Stock Culinary Goods, Providence, Rhode Island
It is an unusually warm Saturday in January and Jan Faust Dane is busy pumping nitro coffee and kombucha to customers who swing by her gourmet and specialty store, Stock Culinary Goods in Providence, Rhode Island. She is delighted by the turnout which includes old regulars from the first time she opened her doors in 2012. In a little over five years, Dane has become a staple of Providence’s culinary scene but for a while at first, things looked precarious.
The first winter after the shop opened, Dane had pretty much no heat. “I was here in fingerless gloves because that was the only way I could type on the keyboard,” she remembers. And a few short months after she opened, the city dug up the street in the front of the store and set up jersey barricades effectively deterring foot traffic. As if this were not enough, the basement flooded. Ever the optimist, Dane soldiered on. Now, she says, it has been worth every minute of insanity and all the long hours.
Dane made her way to gourmet retailing with a background in writing about independent businesses. “That made me incapable of going to Crate and Barrel and buying something that came off of a cargo ship,” she says. “I come from a really strong background of favoring what’s local and independent over the generic big box experience.” There was no independent kitchen and food store in Providence at the time so Dane dove in.
2012, the year that Stock opened, was also when Providence was rated as the #1 Foodie City in America by Travel + Leisure magazine. Since then, the city has been booming with hot new food concepts. Dane says she’s lucky to be part of that movement. She collaborates extensively with local chefs who choose to buy their supplies from her. “The advantages of being in a small state is that everybody knows one another: the farmer knows the chef and vice versa, I get word-of-mouth referrals and people will promote us just because we are what we are,” Dane says.
Stock carries a large range of culinary goods including an assortment of kitchen utility ware and fun objects but also a variety of foods: from local Dave’s coffee to Amaretti cookies from Star Street Party, another Rhode Island favorite cookie. EHChocolatier (from neighboring Massachusetts), Sugarfina, Jacobsen Licorice and Bang Candy (from Nashville) are just a few of the many other gourmet food items that Dane offers.
Stock also has a small fridge to carry perishable food items but she admits she’s still trying to figure out inventory when it comes to fresh food. “If people want me to stock ricotta, do they really also want me to stock smoked mozzarella? We’re still tweaking that.” The milk and eggs from a local farmer do really well and are more reliable in terms of sales.
Stocking up at market
Dane shops a number of U.S. gift and food shows including NY NOW and American Made show in Washington, D.C. The Fancy Food Show is another favorite. Dane is also looking to shop in international markets soon.
Local food incubators are a big draw. Hope & Main in nearby Warren, Rhode Island, has been a great source for new products in the store. “They’ve gotten us everything from spices to Amaretti to gluten-free crackers,” Dane says.
Stock’s customers are drawn from a wide cross-section and they’re all united by a love of food and the community spirit that Dane has nurtured in the store. “If there’s any throughline about our customers, it’s that they’re all people who value the local and independent shopping environment,” she says, adding that millennials love Stock. Customers, split pretty evenly between men and women, range from chefs to a young girl who just had a bat mitzvah and who is looking to spend some of her money at the store on baking supplies.
A dash of marketing and generous servings of stellar customer service
A few of Providence’s legendary foodie places got their start at Stock as pop-up stores. This includes PVDonuts and Rebelle Artisan Bagels. The pop-ups, which are scheduled regularly, drive tremendous foot traffic to the store. One of Dane’s most memorable moments was when she noticed a line snaking out for a taste of the Rebelle bagels. Being who she is, Dane got in the back of the line and mingled with customers.
Dane uses social media generously not just as a way to promote Stock but to also keep a pulse on what’s trending with respect to gourmet food in the area.
Her staff of four doubles over the holiday season when she goes into overdrive. Dane says she’s lucky her sister moved to Providence to be a part of the store. Thriving in an Amazon world is not easy but Dane has learned that a few customers will do reverse showrooming, checking out stuff on Amazon and then bringing their dollars to her, a move she really appreciates. She meets Amazon prices, something she is not a fan of doing, but is a way of not letting price be the deterrent for customers.
The key has been to deliver excellent customer service by building a community united by a love of food. “We have so many regulars who come in every day and they know it’s because we’re not going to push a spatula on them,” she says.
Dane has two teenagers and admits the juggle is real. There have been times when she has not had much energy to carry on and they would say, “You can’t quit, Stock is you, you are Stock!” The proof is in the pudding: Dane’s daughter’s college essay was all about the building of the store. “It was amazing to see what kind of impact this has had on them,” Dane says. And by all indications, Stock will continue to have an impact on greater Providence as well.