell in love with it,” Lynn said. “It reminded me of when I toured through Tuscany, (Italy,) and tooled through a culinary gift shop. I loved it and loved the idea.”

Customers, allowed to sample oils and vinegars imported from artisan producers around the world, can either buy bottles from the store or bring their own bottles in from home to fill them with their favorite culinary delights.

The oils and vinegars are served on tap from glass vessels, Lynn said.


Launched as a gift-shop boutique in the Netherlands in 1999, the concept of Oil & Vinegar came from the original founder after traveling in Southern Europe and shopping in the local deli markets.

The business model is based on opening franchise-owned stores.

The company positions its stores in upscale malls, based on area demographics, because more than half of the business is driven by gifts, with the average purchase being $40, said Matt Stermer, president and CEO for the U.S. branch of operations.

Oil & Vinegar, while newer to the U.S. market, is opening five stores this year and plans to open eight to 10 stores next year. It projects two to three more stores will be coming to California because the “economy is breaking loose right now” Stermer said.

“The international flare in our assortment is our selling point; 90 percent of the products are sourced in Europe,” he said. “But we also have California products because it’s the only real olive oil producing state in the country.”

The guest experience is so critical, he said, that the company selects owner/operators who have a passion for the business and who will work in the store to ensure customers get the best service.


Initial franchise fees are $25,000 in addition to a 5-percent royalty on gross sales. Franchise operators are required to invest 3 percent of gross sales on marketing locally.

But for those with a passion for food, a strong credit history and a recommended net worth of $250,000 — of which $60,000 is liquid — franchise owners are partnered with real estate and architecture and construction management consultants to guide them through the process of opening of 900 to 1,500 square foot store.

After spotting the business opportunity at the franchise convention, the local residents since 1988 jumped on the prospect of opening an Oil & Vinegar boutique store.

Local owners

The Levinsons researched other novelty stores and did their own market research first, said Richard Levinson. They also found all the other Oil & Vinegar stores were doing very well so they began speaking with Stermer and picking his brain, he said.

The couple ordered samples from many Oil & Vinegar stores and found in all cases the products to be consistent and delicious; assuring them of the quality of products they’d be carrying.

“We knew then that we wanted to do it and worked on obtaining a loan,” Lynn Levinson said. “It’s expensive for people to eat out and we can help them bring incredible flavors to the home.”

The architectural design is just wrapping up and the couple is excited about their location near Williams Sonoma and all the restaurants on The Patio as it will give them a lot of exposure, Richard said.

“We’re shooting for early November to open,” he said.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Olive Oil Franchisers Tapping U.S. foodies for growth

Story published by The from interview with Matt Stermer.
BELLEVUE, Wash. (TheStreet) -- Want to cook like The Food Network's Giada De Laurentiis, but when you try to repeat her Northern Italian recipes your efforts fall flat? Maybe it's the ingredients you're using. For instance, the generic olive oil you bought on sale at the supermarket probably doesn't live up to the extra virgin Italian olive oil that Giada likely uses on her cooking show.
Oil & Vinegar, a Netherlands-based high-end retailer of more than 300 olive oils, aged vinegars and other specialty goods, is looking to fill that niche by appealing to the foodie and "moonlighting" chef who resides in front of many a U.S. kitchen stove top.
With eight stores already in the U.S., and plans to open seven more locations this year, Oil & Vinegar is betting that bringing the charm of Old World culinary art to U.S. customers is its best global franchise growth opportunity.
"We want guests to leave our store saying 'Wow. I just left Europe,'" says Matt Stermer, president and CEO of Oil & Vinegar USA. "We are all about an experience that touches all of the senses. Walk into a store and you are catapulted into southern Europe -- the smell of vinegar and herbs, the tastings throughout the store and the sound element capped off with the music from Mediterranean."
Essential to the experience is a wall lined with large glass containers of oils and vinegars, from which customers can taste and pour products into their own containers. By essentially making the experience as hands-on and as educational as possible with recipes and recommendations, customers will be more likely to purchase the gourmet goods for themselves and equally for their friends and family.
Oil & Vinegar says it doesn't cater to professional chefs. "We cater more to the person that is the food enthusiast and loves to cook, entertain and share," Stermer says.
Founded 13 years ago, the Oosterhout, Netherlands-based company was started by John Blogg. Blogg was on a trip to Southern Europe and saw the way the local markets and shops were selling olive oil and vinegar in large containers and how it created a great social experience. Blogg thought this social retail concept would take off in other parts of the world, according to Stermer.
There are currently 80 franchisee-owned Oil & Vinegar locations globally. In addition to the U.S., countries include: the U.K., Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Germany, Portugal, South Africa, Brazil and, soon the company will be opening its first franchise in Canada.
The company implemented its official U.S. franchise program for the stores in 2008 -- the first U.S. location was opened in 2004 -- and so far the stores are doing well.
Oil & Vinegar's comparative U.S. store sales growth for 2011 was 8% higher than 2010. Comp-store sales growth in the first quarter of 2012 rose 12% over the same period a year earlier, according to company data.
Oil & Vinegar is now thinking of its expansion plan in the U.S. more strategically by focusing on markets where there is a strong food culture and consumers have more sophisticated food palates, says Stermer, a former Nike (NKE) executive who is also a franchisee of one of the original four U.S. stores just outside of Seattle. (The other three stores include one in Charlottesville, Va.; Missoula, Montana and Woodlands, Texas.)
New stores are slated to open this year in Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida and Louisiana. The company expects to be able to open eight to 10 stores a year in the coming years, with the hope to reach roughly 200 stores in the U.S.
Another aspect important to the success of Oil & Vinegar stores is foot traffic, one reason why the stores are primarily located in upscale malls: "Our average price ticket is around $38. [We're] not selling $500-$600 items, so we need foot traffic and specifically, we require gift shopping traffic," Stermer says. "We estimate that nearly half of a store's sales are purchases given as gifts."
The company considers Godiva, gourmet tea company Teavana and Williams Sonoma (WSM) to be some of its prominent brand competitors in the gift space.
"What's interesting is we want to be next to them. We share the same consumer and we believe we are able to deliver a higher level of service," Stermer says.
Stermer acknowledges that the original stores were opened without much thought given to strategic location, but rather by passionate foodies who saw the idea overseas and wanted to bring it to their hometowns.
He adds that the formal expansion plan exists now, if a potential franchisee can make a case for a store opening in an area outside of a targeted market, Oil & Vinegar would certainly consider it.
Specialty Food Sector
Research shows sales of consumer goods in general have remained flat over the past two years, but the gourmet gift category increased by double digits. Americans' surging interest in cooking shows, identifying with celebrity chefs and the products they use has likely helped this trend as well, Stermer says.

