New York legislators are considering a shift to allow wine to be sold in supermarkets–and wine stores to sell gourmet cheese, cigars, beer and even have ATMs. To find out how small shops can even exist in such an environment, we turn to three “mom & pop” shops in three of the 35 states that currently allow such competition. Click through for tales from The Bottle Shop in Wilmette, IL, Wine Authorities in Durham, NC, and Wine Expo in Santa Monica, CA. To their thoughts, after the jump!
Joe Alter and Amy Lafontant own The Bottle Shop in Wilmette, IL. Joe responds:
How long has your store been open? Amy and I opened the store December 15th 2005. 4 years, 2 months and counting.
How many wines do you have? Less than 300 wines (SKUs). We’d like to be even smaller. Smallish, smaller and tiny producers where possible. Avg price $15. Low $8. High $45. Less IS more (esp. vs. the BIG BOYZ)
Do you sell food, beer, cigars or have an ATM? We sell beer, microbrew and imports, mostly. We added a wine bar, so we sell by the glass and serve small plates, cheese, cured meats, that kinda thing. We call it Amy’s Wine House. Other than the wine bar we don’t sell food. No cigars. No ATM.
How many locations do you have? One location. Would consider expanding, but not actively pursuing the option.
Please describe your “shelf talkers.” Don’t use them except for a few Champagnes because the kind of Champagne we carry — R.M. — needs a little explanation, in which case I print out the product page from our website and lay it underneath the bottle. Small print. Customer would have to pick up the bottle to read it. Background info written by us, the importer, mainly Terry Theise, and some reviews from Galloni, Tanzer, Meadows. such as this one for Henri Billot brut rosé.
What would you say is the secret of your success in a state where people can buy wine at supermarkets? We try not to carry grocery store wines. We call attention to the fact that we don’t carry icky grocery store wines. It’s a good will gesture. New customers often say they don’t recognize any of our labels to which we say, “Awesome, that means we are doing a good job!”
Approximately what percent of your sales are done via the internet? Less than 1%
Any advice for NY wine retailers as they brace for a possible era of increased competition?
Be a merchant in the old fashioned sense of wine merchant. Have opinions. Supermarkets and big chains, such as we have here — Binny’s, Sam’s (R.I.P.), Wine Discount Center (my alma mater) and even Whole Foods — sell based on price, press and points. It’s as faceless as buying a washing machine from Best Buy. People come to Amy’s and my shop because we offer personality if nothing else. It makes (some) wine buyers feel better about themselves and their purchases to have a relationship with a merchant rather than a score or the lowest price. I empathize with small business people facing off against big box stores, but more COMPETITION IS GOOD. I’m all for anything that chips away at the scope of Amendment XXI ’cause god knows it ain’t going to be repealed. Free at last.
Craig Heffley, co-owner of Wine Authorities in Durham, NC and the “Grand Poohbah Wine Swami”
How long has your store been open? Two years
How many wines (SKUs) do you have? 450-500 selections of estate wines under $50/bottle from small, up-and-coming, family-owned wineries. No corporate brands, no fake brands. The selection is skewed toward typicity of varietal, region and style. We stock these 450 selections heavily, with hundreds of them case stacked and several end-caps. When somebody steps in, they understand that we’re there to sell them wine before we even say a word. No wines are carried as “shelf dressing.” If we’re going to carry it, we’re committed to moving volume. One last note of interest. All wine in NC is sold from distributor to retailer or restaurateur C.O.D. only! We have no terms, and own every bottle. Spirits are sold at NC State-owned liquor stores and we cannot carry them.
Do you sell food, beer, cigars or have an ATM? We have a limited selection of domestic craft beers available chilled by the six-pack (about 25 selections). We also sell local artisan: salami & chorizo, chocolate, cheese, biscotti, bread and locally roasted coffee from Counter Culture Coffee. 97% of our business is wine though. No cigars, no ATM.
How many locations do you have? One location and considering another.
Please describe your “shelf talkers”? Our shelf talkers are core to making the shopping experience less perplexing and more enjoyable for our customers. They are easy to ready and identical in format. We print them ourselves on photo paper. We break our wines up into three color coded price categories: Daily Wines for everyday drinking (under $12), Weekly Wines for that once-a-week splurge ($12-$19.99), and Monthly Wines for special occasions like Thanksgiving, Birthdays, Anniversaries, etc ($20-$49.99) They also decipher the label so customers can understand the basics like which word is the region, and which is the grape, etc. We write every shelf talker ourselves instead of relying on copy from wineries or critics reviews. They are fun and informative and don’t give the customer useless info that they can’t talk about over a meal. They’d rather discuss the origin of the winery or something special about the wine instead of its oak regimen & ph. There are no ratings anywhere in the store. Customers don’t really need them if the staff is knowledgeable and can make recommendations based on the context of how the wine is to be enjoyed. Is it a wine to be consumed like a cocktail on its own, or is it to be paired with a meal? Most wine critic’s points don’t take this into consideration and are typically skewed favorably toward wines that are more powerful and more cocktail-like. The stores that surround us use points to sell their wines, but we are only asked about scores once every few months. Really, the consumer is not looking for them unless a retailer has “trained” them to shop that way. All of our talkers have food Serving Suggestions.
What would you say is the secret of your success in a state where people can buy wine at supermarkets? We created our store to stand out distinctly from any other wine shopping experience they’ve ever had. It’s fun, informative, comfortable and empowers the consumer to track their purchases from our website. We only carry wine that we are 100% proud of, and would drink ourselves. And we’re wine geeks! For a store that focuses on wine under $20 a bottle, that’s saying something.
Approximately what percent of your sales are done via the internet? Right now only 5%, but about a third of our customers use our website to track their purchases, rate them and keep notes. Our internet sales are starting to take off though and by the end of this year, we should have a much more significant amount. One problem is that our store is so fun to shop in, many people just don’t want to skip a visit just for the convenience of online ordering. We hear that regularly.
Any advice for NY wine retailers as they brace for a possible era of increased competition? Don’t steal our ideas! Just kidding. Be original! Think from the customers perspective. Overcome hurdles that make the wine buying experience difficult for them. Make them really want to return. If you blow them away, they’ll talk about your store to their friends who will become customers who will tell their friends, etc. Do great things that big stores will never be able to do, and that will distinguish you.
Roberto Rogness, general manager, Wine Expo, Santa Monica, CA
How long has your store been open? 18 years
How many wines (SKUs) do you have? About 2000 of which well over half are Italian, one quarter are Champagne and the rest is split between Spain, Portugal, beer and spirits.
Do you sell food, beer, cigars or have an ATM? Yes on Beer, no on others
How many locations do you have? One
Please describe your “shelf talkers”?See here:
http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/wine/wine-expo-best-of-la-tequila/ (source of above image)
What would you say is the secret of your success in a state where people can buy wine at supermarkets? Providing far superior service, a more interesting range of products and better value.
Approximately what percent of your sales are done via the internet? 15%
Any advice for NY wine retailers as they brace for a possible era of competition? What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!