Walk into the new Yuppiechef store in Gardens Centre, Cape Town, and you’ll experience the kind of hedonist luxury that gastronomes long for. Sought-after brands are smartly displayed, showing an impressive depth of range. The store is all soft lighting, chrome surfaces, pleasing music and attentive, intelligent service. Much like Yuppiechef.com, the brick-and-mortar version of the upmarket retailer is yours to explore but, unlike the online store, here in the real world you can pick up an investment kitchen knife and feel its heft.
Yuppiechef has created an enviable brand online — the kind that customers respond to with engagement and loyalty, even adoration: “LOVE LOVE LOVE Yuppiechef!!” Lara Reeves, from Johannesburg, recently wrote on the brand’s Facebook page. “I love the immediate online chat I can have with a salesperson who helps me choose the right product from their HUGE range, to the way it arrives like a present just for me, as well as the quality of the goods. You have a customer for life.”
If retail is detail and you’ve mastered creating an online brand, why try to replicate this in the real world during a recession, when other retailers are in pain? Particularly given that Boardmans was closed by Edcon, as part of that group’s recovery plan (Edcon acquired the home store in 2004).
As of October 2018, Yuppiechef has four stores, all situated in Cape Town.
“We’ve been growing for many years online, but we’d often meet people who would say, ‘Oh, Yuppiechef! I love Yuppiechef. We get your newsletters. We know so much about you guys’,” says Andrew Smith, CEO. “We’d say, ‘What have you bought from us?’” Smith acts out the role of a shamefaced fan who has yet to make their first purchase. “‘Oh. Nothing’,” he says in a tiny voice, emulating the awkward response of a fan who has yet to become a customer.
Physical retail experience
Shopping in SA remains overwhelmingly dominated by the physical retail experience. Like their peers in Dubai, locals like to go to malls for fun. This is what we do for entertainment.
Retail sales figures in SA broke new barriers in 2017 by exceeding the R1tn mark, according to research by the South African Council of Shopping Centres and Urban Studies. The survey, titled SA Shopping Centre Benchmarks 1998–2018, estimates that malls accounted for some 65% of this total.
How is online retail doing by comparison? According to Arthur Goldstuck of World Wide Worx, less than 2% of retail revenue is spent online. Considering the rise of real-world retail locally, Yuppiechef’s play, flipping the trolley on the expected practice by going from online to physical makes sense. Fundamentally the luxury retailer’s decision is driven by its vision of retail tomorrow. “This isn’t an ‘either-or’ question,” Smith says. “The future of retail isn’t online or offline; it is omnichannel.”
Omnichannel is the strategy that smart retailers are looking at to consolidate and effectively deal with digital disruption. The idea is to integrate all one’s marketing channels to provide a unified shopping experience for the user. For Yuppiechef, by way of example, this means having QR codes on every pricetag in store, so that shoppers can quickly read reviews of products online using their phones or tablets. Click, click and items are easily added to wishlists. In an omnichannel world, at checkout, the customer’s delivery and billing details are instantly on hand for guarantee and returns purposes.
“I think the future for most retail is going to be: this is the brand, they are a retail brand, and you can shop on your phone, you can shop on your computer, you can go into the store, or you can phone in. A customer can stand in a store and use their phone if they’d like. Integration is the retailer’s challenge. Customers just want to see one consolidated brand, rather than make choices across fragmented channels,” Yuppiechef’s CEO explains.
A massive advantage for Yuppiechef is that its physical stores operate as individual cost centres divorced from head office costs. In traditional retail, head office costs like HR, marketing, finance, buying, planning, and the like have to be borne by each store. But, for Yuppiechef, the cost of the nerve centre is already covered by the online business. “Yes, there’s rent and staff and shopfitting costs, but none of the head office costs is being put on the stores, so the stores are doing well in that sense,” Smith says, adding that there is a rough equivalence between delivery costs of an online order and rental in a mall, in terms of overheads.
Another advantage that Yuppiechef has, Smith says, is the ready availability of skilled professionals in the retail space. “There are so many good people: sales assistants and store managers and regional managers; there are shopfitters, audio guys, people who clean and so on. Because that industry has been going for so long that, even if we don’t know how to do it, it’s relatively easy to find people who do,” he adds.
Yuppiechef believes another competitive edge is its decision never to compromise on quality. “When it came to the physical stores, there wasn’t a technology system that could handle everything the way we wanted. We just couldn’t find an integrated point of sale system that would tick all the boxes, so we built our own,” Smith says.
“When our customers check out, we want them to choose what they want. Now they can say: ‘OK, I’ll take this one with me, but deliver this item directly to my home.’ The system needs to know your address, or help you easily set up a wedding registry, or whatever else a customer needs. We wanted a seamless continuation of the online experience. It was a massive project backed by loads of research, but we just had to figure it out.”
What helps is Yuppiechef’s innovative, entrepreneurial culture. Smith’s team built the point-of-sale software in under three months. “We have a small team that does miraculous work, and are used to doing things quickly,” he says.
Smith and his partners decided from the start not to try and compete by price — only the top-designed, best-quality items are stocked. Yuppiechef also instituted a tradition that creates a personalised experience for shoppers: with each purchase, a handwritten note is included. In a world of automation, it appears that being intentionally human, and personalised, has made a difference.
“The big differentiator for us is that human touch,” Smith says. “But the biggest challenge remains to get people — even diehard fans — to make that first purchase.”
Andrew Smith’s Yuppiechef insights
“South Africans love shopping in physical stores — that’s the big learning you can’t get away from.”
“It is one thing setting up a store and making it perfect on an opening day. Think of this as a wedding with the months, and months, of preparation. Now imagine you have a wedding the next day. And the next. In retail, you can’t afford for the flowers to get old, or the band not to pitch because they’re tired. You have to be on, and pull off a great wedding, every day, 365 days a year. The name of the game is consistency.”
“As you grow you need to build up institutional knowledge and momentum, so that day after day, month after month, you are still as perfect as you were on opening day.”