Sales of specialty foods from 2009 to 2011 rose 19.1%, currently topping $75 billion, and compared with all food sales growth of 5.1%, according to The National Association for the Specialty Food Trade .
Specialty foods represent just shy of 14% of all retail food sales. Eight years ago that number was significantly less, says Ron Tanner, vice president of communications at NASFT.
It's not only the expansion of products, but increased visibility of specialty goods at venues like Bed, Bath and Beyond (BBB), Target (TGT), and even supermarkets that are trying to upscale their selection of products that makes for greater demand, Tanner says.
"There are a lot of companies that are really seeing great potential in going into the industry. You have companies like Whole Foods (WFM) and Traders Joe's, small specialty food stores that are beginning to open up second and third locations, and you have a lot of creative entrepreneurs who are opening specialty food shops," Tanner says.
Olive oil is the third most purchased category for specialty foods behind chocolate and coffee, he says.
Oil & Vinegar is not the first to come to the U.S. with the idea of selling gourmet oils and vinegars. Indeed, it's an up and coming sub-sector of the gourmet food industry. Names like Oliovera of Los Angeles and Oilerie of Fish Creek, Wisc., have also figured out how to franchise a store that sells olive oil.
And one way to keep the costs down for owners is having them buy product in bulk and not pay for all the added necessities -- like labeling and bottling, Tanner says.
Typically, "the cost of the oil in that bottle is not the main cost of what you're paying for. By buying in bulk, it takes all that [added] cost away. From the consumer's view, they're getting a better product at a lower price," he says.
Curt Campbell, who founded Oilerie with his wife Mary Jo in 2004, has 7 franchise stores. After a trip to Europe where the couple saw an Oil & Vinegar store and noticed that even delis in Poland were doing a similar thing with liquors and honey, Campbell couldn't understand why the concept wasn't in the U.S. Beyond the high-end foodie factor, Campbell also thought about olive oil's myriad of health-related benefits as a substitute for butter.
The couple trademarked the olive oil bar concept and business took off from there. Last year, the company combined did $750,000 in retail sales (excluding wholesale and web sales).
"There is this real hunger for olive oil knowledge in America," Campbell says. "We understand that our opportunity is to educate the customer ... What we're doing at the Oilerie is just taking them by the hand and showing them this is what olive oil is all about."
Campbell says in order to bring in the highest profit, the company keeps square footage of the stores to a minimum. Sales areas are only 325 square feet. He also uses only one bottle size.
Stermer says it comes back to the experience customers receive while in the stores. "A big part of which is our broad product selection plus the service we supply. We believe the international d├ęcor, the quality of our products, and this unmatched experience produce a 'Wow' factor translating into a massive differentiator for our concept in the market," he says.
Whether it's a tasting bar or gift purchase, new and different ways are opening up for consumers to shop and purchase olive oil -- and for franchise-minded business owners and investors, it could be a concept worth tapping into.
-- Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Interview with Franchise Chatter

