Home, sweet home.

This story first appeared in the March 18, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That’s what the merchants at Belk are chanting these days.

“For the past two years, home has had the biggest sales increase [in the company],” said David Zant, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s and home. “And we’ve had explosive growth on the hard home side.”

Zant said customers have responded especially well to kitchen items. Everything from electrics and cookware to single-serve coffee makers have been popular. “And our luggage business has also been good.”

Zant said that Belk has made a concerted effort to grow its kitchen business, and it’s paying off. Among the best-selling brands are Cuisinart, KitchenAid, Calphalon and Keurig, which has made huge inroads into the single-cup coffee market.

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Ninja, a brand that offers professional-grade blenders, slow cookers and choppers, “is small, but growing,” he added. “It’s coming on.”

Outside the hard goods area, Zant said Belk has also seen growth in soft home. The assortment is driven by private brands but the stores also carry Lauren Ralph Lauren, Trina Turk and Calvin Klein bedding and Lauren towels.

“We had an outstanding year in sheets and bath products, and fashion bedding continues to be strong for us,” he said.

He called the fashion bedding area “a heritage business for us,” and one that has historically been a draw for shoppers looking to update their homes.

Because Belk stores are located in the South, not far from the furniture capital of the U.S. — the High Point/Hickory, N.C. area — the stores have never dabbled in that part of the market, focusing instead on home furnishings and small electric items.

“If you look back five years, we were strong in soft home and tabletop, but underpenetrated in kitchen-related categories,” he said. “Then three years ago, we said we wanted to be all about the kitchen — the destination for the cook.”

Zant said this became especially pertinent during the recession. “When the economy was tough, people were not going out to eat as often, so we built these businesses and now we have a full-scale assortment.”