Welcome to Part 4 of our series that recognizes our 2018 Retailers of the Year. In this post we honor Chilly’s, East Branch Organics, Grapes the Wine Company, Banks Wine & Spirits, Lizz’s, and Cork and Barrel.
For the second time we opened up the annual Retailers of the Year Awards to a nomination process, attracting entries from top retailers across the country. Many received nominated from wholesalers, suppliers and other industry vendors, while some nominated themselves. All were required to complete a detailed entry form that included financial information, product mix, staffing and training policies, advertising spend and community engagement.
After our editorial team reviewed the entries, we chose 32 retailers as the best of the best. They represent every part of the off-premise industry, from single-store operations to large regional chains.
Winners received their awards two weeks ago at the second annual Beverage Alcohol Retailers Conference in Denver. Congratulations to everyone who won, and good luck to the retailers who enter next year’s awards!
The Next Generation
Chilly’sis a classic American retail store that opened 22 years ago in Greenfield, Indiana. As Steve Coram, President of Chilly’s, puts it, “We were hoping to build something for our children.”Well, that’s exactly what happened. Today the business has grown and prospered. Children Matt and Abbey are now 26 and 27, vital parts of the family store, and Coram is proud of the kids and their business.
Originally, Chilly’s was a cozy 1,500-square-foot store on Main Street. They’re still on Main (just across the street, in fact), but the new location has 4,000 square feet. After significant investment in time, money and hard work, the new store was unveiled in October.
Coram and his customers love the new space. The broad, glass storefront floods the shop with natural light, and the nearly 500-square-foot, ice-cold beer cave, or “Chilly’s Chill Chamber,”is a favorite among shoppers.
Perhaps the most distinguishing feature is the tasting bar in the middle of the store, where patrons can sample beer, wine or spirits. With custom granite counters and tastings three nights a week, Chilly’s has a festive and elegant vibe. They offer a wide selection of drinks, but specialize in craft beer and bourbon.
Coram is also proud of his employees, who have excellent product knowledge and always greet customers with a smile. There’s very little staff turnover at Chilly’s. Coram’s employees have been with him for at least 30 months and as long as 16 years. “I always try to pay our employees more than our competitors pay. I always try to treat our employees like family,”he says.
Coram is also active in community events, charity work and the beverage industry. His philosophy is simple: treat people with respect, and charge a fair price for quality products.
A Unique Combination
By Annelise Kelly
When Heather and Tom Coffin opened their Keene, NY store in 2011, they launched a bold project combining a garden center and a wine and spirits shop. East Branch Organicsfeatures an eclectic, closely-curated selection of fine wines and spirits, along with edible and ornamental plants suited to the local Adirondack climate. They added craft beer to their product line in 2017, which has proved popular. “Although we just added it in late November,”Heather Coffin says, “it has already increased our foot traffic significantly.”
Also for sale in the garden center: the usual selection of functional and decorative nursery items, such as tools, gloves, fertilizer and gifts. The Coffins round out their offerings with floral design for weddings and events, as well as landscaping services.
Keene is a small town of about 1,100, but “almost everyone driving to the Adirondacks passes by,”Coffin says. While the “organics”in the title initially referred to the nursery aspect of the business, they focus on organic, sustainable, craft and small-batch products. “Initially it was easier to stock lots of organic wines and spirits, but finding organic beer was harder,”she adds.
Heather says her number-one tip for success is “good marketing: Instagram, Facebook, word of mouth and email marketing.”East Branch Organics maintains a local presence in the community digital newsletter and posts daily on Instagram, which especially resonates with their craft beer clientele. East Branch also makes its beer list searchable via Beermenus.com and the UnTapped app.
The rustic aesthetic of their five-and-a-half acre property attracts passing motorists with lush, colorful plants in spring, summer and fall. “In the winter, people are so excited to see a thriving business in a sleepy, destination town,”Coffin says. “We’ve found an interesting mix of products that almost never fails to make even the most difficult customers delighted.”
Selected by Hand
By Maura Keller
Walk into Grapes the Wine Companyand you’ll immediately feel like the store is reminiscent of a beautiful library—thanks in part to the custom-built redwood tree racking, complete with easy-to-navigate displays. Named one of the “most influential wine retailers in the country”by the Wall Street Journal, Grapes the Wine Company prides itself on their unique hand-selected wines and its knowledgeable staff, who help customers choose the very best wines available in today’s marketplace.
“We take great pride in the time and effort put forth to create a selection of wines and spirits that we can be proud of,”says owner Daniel Posner. We have 3,000 SKUs on the shelf, but they are each hand chosen and in most cases—particularly if under $30—tasted by the staff to determine if the wine is of the quality that we would like to see.”
In addition, Prosner tries to make each client’s buying experience seamless. “When you walk into the store, you are greeted by a member of the staff immediately, who will try to help with your selection,”Prosner says. “We have no floor stacks or shelf talkers in the store. We want you to ask questions, and we want you to seek advice for your purchase.”
