The 2018 Retailers of the Year Part 5

Welcome to Part 5 of our series that recognizes our 2018 Retailers of the Year. In this post we honor Tin Woodman’s Flask, Gourmet LiquorsBeards Hill LiquorsJimbo’s Wine and Liquors, Village Liquor and Liquor Hutch.

Check out Part 1Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

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 last week at the second annual Beverage Alcohol Retailers Conference in Denver. Congratulations to everyone who won, and good luck to the retailers who enter next years awards!

All About People

By Annelise Kelly

Gourmet Liquors is one of many enterprises under the umbrella of ICON Hospitality. The 10,000-square-foot retail space also houses Luscious & Sweet Gourmet Bakery, which echoes the liquor theme with Guinness cupcakes and bourbon pecan pie. They also sell cheese, imported oils and pastas, glassware, barware, lifestyle items and cigars. ICON’s other businesses include an Italian restaurant, a catering company, an event space and a construction company.

President and CEO Michael Charlton says focusing on people–employees and customers–is essential. “The human element drives customer engagement – technology is only a tool to expedite transactions. One-on-one personal interactions are key, from broad product knowledge to helping people out to their cars.”

Gourmet Liquors educates clientele with frequent tastings of wine and craft beer, providing collateral materials detailing food pairing, regions, varietals, ingredients and flavor profiles. The spirits program emphasizes education over tastings. “With our high-volume Italian restaurant nearby, we do a lot of cooking demo tie-ins,” Charlton adds.

Staff knowledge is a priority: “Gallo has a significant wine course we put everyone through. We bring in vendors to help employees understand the foundational elements of what they’re selling,” he says. “We assign employees to store sections based on their enthusiasm and expertise on the products.”

Instead of human resources, they have a Director of Culture and Talent, reflecting the company’s strong human focus. Paid community service and lots of staff recognition help cultivate a relationship that’s “transformative, not transactional.”

Even their social media has a distinctly personal quality: every associate makes multiple daily posts on Instagram and Facebook, guided by the marketing department.

Education First

By Maura Keller

Tin Woodman’s Flask in Chittenango, NY, embraces being located in the town known as the birthplace of Frank Baum, creator of Wizard of Oz. But the store’s own claim to fame is its diverse product selection, oversized aisles, educational guest kiosks and well-versed staff. As Brian Jobin, general manager of Tin Woodman’s Flask, explains, the retailer wants to be more than just a liquor store.

“Our philosophy is to create a unique experience for our guests and to ignite their natural passion for learning as a way to educate them about wines and spirits,” Jobin says. Today, Tin Woodman’s Flask is one of the largest wine and spirits stores in the Chittenango, NY region, featuring the widest variety of more than 100,000 bottles. “We also offer a unique rewards program with exclusive member benefits and discounts—and it’s completely free for guests to sign up while they’re in the store and immediately begin saving,” Jobin says.

While Tin Woodman’s Flask is the largest wine and spirits retailer in the region, Jobin and his team ensures guests still receive one-on-one interaction with the extremely educated staff, including the retailer’s advanced certified sommelier. And Jobin makes a strong effort to continually educate employees with daily meetings, weekly product information sheets and monthly seminars describing product categories. Additionally, the store offers weekly events at its tasting bar so guests can learn about wines and spirits directly from the wineries and distilleries.

“We also feature interactive kiosks so guests can access helpful information about the tasting profiles for the variety of wines we offer,” Jobin says. “It’s an honor to earn Retailer of the Year Award, especially within the first year of opening our doors. We were deliberate in our strategy to offer a unique retail experience for our guests, and this recognition validates that philosophy and is a testament to our hardworking staff who are committed to providing the highest standard of guest service.”

Bigger Than it Looks

By Andrew Madigan

In 1989, Andy Klein—a local businessman in Aberdeen, Maryland—opened Beards Hill Liquors. He hired Daniel Hull to transform the shop into a luxury destination for wine and spirits, and together they did just that, overhauling management, training, marketing, community outreach and customer experience. They managed to both lower prices and increase sales, which have nearly doubled over the years.

Beards Hill is sometimes called the Mary Poppins Bag, Hull explains, “because it looks much bigger on the inside than it does from the outside.” The store has a broad range of products in a fairly small space, yet everything is neat and organized.

According to Hull, the General Manager, they’re indebted to “a fantastic, diverse customer base.” Beards Hill is close to a military installation (Aberdeen Proving Ground), Ripken Stadium and Interstate 95, which means shoppers come from far and wide. Customer service is a top priority and Hull is passionate about special requests. If a requested product isn’t available, but comes on the market years later, he’ll track it down—overseas, if necessary—buy it, and get in touch with the customer.

