What’s Cooking with Matchbox

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-By Aleisha Parr

In 1996, Ross and Fran Cohen rescued from administration Matchbox, a twenty-year old Melbourne-based giftware business. Through cautious planning and selective growth, the family has since built a national franchise empire of the brand, now in its second generation of family management with twenty-four operational stores and one more slated to open in May of this year.

David Cohen, Managing Director, spoke with us recently to discuss the new direction he and his siblings, Charles and Annabel Cohen, have brought the company in since 2003 when they undertook a long process of consumer research and subsequent brand revitalisation.

“Matchbox traditionally was more heavily focussed in the gift and homeware space,” he told us, speaking of the company prior to its transformation in 2005 into a franchise. “Whereas now we’re much more focussed in the cookware, kitchenware, home entertainment, and dining and kitchen accessories.”

In fact, the Cohen family has effectively transformed Matchbox into a multi-million dollar organisation, despite having to contend with Australia’s most challenging depression in over sixty years and a technical revolution which has drastically altered customer habits through the introduction of online sales and social media.

Matchbox emerged from this revitalisation as Australia’s only kitchenware and cookware specialist equipped with a comprehensive product range of kitchen accessories spanning all categories of consumer needs including glassware, knives, tableware, appliances and gadgets. The company is proud to now stock over fifty premium brands (some exclusively) including Anolon, Scanpan, Maxwell & Williams, KitchenAid, Circulon, Magimix, Mundial, Jamie Oliver, Global Cuisinart, Essteele, Wusthoff, Swiss Diamond, Riedel and many more.

Explains Charles Cohen, Executive Director, “The research showed that there was a gap in the market; nobody else was a kitchenware specialist. To differentiate ourselves in the marketplace, we really had to take that step towards becoming a specialist. Also, amongst our competitors we had a better reputation for product knowledge because we do put a lot of stock into training, so it was really about capitalising on those strengths that we already had developed.”

While the company decided to keep the Matchbox name, David says that research garnered from speaking and interacting directly with customers in the stores drove the team to develop a new, more specific brand concept utilising the new tagline “the secret recipe” and half a dozen warm colours to represent each of the company’s kitchenware categories.

“We’ve used those same colours throughout the store,” he relates, “and it really enables the customer to locate the categories, making their shopping experience a little easier. It also allows our marketing department a good way of developing promotions with all of the different colours; it really spells out pretty accurately what we’re trying to promote.”

Ultimately, David asserts, the process has been about listening to the customers and adding value to their shopping experience. This has been most apparent in Matchbox’s inclusion of fully-operational kitchens in its stores.

Says Charles, “One of the things that customers really said that they wanted in a speciality shop was a lot more interaction with products so we thought it was a fairly natural and logical step – and there wasn’t anything quite like it, especially in shopping centres. No one else was offering that full service from picking up the products, being able to use them, and seeing demonstrations on how the products are to be used, right through to running after hours cooking classes and demonstrations with guest chefs and cooks. It really adds to the shopping experience.”

While the kitchens are frequently used by guest chefs and supplier demonstrators, Matchbox also prides itself in its staff knowledge, placing a strong focus on instilling knowledge and passion in its entire staff to ensure that customers are always able to make an informed – and inspired – purchase.

This enthusiasm for product demonstration has been brought online as well, with the introduction of Matchbox’s new e-commerce website launched this month. While David Cohen assures us that the Matchbox brick and mortar stores are continuing to perform well – with one hundred per cent of its franchises operating at a profit – the company wanted to add value to its customers’ shopping experience in a new way that has been increasingly in demand.

He explains, “Our brick and mortar stores are doing really well; the only reason for doing this really is to add an extra touch point for consumers, adding value for customers who want the Matchbox concept but can’t make it to a shopping centre all the time and want to shop with us on a regular basis.”

Charles Cohen adds that the process did not come about without some challenges, but that it has ultimately been a great step forward. “It’s always tricky to get an e-commerce solution off the ground because franchisees are worried about an online store cannibalising their sales or their territory; they worry that head office will become a competitor by setting up online. We’ve gotten around that by running ours in a different way, and we have quite a large number of clients in our database that are actually interstate customers who like our concept and our informative videos and the rest of our product information that we put online. So this allows them to be able to shop with us as well as to enjoy the information we share.”

The fact that Matchbox has been able to proceed with such progressive business activities while still respecting and uplifting its franchisees makes the company an excellent option for anyone seeking out a strong business opportunity. In fact, Matchbox was recently listed for the third consecutive year on BRW’s Fast Franchises List 2012. Though the initial investment is on the higher end of the scale, Matchbox has recently developed a bank accreditation system through which potential investors may source funding toward the franchising costs, making the start-up process much easier. More specifically, this allows the new franchisee to borrow up to 50 per cent of the setup cost unsecured against the value of the Matchbox system. The company, as shown in BRW’s publication, also boasts a much larger return on investment comparative to the initial start-up costs.

Furthermore, the company has developed a network of support organisations including retail site leasing experts LeaseWise, web and social media strategists, AndMine, point of sale and inventory system, Bizflex, and AWD who sees to all of the company’s technical support needs.

“Having all of those relationships means that we don’t have to hire additional staff internally,” says Charles. “At the same time, we get the benefit of their whole business as opposed to a single person, which has provided us support without over-extending our resources. With franchise groups, you get the benefit of the business model from head office without having to be an expert in every area of your business. So the training and the fantastic supplier terms from head office – they all come hand delivered to you, all of your marketing is also developed by head office, you get a lot of help and support which allows you to run your business on the ground with all of that behind you.”

“We have a very strong business model,” he continues. “Obviously it’s great for a franchise group to have a hundred per cent of our stores that are profitable. We’re also an Australian owned, family franchise group, so you’re not dealing with a faceless corporation or an overseas group that doesn’t necessarily care or take the time to share the vision with all the individual franchisees.”

Those family values and passion for the business are evident throughout not just head office, but all of Matchbox’s franchises, with many of the franchisees themselves operating as family businesses, and many owning multiple stores.

Concludes Charles Cohen, “We are a very tight group in terms of the way that we work – not only with our franchisees but also with our suppliers – and I think that Matchbox through and through has a really strong emphasis on relationships, whether it be with the franchisees or customers. All of us in head office are very passionate about cooking and being in the kitchen in general. Consumers really note as a point of difference from us and our competitors that we give an added-value experience in stores and that even our employees on the floor uphold that same level of passion.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

September 19, 2018, 2:08 PM AEST