Rome wasn't built in a day—and neither, as you'll see, was our Food52 Shop.
In 2013, when Amanda and Merrill launched the Shop (then called Provisions), they decided to sell turkeys. Heritage turkeys for Thanksgiving, to be exact. Their online store was just gaining its sea legs and, as a company, Food52 was experimenting with the types of goods it wanted to sell. Should it just be kitchen appliances? What about pantry items? Can we sell stuff for the living room as well?
Why not throw fresh birds into the mix?
“We took pre-orders, and to our surprise we got 80. 80 turkeys!" Amanda says. "We were just getting started, so that was a pretty big deal." Unfortunately, turkey #80 never made it to its Thanksgiving table—thanks to a delivery truck that broke down somewhere in Florida the day before the main event.
Amanda and Merrill sourced a consolation bird for the customer (just in time). "Instead of being furious with us—which she very well could have been—she named the turkey, took pictures of it, and sent them to us. She was amazing," recalls Amanda. "But...we never sold fresh turkeys again.”
In the past five years, the Food52 Shop has had its fair share of mistakes and unexpected moments like these: things we were skeptical of that ended up being surprise hits, things we thought would work that just plain didn't. Here are some of A&M's favorites...lost turkeys not included.
Amanda: One year, a member of our buying team sourced a perfectly beautiful wreath, but we thought wreaths seemed...not dated exactly, but not in our wheelhouse. Everyone on the team told us we were wrong, which we loved—we love when people tell us that. So we put the wreath up on the site, and they've been a consistent bestseller ever since. We even do wreath subscriptions, so you can get a quarterly seasonal wreath. Guess who has a wreath on her door now?
Merrill: Didn’t we once send something directly from the office? Oh, we sent those teapot cozies. The teapot sweaters…
Amanda: Oh yeah, someone in England knitted these tea cozies for teapots, and they looked like little sweaters.
Merrill: They were so cute!
Amanda: But the only way for us to sell them was to order them and then ship them out. That’s not a scalable business model. It was like we became her Etsy subcontractor.
Merrill: We learned our lesson on that one.
Merrill: Amanda and I had talked before about German holiday decor; in my house growing up, we had a pyramid, little candleholders, and figurines every year at Christmas. We brought it up one time during a holiday decor conversation with the Shop team. We said, "Hey we should think about importing those German—we didn't even know what they were called—candle things." Jojo Feld, one of our buyers, had no idea what we were talking about.
One year, I was walking around the holiday market in Union Square and saw this booth of German pyramids. I had this long conversation with the two people there, who had come from Germany. I bought a few things, took pictures, and got their card, which I gave to Jojo. We bugged her a number of times about it over the years, until she came to us and said, "I think we can finally import the pyramids."
At this point it had been two years. You could tell she was totally skeptical. But she did it, and we launched the pyramids. We held a Christmas pre-sale in June—yes, June, of all months—that generated an incredible 323 orders in just 24 hours, and we've sold them ever since.
Merrill: I don't think we ever thought the Salami of the Month club was going to take off the way it did, to be honest. I mean, we love Olympia’s cured meats; we always were fans, but I remember being skeptical about the salami bouquet. But...it’s consistently one of our top sellers. People love giving it as a gift. I’ve given the Salami Of The Month as a gift. Have you ever?
Amanda: Oh yeah! Multiple times to my mom.
We can't wait to see what fun (and unexpected) learnings arise in the next five years.
Do you have a beloved Food52 Shop product? Tell us in the comments below.