Devon Burnley didn’t plan to come back to Kitchen Kettle Village.
The granddaughter of the founders and daughter of an owner, Burnley first worked at the tourist-focused shopping complex in Intercourse when she was just 9 years old.
Yet when it came time to start her own career after college, Burnley chose south Florida over Amish country.
But while working as a strength and conditioning coach in Boca Raton, she and her dad, Jim, took a vacation to Maine during which they talked about the possibility of her returning to the family business.
“He’s a good salesperson. He convinced me to come back and just try it for six months, see if I like it,” she said.
That was 2 1/2 years ago.
Today, the 28-year-old Burnley is part owner and general manager of seven Kitchen Kettle stores where she has been overseeing some upgrades, including a recent facelift and rebranding of Deerskin Leather.
As she learns the ins and outs of retail management, Burnley said she is optimistic about the ability of “the village” to thrive in a changing retail landscape.
“As long as we keep adapting to the changes, but remain true to who we are and who we’re trying to be, we’ll be OK. I’m not too worried,” she said.
The three siblings who own the Kitchen Kettle real estate also own separate companies that operate in Kitchen Kettle. Burnley and her dad, Jim, are co-owners of Burnley Enterprises, which has those seven stores at Kitchen Kettle and a stand at Bird-in-Hand Farmers Market.
What were your post-college thoughts on Kitchen Kettle?
My game plan was not to come back to the family business. My dad had said to my brother and I that we are absolutely welcome to come back and he’ll give us two years after graduating college to decide if we want to come back, and if not, he’s going to start looking at other avenues so he could retire.
For me, I wanted to experience other things. I loved my family, I loved Lancaster County but I wanted to go try other things.
What changed? Why did you come back?
My dad was nearing retirement and he wanted to be able to pass the business on to someone. He wanted to be able to keep it in the family. It’s how it’s been for the past 63 years, so he didn’t want to have to pass it on to anyone else.
He tried not to pressure me as much as possible, but I think there is that implied pressure.
What did you do when you first came back?
If I was going to eventually take over the business, (my dad) wanted to make sure I knew what it was like to be a manager. I kind of learned my whole life how to be a sales associate and be a part-time employee. I continued to be a sales associate for the first six months (after I came back).
Then the next step was: I need to learn what it’s like to be a manager. if you’re going to manage the managers, you should know what their day to day is like.
What kinds of changes were being made at Kitchen Kettle back then?
We’ve been talking about new store concepts and doing facelifts to the store we currently have long before I came back.
As far as my company, Burnley Enterprises, we weren’t making a tremendous amount of changes until I came back.
What guided you in the changes?
We have really high quality leather products, our sales associates are leather experts, but the interior didn’t really match the feeling you were supposed to get when you were in the store.
We tried to take away the sea of leather and make it a little bit of a cleaner look, to use negative space to give the product a little more of the respect it deserves.
After we did the inside, we saw a really big increase in sales, which was exciting.
How much of an increase?
The month of June this year was the best we have been in 10 years. That’s great especially because this year for the village in general hasn’t been a fantastic year. Our traffic is largely dictated by Sight & Sound (a theater in Strasburg, which produces stage versions of Bible stories). And because it’s not a new show running, we’ve seen a decline in traffic.
How has Kitchen Kettle been affected by changing shopping habits, such as more sales being made online?
We’re very fortunate with kind of being in a bubble here. What sets us apart from most shopping places is we create an experience. We’re not just a mall. We’re much more an attraction for people to come to.
We’re very fortunate in that way. We haven’t seen as much of a decline in sales as other retail stores.
Why are you expanding to add more online sales?
We have locally made products you can’t get anywhere else that are probably not online. So that’s where our niche is going to be. You just can’t get Amish-made goods online, especially with leather products.
Would you open stores away from Kitchen Kettle?
My dad has done that in the past. He has had leather shops in a ton of different places.
What I remember growing up is he had mall stores. After 2008, malls just couldn’t uphold the lease agreements anymore, so it just made more sense to stay home here.
I would say I’m very cautious to open up other stores because I’ve seen my dad go through it throughout the years and it really needs to be the right location.
Have you become an owner of the business?
It started with “just come back and see how it goes.” After that we worked out an agreement where I own 49 percent right now and (my dad) owns 51. But as he is getting close to retirement, probably at the end of this year, I’ll purchase the rest.
So, do you plan to stay long-term?
My dad originally said he was going to come back for five years, then he was going to go back up to Maine — but he stayed for 43. So I said I would come back for 10 years. So, we’ll see