After having been in business over 20 years, each and every award and accolade that Grapes the Wine Company receives means everything to the ownership and the staff.
“We take great pride in knowing that what we are doing does not go unnoticed, with our clients and with the wine community as a whole,”Posner says.
Customers and Community
By Andrew Madigan
In 2003, Banks Wine & Spiritswas opened in Millville, Delaware, a resort area near Bethany Beach, easily accessible from Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia. Banks is a family operation owned by Kami Banks Kane, her mother Mackie and her brother Ted.
Banks is a mammoth store weighing in at 9,700 square feet. They have a vast, diverse inventory including 350 beers, 2,500 wines, 1,000 spirits and an eight-tap selection of growlers. Banks is known for its range of whiskey, bourbon and single-malt scotch, but it also carries a wide assortment of local, seasonal and craft beers. Stock is rotated frequently, so there’s always something new on tap. “We have partnered with local breweries to age beer in our single-barrel bourbon barrels that we then feature on our tap system,”Kane says.
Banks is also a great place to find the perfect wine. In December 2017, they orchestrated a high-end wine tasting in partnership with three of their suppliers. Wine Spectator later cited two of their featured wines as #1 and #2 on their Top 100 wines. This is no coincidence. Banks is dedicated to employee training. They hold monthly seminars at employee homes to build a strong team, have fun and learn about the products. They’ve also brought on a full-time wine expert.
In large part, Kane attributes the store’s success to exceptional customer service. “Our number-one philosophy is customer service. Whether it’s special orders to carrying out purchases, we want to assist the customer from the moment they step inside our store,”she says.
Kane is most proud of Banks’commitment to the local community. They are heavily involved with fundraising, non-profit groups, local government and industry organizations. Banks has won a number of awards, both from regional magazines and the local Chamber of Commerce. It’s easy to see why, given their personal touch with customers, treating employees well and doing right by the community.
A Nostalgic Atmosphere
By Andrew Madigan
Lizz’swas founded in Oak Ridge, Tennessee in 1977 by Lizz Dunlap, one of the city’s first female business owners. She built the shop on what was considered “worthless land.”Now it’s a historic site and Lizz’s is the oldest liquor store in Oak Ridge. Aaron Wells, the current owner, bought the store in 2015 from his friend Kenneth Montgomery.
The first thing you might notice about Lizz’s is the nostalgic atmosphere. Shoppers find themselves dancing to classics by Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Louis Prima and Aretha Franklin. The second thing you’ll find is a great selection of whiskey, scotch and—especially over the past year—sake and Asian spirits. They also stock a wide array of liqueurs and aperitifs, which you won’t typically find elsewhere in East Tennessee.
Customers are number one at Lizz’s. “Whether they come in looking for a pint of Popov,”Wells says, “or a handle of high-dollar whiskey, our customer service leaves everyone feeling like royalty.”Lizz’s was voted best Wine & Spirits store in the county by Oak Ridger newspaper in both 2016 and 2017. The staff is fully engaged with the public—they know their customers’names and what they like to drink.
Wells and his wife Melissa have a four-year-old, Maggie, who’s an important part of the picture. Lizz’s artist-in-residence, she’s responsible for custom-decorating paper grocery bags, to the delight of shoppers, and she’s not afraid to let the other staff members know when something needs to be tidied up or bottles need pricing. Wells is excited to have her on board full-time one day (when she’s older) so he’ll have more time to go fishing.
Wells is a true part of the community. He coaches basketball, football and baseball, sits on more than a dozen local boards and is a great supporter of Oak Ridge. “I love my city,”he says. “And I strive daily to operate the friendliest store in town.”
Welcoming Neighborhood Store
By Maura Keller
Founded in 2010, Cork and Barrelrecently moved to its new location in Hamden, CT. Considered to be a welcoming neighborhood store, Cork and Barrel’s staff prides itself on carrying customers’unique beverage product interests or special ordering the products for them. In fact, the store’s promise is, “If you don’t see what you want, we’ll order it for you!”Considered to be the go-to source for liquor, the store’s wines are special-ordered and the walk-in cooler ushers customers eager to explore the store’s wide array of craft beer.
“We train our employees on an ongoing basis,”says Varsha Mehta, owner of Cork and Barrel. “Our family values and our customer service set us apart in our marketplace.”
Cork & Barrel also takes service to the next level, offering a wide selection of common and not-so-common brands in every category. It’s important to Mehta and her employees that customers think of Cork & Barrel first when planning for weddings, parties and other special occasions.
As a family-owned store, Cork & Barrel’s single business accomplishment during the last 12 months includes moving into their new location as well as the vast selection available to their new customers. During the next 12 months, the managers of Cork & Barrel hope to offer classes for customers.