When Carol Daily traveled around the United States as a corporate executive, she loved shopping in gourmet stores.
When she returned to her hometown of Jackson, she missed them. So she dusted off her collection of brochures, researched the market, and opened a small store in a most unlikely place: a neglected gas station.
In the fall of 1981, the Everyday Gourmet was born.
“Southerners love to entertain at home and I thought it would be a perfect fit,” Daily said. “Unlike other parts of the country, where people entertain at restaurants, we place a high value on entertaining in the home.”
In addition to a comfortable niche in the marketplace, Daily also started with a good business plan, “exceeding expectations from the first,” she said.
The cooking school “that set us apart” opened in 1982, and offers 10 to 12 classes monthly, she said. Guest instructors Martha Stewart, Jacques Pepin, and New Orleans chef Susan Spicer draw students from Mississippi and neighboring states.
The Everyday Gardener opened in 1992 “as an outgrowth of the Everyday Gourmet,” she said. “We`ve always tried to be focused in our merchandise but certain items kept creeping in that were not kitchen-related.”
About a half dozen gardening classes, from cottage gardens to flower arrangements, are offered monthly. Information about classes are mainly communicated through the store`s bimonthly newsletter, with a circulation of 20,000. Tours include a springtime trip to England to visit English gardens, Napa Valley and New Orleans restaurants.
A second store in north Jackson was opened in the fall of 1994. Square footage of all retail space totals about 10,000.
About half of the annual revenues are in the last quarter of the year, creating staffing challenges. The store employs 35, of which 15 are full-time. At peak season, employees number around 60.
“Our battle plan for Christmas starts March 1,” Daily said.
Daily attributes a “women-friendly environment” to low staff turnover.
“We have a core of employees who have made a career out of this,” she said. “A lot of retail businesses have a high turnover. We try to attract good people and give them incentives to stay.”
Benefits such as a 401K plan and health insurance are unusual for small companies, but a more appealing benefit may be an unwritten one.
“If an employee has a sick child, or a school play to attend, we work it out,” she said. “We place a high value on employee flexibility.”
Fun events, such as the annual herb sale, which attracted hundreds of “hard core gardeners” despite rain and tornado warnings last fall, are planned by employees.
“We are growing while trying to keep a unique flavor in the stores,” she said. “We`re customer-oriented and we like to have fun.”
Daily, along with partner and mom Dorothy Puckett, are considering expanding outside the Jackson area, specifically the Gulf Coast, in 1999.
“Right now, we are concentrating on getting a system into place so we can expand,” she said. “We are thinking of the future growth of the garden shop, and perhaps franchising. We can`t run it like we did 18 years ago.”
With the help of accountant Betty Lou Reeves, CPA, they`ve reorganized management and incorporated a computer system to record inventory and track profitability. With a flick of a finger, Daily scanned the inventory on her Macintosh and showed where 20,000 pieces of Gail Pittman pottery were in inventory.
Daily and Pittman hooked up in 1982. A first-time distributor for the Gail Pittman Gallery, the Everyday Gourmet is now the flagship store of the national product and carries all 40 patterns.
As part of her marketing plan to target “Southerners,” Daily purchased Mississippi Magazine`s out-of-state mailing list for the catalog division that accounts for 5% of gross income. Particular emphasis is placed on corporate gifts and Mississippi-made products.
“People of Jackson have really supported the stores,” she said. “I continue to be surprised at the level of sophistication of our customers. They educate us on a daily basis on what`s new in the gourmet world. They travel a lot and taste products and come to us to see if we can get them. From French duck presses that cost thousands of dollars to fresh truffles or a special olive oil or vinegar, we are usually able to get it.”