Spotlight: Williams-Sonoma

Meet America's largest specialty cookware store.

Founded more than 50 years ago in 1956, Williams-Sonoma is a serious powerhouse in the gourmet cookware and home furnishings market. The brand, created by food tycoon Chuck Williams, is part of the same family as other well-loved home stores like Pottery Barn, Pottery Barn Kids, West Elm, and newbie source of monogram heaven Mark and Graham.

Known predominantly for its highbrow cookware and fantastic gourmet products, Williams-Sonoma also covers other rooms of the house, including the living room, bedroom, and office, as well as outdoor entertaining.

Chuck Williams created the first Williams-Sonoma in — you guessed it — the Northern California wine town of Sonoma, and the rest is history. The brand has since opened more than 250 stores nationwide, although the original location is no longer in existence. The company's San Francisco Union Square location now serves as its flagship location.

Williams' store sold classic French equipment that had never been known or used by Americans, causing a ton of buzz for brands like Le Creuset. It opened the eyes of home cooks, introducing them to a new style of cooking and created a loyal fan base of professional cooks as well.

Not only was it the shop’s selection of products that had customers reeling, but it was the way the products were laid out as well. In an interview with CNN, Williams said, "Not many people in this country had seen some of the things we were selling, so I thought you should see each pan in the best possible way. I put them up on a shelf in size order, with all the handles facing the same way, ensuring that anyone walking in would see the display at its best angle. If somebody wanted to buy something, he had to ask me to get it for him, thus creating conversation. As in the upscale stores I had worked in, I tried to build the place so that it demanded that customers be served."

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The brand is ideal for capturing the Sonoma lifestyle, which was in fact its original mission. Perfect for the adept home and professional cook, artisan foods products and exclusive cookware paired with a lofty panel of design and lifestyle experts is what gives this company the upper hand in the industry.