“We believe that retail is more than just putting products and prices on a shelf,” he says. “We get to know our customers, and build the customer experience around their needs.”

The retail team is knowledgeable, well trained and dedicated. They all receive TIPS certification in addition to customer service, sales and product training.

At Beards Hill, customers are treated like guests. The store has special discounts for seniors, teachers, military and first responders. They also use “state-of-the-art POS and inventory management software” to streamline and organize their operation.

Hull is clearly delighted by his team. “We take pride in our store and the products we sell,” he says. “We care about our reputation and give back to the community that supports us.”

Expanding the Business

By Annelise Kelly

In March 2016, Gonzo Mirch bought the oldest business in Basalt, Colorado: Jimbo’s Wine and Liquors. As a liquor rep, he’d developed a good relationship with the previous owner, who stayed on two days a week as the in-house wine expert.

Since taking over, he’s made a few changes. He’s expanded the product line to include glass pipes – since recreational cannabis is legal in Colorado. “Our cigarette rep had them well-priced. We started more as a service for customers – now we’re selling about 20 a week,” he says Jimbo’s also sells cigars.

His new event service, Jimbo’s Integral Bar Solutions, has had a huge impact on the bottom line. “I work with wedding planners, chefs and caterers who refer clients to me,” Mirch says. “We give a quote on spirits, mixers, garnish and ice, and run the beverage service. It’s a small store and I can only get so many people in the door, so selling full cases is great. One event equals one, even one and a half, days of sales in the stores. Last year, sales went up 20 percent: 15 or 18 percent was from catering.”

His Local’s Choice of the Month program reflects Mirch’s central philosophy. “Listen to your customers and make sure they know that you care about them,” he says. A local picks a favorite product, and a framed picture of customer and bottle, discounted by 10% for the month, are featured on the counter.

“Training your customers is almost as important as training your sales associates,” he says, so he offers staff wine tastings every Wednesday and public tastings every Thursday.

Starting from Scratch

By Annelise Kelly

In 1983, the collapse of the savings and loan industry in Texas left engineer Vithal Patel jobless. “My parents bought the first business they could, without any experience in liquor,” says their son Purav Patel, now general manager of four stores (with two more to open this year). Three decades later, Inc Magazine included Village Liquor on the 2017 list of fastest growing private U.S. companies.

What does Patel view as the key factor to his company’s success? “Knowing your market: We’re neighborhood stores. While the business follows a general theme, each store operates a little differently. We found success because we got to know our customer base really well.”

A newly implemented loyalty program is proving effective. “Our number-one driving factor is releases of limited edition bottles and short runs, which create a pinch for retailers,” he says. “Instead of resorting to secondary pricing, “our highest spenders get first crack at these exclusive products,” as well as access to events and tastings.

Village’s email newsletter, launched about two years ago, also helps him know the market. The sign-up form asks customers to check their interests, from craft beer to fine wine to specific spirits. “The data helps us,” Patel says. “We can track who is opening which letters: the wine guy, the bourbon guy.” The newsletter introduces weekly flash sales (a recent low-production Cabernet was discounted 46%) encouraging customers to forward the newsletter to non-subscribers, building the customer base with new traffic.

Municipal Support

By Maura Keller

Maximizing each customer’s shopping experience is at the core of Liquor Hutch, which was founded in 1946 in Hutchinson, Minnesota. According to Candice Woods, manager of Liquor Hutch, each and every decision made is based on how it affects their customers.

“From staff training and product knowledge development to the high priority placed on product selection and special events, we aim to give our customers the best possible shopping experience,” Woods says. “The store was remodeled and expanded in 2005 to enhance this experience with an organized, easy-to-shop layout including wide aisles and beautiful décor. Most importantly, our staff takes great pride in their work and is always friendly and willing to help.”

During the last 12 months, Liquor Hutch has increased its social media presence and started using a database system to improve its event and special/new item promotion activities.

“As a governmental enterprise fund, we have an extensive budget process that accounts for all revenues and expenses,” Woods says. “Some of the important metrics in this process are gross and net profit goals, labor to sales percentages and inventory turns.” These items, along with advertising, shipping, credit card and other expenses are reviewed with the full-time staff at the store’s monthly meeting.

Supporting the local community is paramount and the Liquor Hutch boasts that the business’ single biggest accomplishment from the past 12 months is providing the store’s highest contribution ever to the City of Hutchinson—$500,000 was transferred to be used to support city services.

“Without this transfer, city residents would realize a 10% increase in their tax levy,” Woods says. “It’s an honor to have the many efforts of our staff acknowledged. We’re proud to be a municipal liquor operation, to serve the citizens of Hutchinson and to have our contribution to our city recognized.”

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