Kim Cruickshanks and Kim Hoffman are two food loving kitchen nerds who wanted to find a way to bring their love of cooking and trying new things in the kitchen to the masses. The result is Cooking Gift Set Co. Their cooking kit boxes come in a range of different themes, from a Chinese Soup Dumpling Kit to a Wood Smoked Barbecue Kit to a Mulled Wine kit. The Santa Monica, California-based entrepreneurs love that their work allows them to remain creative in the kitchen and to use their travel experiences as inspiration. Today the two Kims’ are figuring out the best avenues to market their products while also celebrating the wins, like signing big contracts and being able to pay themselves a living wage.
Cruickshanks & Hoffman’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
What was your reason for starting your business?
We believe that life’s flavor comes from richer experiences and clinking our cups over meals that tell a story. So as obsessive home chefs, we set out to home test and create cooking kits that would make new culinary techniques a more approachable and fun experience. Every kit is created with an iconic global nibble or nosh in mind, often inspired by our own travel. You’ll wrap up each new culinary techniques and authentic tools of the trade that’ll stick with you forever with endless recipe options.
How do you define success?
It’s big win when our customers share their own success with our kits! People who were completely intimidated before, are so proud of what they created – and that fills our cup! Starting this business allows me to spend more time in the kitchen, designing, and experimenting, which is fun. I can’t think of a greater success that that.
Tell us about your biggest success to date
Breaking into the wholesale market. I’m not going to lie, its hard to crack into, but you just have to keep trying. Keep reaching out, even when you don’t get any replies or are rejected. Eventually, your product will interest the right buyer, and the payoff is tremendous. This year we signed on with Sur La Table and have had a long standing relationship with Uncommon Goods.
What is your top challenge and how have you addressed it?
Marketing has been a challenge because it’s something that we don’t know a lot about. It’s important to have a baseline of knowledge so that you’re informed enough to make good hiring decisions. So we read as much as possible and have started to put efforts towards some small marketing experiments to see where we get the greatest ROI. My one piece advice would be: don’t try to be everywhere, all at once. There are so many marketing avenues from Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok, email marketing, SEO, blogging… it will make your head explode and you end up doing a lot things poorly. Instead, give certain channels trial periods, and identify what gives you the greatest ROI – then double down on that.
Have you experienced any significant personal situations that have affected your business decisions?
For the first four years of Cooking Gift Set, I [Kim Cruickshanks] worked on it as a side hustle in addition to my other full time business: Fuze Branding. It was challenging to carve out time to do both, especially when Cooking Gift Set was so young and we didn’t pay ourselves. Out of necessity, I quickly learned to drop perfection in favor of progress. I started to ask myself, “is it good enough?” and that allowed me to keep both businesses moving forward without getting paralyzed. Eventually, after eight years I ended up closing my branding agency because I realized that my time could produce more long term financial value with Cooking Gift Set. Sometimes letting go can be the hardest part, even when that thing or situation is not serving you any longer.
What is your biggest tip for other startup entrepreneurs?
Remember to treat yourself like the most valuable employee that you are. Would an employee stick around if they weren’t getting paid, didn’t have enough for insurance, worked weekends, or had zero vacation days? Hell no. And eventually, neither will you. Treating yourself poorly is not sustainable for the long term. Start paying yourself a livable wage sooner and if you can’t afford to, then something might be wrong with your business model. Also, read Profit First, I wish I had sooner.
How do you find inspiration on your darkest days?
I start with the easiest, lowest friction thing I can do. Some days that might be opening a document and laying out some images for inspiration. Or “allowing myself” some time to play around with some designs to see where it takes me. Starting with one step is always less overwhelming and once you’ve done it, momentum will start to kick in.
Who is your most important role model?
Other small businesses in any industry who are putting in the work like us, but are one step ahead. Their presence gives us an attainable goal to strive for.
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