business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

I was rushing into the local Costco when the sign stopped me in my tracks: Martha Stewart would be autographing her new cookbook “Vegetables” at the big box warehouse two days hence.

That Martha Stewart. The indefatigable domestic diva. At the Norwalk, Connecticut, Costco, which shares a Route 1 intersection with Walmart, McDonald's, a bowling alley and a gas station.

The 11 a.m. book signing was for Costco members only.  My curiosity piqued, I returned last Wednesday and joined the line of shoppers clutching the new hardcover cookbook celebrating all things vegetable (retail price$29.50, Costco price $16.49). (For the record, the book also is available on Amazon - for $19.20, almost three dollars more than at Costco.)

With a backdrop of boxed cameras and two perfect autumnal flower arrangements on the table, Martha Stewart greeted each customer, engaged in conversation and personalized each book with her perfect-penmanship signature. Even under the harsh fluorescent lighting, the impeccably-coiffed 75-year-old looked great.

When she was sentenced to federal prison in 2004 for charges related to an insider stock trading case, conventional wisdom was that Martha Stewart’s billion dollar media/lifestyle empire would collapse and her golden image forever would be tarnished.

Wrong on both counts.

I think there are two reasons Martha Stewart and her brand not only survived the scandal but continue to flourish. The first is hard work. Ever since she started a catering business in her Connecticut basement in 1976, Stewart has been known for her attention to detail and 20-hour-a-day work ethic. She branched out from her first cookbook to magazines, television, branded merchandise, accessories and furnishings.

The second, and equally important reason, is her ability to reach out to new audiences while maintaining brand integrity.

Just consider the recent brand developments:

• The expansion of Martha Stewart Cafes across the country, featuring coffee made from her favorite, fresh-ground beans, tea (including her own breakfast blend) and pastries from “hand-selected local bakeries.”

• The launch of Martha and Marley Spoon meal kits, a partnership with the established Marley Spoon delivery service to compete against Blue Apron, Plated and Hello Fresh, among others. Their newest offering: A Thanksgiving dinner box featuring her favorite recipes, including her classic stuffing with dried cherries, cream cheese mashed potatoes and brown butter apple pie.

But I think my favorite has to be the trailer released by VH1 this week for her new unscripted celebrity guest cooking show “Martha and Snoop’s Potluck Dinner Party,” which premieres on VH1 Nov. 7. It’s pretty hilarious to see the goddess of good taste teamed up with her co-host and longtime friend, rapper Snoop Dogg, tossing back cocktails in their bathrobes and dishing from their respective on-set kitchens.

It is a good lesson for retailers and manufacturers looking to expand their audiences and attract new people to their brands.

Clearly, Martha Stewart will reach a much-hipper audience on VH1 than on morning network television or in a suburban Costco. It also, inevitably, will improve her rap/slang vocabulary.

Is that a good thing? To quote Martha: “Fo Shizzle” (translation: for sure).

Comments? As always, send them to me at .

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