Sur La Table: From cooking class to loyal customer

Nadee Bandaranayake
Retail Gets Real
is sponsored by
Listen and subscribe

Don’t miss an episode: Subscribe to Retail Gets Real via Apple PodcastsGoogle PodcastsSpotify or Stitcher.

With 134 stores in 32 states and counting, Sur La Table is one of the nation’s largest kitchenware retailers. A huge component of the business is its culinary school — more than 80 stores have an in-store cooking school with classes taught by employee resident chefs, and over 600,000 students annually take advantage of them. “We’re actually the largest non-professional cooking school in the country,” CEO Billy May says.

On this episode of Retail Gets Real, May discusses how culinary experiences set the business apart and how the brand is evolving to stay ahead of rapidly changing trends.

“That combination of product and experience, service and expertise are what separates Sur La Table."

Billy May
Sur La Table

Sur La Table’s business model is built around product, digital and the shopping experience. “That combination of product and experience, service and expertise are what separates Sur La Table,” May says, “and we can do it at scale.” The cooking school isn’t just good for the brand — it’s the retailer’s number one acquisition vehicle for new customers. “The experiential piece is really about how we get customers in,” he says, “and it's our opportunity to get customers back.” Up to half of the customers who finish a class go into the store and buy something afterward.

May’s challenge is bringing the “browse and discover” experience in the store into the digital world. One plan is a television series called “Scraps” that focuses on doing more with less in terms of food and cooking to reduce food waste. “We think it resonates with a consumer today who loves to be inspired by the amazing photography they might see in social,” May says, “and then they're disappointed when they get home, and they can't replicate it.” With the show, Sur La Table hopes to drive the inspiration that leads customers into the store.

Listen to the episode to hear about the latest culinary trends and what’s next for Sur La Table.

To hear other examples of retailers focusing on the shopping experience, listen to episode 67 from home hardware store TreeHouse and episode 78 from golf-centric PGA TOUR Superstore.

Nadee Bandaranayake is an assistant producer on NRF’s Retail Gets Real podcast. Meet all the co-hosts and learn more about the show.