Anyone who’s ever formed a sentimental attachment to a grandmother’s teapot or a serving dish passed down through generations can relate to the philosophy behind Kookn. Founders Laura Watts and Fenella Petrie curate and sell mid-century Scandinavian and Finnish baking dishes, teapots, tableware, candle holders — even dedicated platters for serving scampi.
“The designs are timeless with simple, classic lines. We both love the character and bright colours of the pieces,” says Petrie. The two friends, who met through their children seven years ago, always loved antique hunting and often found themselves reaching for the same vintage pots. Instead of fighting over who would get what, they shared their finds and cooked with them regularly. They soon realized these vintage pieces weren’t just stylish but often superior to new products.
Watts, a graphic designer, and Petrie, a product designer, began toying with the idea of starting a business to curate and sell their unique finds about three years ago. When COVID-19 hit and Petrie lost her job, she approached Watts about moving up the timeline of launching their dream business. They formed Kookn last December, setting out to collect a selection of vintage items to consign and resell. Watts and Petrie have keen eyes for beautiful yet functional pieces like Le Creuset fondue pans, Iittala dessert bowls and Dansk casserole dishes.
“We share a love of design and we both believe that things need to be re-used in our world,” says Petrie. She’s a firm believer in giving cookware and serving ware new life. “The products have these amazing stories and still have so much to offer.” When she and Watts pick up items to consign, people often share heart-warming stories of the loved ones who owned them. “When you look at these items, you can just imagine how many families used them—the trials and tribulations they’ve witnessed, the great meals and laughter they’ve helped facilitate,” says Petrie. “We’re trying to celebrate that.”
The idea is that these items bring joy to whoever ends up with them — not just from their striking, vibrant colours but from upcycling functional design that really stands the tests of time. “Some of the older stuff cooks better than anything modern I’ve ever used,” says Watts. “Dansk pots, for example, are amazing to cook with. They were really built to last.”
After hearing about Digital Main Street’s ShopHERE powered by Google, Watts and Petrie decided that the program would be a great way to help launch Kookn. (The name is a transliteration of the Dutch word for “cooking” and fit well with their fun Scandinavian vibe.)
“The program pushed us to think about what we wanted to be, where we wanted to go and how we want to transform the market,” says Watts. “A lot of vintage shops sell all kinds of different things, which is great. But we love cooking, eating and entertaining so it just seemed like a perfect niche.”
Both Watts and Petrie agree that it’s crucial to have a good business plan and understand key points like your target audience and financials before launching. “If you don’t know how to work out all those things, ask for help,” says Petrie. That’s where the month-long ShopHERE program came in for them: With training sessions like marketing 101 and supportive coordinators who were always available, they were able to navigate the challenges of launching an e-commerce store, which neither had ever done before.
Kookn’s website and online store officially launched at the end of April. Petrie and Watts credit Shopify’s easy-to-use templates for helping them put together a well-designed site that lines up with their aesthetic. “Shopify also had all the tools we needed built into our website’s back end to ensure we got off to a good start right out of the gate,” says Petrie. “It makes everything very cohesive, seamless and easy to manage.” And the work is paying off: The site’s unique visits grew from 157 in the first month to 3,300 in June.
The friends and business partners completed the program confident that they could easily run their social feeds and online shop. “It can seem very daunting if you’ve never done that before — that’s a huge roadblock for people,” says Petrie. “It’s so helpful to have someone walk you through the process.” Watts adds they learned a lot from one-on-one information sessions with Google that covered topics like analytics. “That would be really difficult for a lot of small businesses to figure out on their own,” she says.
They’ve committed to donating 5% of Kookn’s sales to Toronto’s Parkdale Community Food Bank. “We strongly believe in giving where we live,” says Watts. “We saw the impacts of COVID-19 firsthand in our neighbourhoods.” The pair have volunteered at the food bank, too. “I would love for other businesses to really think about the impact that we can make on our local communities,” Watts adds.
So far, the reaction to Kookn’s launch has been overwhelmingly positive. “People really love our collection and we have some exciting things lined up,” says Petrie. Dansk recently re-posted one of Kookn’s Instagram images featuring a collection of the brand’s iconic cookware. Running a business comes with its challenges (from cleaning to shipping), but both Petrie and Watts are passionate that the work is all worth it. It can be scary to take the leap, says Watts. But once you do, “you’ll look back and realize that the cliff wasn’t really that high.”
This article is sponsored by Shopify. Learn more about the Digital Main Street program and get the help needed to create a beautiful online store for free.