When the Soviet Union collapsed more than 20 years ago, it was clear that an idealistic sea change was just beginning. But, certain cultural shifts—like how people live, shop and dine—are difficult to predict many years down the road. Fortunately, some entrepreneurial minds are paying close attention to new attitudes and desires, and are there to meet the demands of Russia’s growing middle class.
CookHouse is the country’s first retailer dedicated to those who love to cook, featuring kitchenware and small appliances. The debut flagship opened last year, in Moscow’s Golden Babylon Shopping and Entertainment Center. Evgeny Butman is chairman of Ideas4Retail, which operates a handful of international brands in Russia. But, CookHouse is the company’s first unique brand creation, catering to a new middle class who, after enjoying the liberation of finally being able to dine out during the ’90s and early 2000s, now is re-discovering the delights of eating in.
“For many families, cooking at home has now become a form of entertainment, an opportunity to spend their free time together and invite friends over, and a fun way to demonstrate their individuality or healthy lifestyle,” Butman explains. “Subsequently, the attitude to kitchenware has also changed—with a more selective and demanding approach to the products. This new type of consumer is typically a well-traveled person who knows what they want. To date, there have been no specialized kitchenware retail chains in Russia that could satisfy this demand, which presented an opportunity for us. We researched international best practices and realized the great potential to create something similar and even better in Russia.”
The London office of Columbus, Ohio-based design, branding and architectural agency FITCH seemed to fit the bill when it came to designing the 7,104-sq.-ft. Moscow flagship. The store is brightly lit and white, with accents of sage, mushroom and a warm, energetic orange throughout. The kitchen feel is palpable, with an abundance of tile, wood and stainless steel surfaces. Michelle Hardy, design director for FITCH, says each area of the store is divided by a charcoal-colored “inspiration panel” that features a hand-drawn chalk graphic on it.
“We created a feature that’s part graphic and part sculptural element for customers to gain inspiration and helpful hints,” Hardy says. “The example we gave at the wine area was what kind of wine glasses to use with different kinds of wine. The inspiration panels in different areas of the store are part of educating customers, and they can be changed by staff as the product offerings change, since they are blackboards.” Hand-drawn inspired icons dot the wayfinding signs for each section, as well. CookHouse’s logo is a frying pan with a flame-colored, heart-shaped curl of steam wafting out of the top. “The kitchen is the heart of the home, so we wanted people to feel comfortable to express themselves and have fun,” Hardy says. A striking display of repetitively aligned silver frying pans dangles from the ceiling, shimmering in the bright track lighting of the space.
Born in Russia, FITCH Client Director Ksenia Starikova reflects on the challenges of working in a place that is somewhat new to 21st-century marketing practices. “It’s funny how we’re used to a practical approach in Russia,” she says. “Any icon or visual is questioned. It’s always fun to actually convince the clients and build an argument that it’s something worth pursuing. So, something like CookHouse has been an inspiring and fruitful collaboration, because we’ve managed to infuse iconic and interesting brand elements into the space."
Besides a unique product offering and a clean store design that allows the products to take center stage, CookHouse is very much focused on educating its customers in an approachable, friendly way. Where the inspiration panels may show how to do a placesetting or illustrate the unique purposes of different knives, the cooking school in the back of the store takes customer engagement and education to the next level.
“There are other cooking schools in Russia, but they are very expensive,” explains Varya Karaulschikova, client manager, FITCH. “Even some traditional cooking has been forgotten, in a way. Our idea is to make it more accessible—to not only teach people something new, but to teach them how to use all of the products in the store.”
In Russia, Butman says there are already 12 CookHouse stores in eight cities (all mall-based). He says that Ideas4Retail plans to open 35 to 40 more stores in 2013, including a test store in Germany to see how the concept fares in other European countries.
Hardy says that CookHouse is a place where customers can engage all of their senses and reconnect to their kitchens at the same time. “People feel comfortable to express themselves and have fun,” she says. “It’s not like ‘Top Chef,’ where they’re telling you how to cook; you’re discovering things for yourself.”