An Interview with Matt Stermer, CEO of Oil & Vinegar USA: “Our Mission is to Be the Consumer’s First Choice When Looking for a Unique and ‘Tasteful’ Gift for Any Occasion” 

Franchise Chatter (FC):  For the benefit of those unfamiliar, what is the concept behind Oil & Vinegar?
Matt Stermer, President and CEO of Oil & Vinegar USA
Matt Stermer, President and CEO of Oil & Vinegar USA
Matt Stermer (MS): Oil & Vinegar brings together a wide range of international food and cooking products in alluring, Mediterranean-style surroundings. Our mission is to be the consumer’s first choice when looking for a unique and “tasteful” gift for any occasion. The focus is not only on the attractiveness of the gift, but ultimately its flavor and ability to accent both the palate and table.
Our product lines and everything we do at Oil & Vinegar reflect our focus – being “passionate about taste”. We pride ourselves in offering the best local specialties from Italy, Spain, Greece, France, South Africa, Australia, and other international food destinations.
One will find an assortment of imported delights with a distinct Mediterranean flair, like bottled and “on-tap” oils and vinegars, mustards, sauces, salad dressings, olives, grilled vegetables, sun-dried tomatoes, honeys, fig spreads, fondue chocolates, dried herb mixes, spices, and a variety of flavored pastas.
To accent our gourmet tastes, a fine selection of ceramic table wares, cruets, kitchen accessories, salt and pepper mills, international cookbooks, and other culinary accessories fill the shelves.
FC:  What is the origin of the brand?  What are some of the key milestones in the company’s history to date?
MS:  Oil & Vinegar was founded in the Netherlands in 1999. By 2002, the company had expanded the concept internationally to the United Kingdom, Germany, and Belgium. We entered the U.S. market in 2004 and today you can find over 90 Oil & Vinegar stores in 9 countries spanning three continents.
After receiving awards in the Netherlands for Best Food Specialty Chain and Gift Shop, Oil & Vinegar received recognition upon the launch of its first store in the U.S. in 2004, including Grand Prize in the Food Retailer category of the National Association of Store Fixture Manufacturers’ (NASFM) 2005 Retail Design Awards. In addition, the retail executive magazine Chain Store Age awarded Oil & Vinegar the 2004 Retail Store of the Year Award in the Specialty Food category.
FC:  How has the concept been received by American consumers so far?
Oil & Vineger Muehlheim Store FrontMS:  We have had tremendous success in the U.S. market, appealing to all age groups by delivering an unmatched shopping experience.  In recent years, the American consumer has become more educated and discerning about the oils and vinegars they consume and there is a real positive trend with gourmet food gifting.

