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Shop to add new flavor to area

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

Posted: July 29, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 28, 2012 6:09 p.m.

Richard and Lynn Levinson at the location of the new Oil & Vinegar culinary gift store at the Shops at The Patios at the Westfield Valencia Town Center mall in Valencia on July 21.

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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.

Netherlands

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.

Franchise-based

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.

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