FC:  Who is the target customer for Oil & Vinegar stores?
MS:  We appeal to consumers looking for premium products to use in their cooking or entertaining, as well as gift shoppers.  We find that our core consumer is not a chef, but a discerning foodie who demands quality in their gourmet ingredients and values the ability to sample and receive recommendations for using the products prior to purchasing.
FC:  Can you describe some unique elements of the store experience?
MS:  At Oil & Vinegar, customers are referred to as guests, and the guests are invited to smell, taste, and touch products before purchasing.  The retail philosophy revolves around three key aspects of a consumer visit:  Experience, Service, and Taste.
Guests are encouraged to sample products at their leisure and receive advice on product use, recipe ideas, and recommendations for that one-of-a-kind gift that is tastefully gift wrapped at no extra charge.
The focal point of the store is the “amphora wall,” where an international selection of over 40 estate-produced oils and vinegars are suspended in glass containers (amphoras) on a dramatic rock wall or stored in stainless Italian Fusti drums. Customers can sample the varieties, select from over 15 different shaped and sized bottles to have filled, or bring bottles in from a previous purchase to have refilled with an “on-tap” product of choice.
The Oil & Vinegar shop ambiance reflects this philosophy. Products are attractively presented, the music is carefully selected to reflect the cultures of product origin, and lighting brings the stores to life.
FC:  Can you give us an idea of the sales mix (by product category) of a typical Oil & Vinegar store?
  • Oil & Vinegar Shop InteriorDried Herb Blends and Sea Salts:  16.0%
  • Household Ceramics and Accessories: 10.0%
  • Appetizers, Tapenades, and Pestos:  5.0%
  • Oil and Vinegar Pre-packed:  13.0%
  • “On Tap” Oil and Vinegars:  44.0%
  • Pasta and Risotto:  2.0%
  • Sauces and Dressings: 5.0%
  • Sweets (Honey, Jams, and Chocolate): 3.0%
  • Cook Books: 2.0%
FC:  What do you look for in a prospective Oil & Vinegar franchisee?
MS:  We are seeking food-crazy entrepreneurs who share our passion and commitment to operating a retail shop in a professional and profitable manner. The individual’s personal or soft skills are just as important to us as direct business skills.  We look for such things as prior retail experience, customer service skills, people management, solid business acumen, upstanding community involvement, ability to meet financial qualifications, a desire to succeed by following a proven operating system, and last but not least, a clear passion for our products.
FC:  What is the ideal location and geographic territory for an Oil & Vinegar store?
MS:  Given the gift appeal of our store, we target locations with a significant amount of shopping footfall. So upscale shopping centers (enclosed or outdoor/lifestyle) tend to be where we look first in a market we are entering.  Our ideal geographic market is one which is influenced by an educated consumer palate and holds a population base (local and tourism driven) which will draw over 50,000 unique visitors to the store a year.
FC:  What kind of training and support do you offer your franchisees?
Oil & Vinegar Amphora WallMS:  We are in the process of expanding our training program to include a 2-week initial training focused on developing the business competencies, product knowledge, and systems and operational capabilities of the franchisee. This will take place 3-4 weeks prior to store opening. Then, a hands-on training and support program is delivered once the store buildout is complete, which spans approximately one week prior to opening for business and a week following the first cash register ring.  Ongoing support and training follow-up is provided on a case by case basis.  Merchandising guidance, new product education, and marketing support are provided monthly.
FC:  What can you tell us about the estimated initial investment, royalty fees, and profit potential for an Oil & Vinegar store?
MS:  What we disclose in our FDD are the following details:
  • Startup investment range:  $202k to $356k (includes all initial costs and working capital provision)
  • Initial franchise fee for a single unit/territory: $25k
  • Ongoing royalty fee:  5% (based on gross sales)
  • Profitability is impacted by numerous factors and we suggest prospects contact similar profile/market store locations to determine potential outcomes.
FC:  Can you name a few franchises (inside or outside your category) that you admire, and why?
  • UPS Store – They have a system that is extremely well aligned with corporate identity and runs like clockwork.  I believe they have done an amazing job connecting the retail brand to the corporate brand to leverage that universal identity.  I suspect that most people are not aware that UPS store locations are franchisee owned/operated.
  • TCBY – This brand was the pioneer in their market and have had to continually re-invent their model over time to maintain or recapture market share from new/innovative brands.  When I go into a new TCBY store, I really get the brand experience via a fresh new look that conveys the work this franchise has put in to stay relevant with their consumer.
FC:  What are your growth plans for Oil & Vinegar in 2012 and beyond?  How do you plan to achieve these targets?
Oil & Vinegar Tasting TableMS:  We are on target to open 5 more stores in 2012 and our plan is to open an additional 8 in 2013 in various markets, including an expansion to Western Canada.
We are seeing a significant number of new prospects surfacing after visiting one of our stores and becoming enamored with the uniqueness of our concept.   Our newest (3rd generation) store design is extremely compelling and a key to our continued success in this market.
There is a trend in the retail market going on now for “on-tap” oil and vinegar tasting bars.  We believe our concept stands out amongst our competition given our product selection and the vertical integration of our brand for the vast majority of our products.  Our goal is to have 95%+ of our line carrying our own Oil & Vinegar brand, which identifies the product as premium quality and connects back to the service we provide when shopping in our stores.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

State of the Specialty Food Industry

Great news from the National Association for the Specialty Food Trade (NASFT), US Retail and food service sales of specialty foods and beverage (the category we compete in at Oil & Vinegar) rose 6.9% in 2011, topping $75 billion.

I have posted the highlights from the study below....

“Consumers are making better food a part of their lifestyle,” says Ron Tanner, vp, communications and education, for the NASFT. “They are embracing new foods and flavors and are willing to choose top-quality even while they economize elsewhere.”

Behind the numbers, manufacturers, importers, brokers, distributors and retailers interviewed for the study are talking about growth opportunities for specialty food and the challenges they face. Cash flow, rising expenses for raw materials and energy, and increasing competition are top concerns.

On the retail side, the average transaction size for Specialty Food Stores jumped 11.4 percent to $41.49.

These findings are presented in The State of the Specialty Food Industry 2012, an annual report from the NASFT prepared in conjunction with market researchers Mintel International and SPINS. The report tracks sales of specialty food through supermarkets, natural food stores and specialty food retailers.

Here are some highlights from the report:

  • Specialty foods represent 13.7 percent of all food sales at retail.
  • Kosher is the leading claim for new specialty food products, followed by all natural.
  • Natural food stores are the fastest growing retail channel, with a sales increase of 19.8 percent from 2009 – 2011.
  • In 2011, 41 percent of specialty food manufacturers reported a sales increase of more than 20 percent.
  • Local is the most influential product claim today, according to three-quarters of retailers surveyed and two-thirds say the claim will grow the most in the next three years.