Raising The Bar

Back in 1970, Irving Rosenstein had the foresight to open an entirely different type of liquor store on Versailles Road at Village Drive in Lexington, KY. It was a relatively small store by modern day standards, but at the time it was one of the largest in Kentucky. Naming his store Shoppers Village Liquor, Rosenstein created a consumer-friendly place that was just as welcoming toward female customers as it was to male clientele. His son, Robert explained, “My father started the first store back in the late ’60s. He developed something that was rare: a brightly lit space that was airy, spacious and was not at all scary for female customers to enter. This was at a time when liquor stores were unclean, dimly lit and often had drive-by windows.”0504rb1

Roger Leasor (left), president of Liquor Barn, and Robert Rosenstein, ceo of the chain, in the Springhurst Town Center store in Louisville, KY.

Rosenstein’s formula worked and was embraced by the local community, allowing him to open 11 outlets in Lexington, Frankfort, and Winchester, KY. Joining his father’s business in 1978, Robert took to the stores with gusto and worked with his father and the rest of the managerial personnel to modernize the store concept and with that change came a different name: Liquor Barn, sub-headed as The Ultimate Party Source. Robert, now the ceo of Liquor Barn, said, “We made a transition in the ’80s to become a one-stop party shop.”

“THE HOME DEPOT OF HOME ENTERTAINING”

Besides offering a large and wide selection of beverage alcohol products, Liquor Barn also provides customers with a host of items to satisfy their home entertaining needs, from gourmet foods to paper goods and balloons to plates. With the ability to outfit birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, wedding receptions and pool parties, Liquor Barn, indeed, offers one-stop party shopping. Roger Leasor, president of Liquor Barn, describes their store concept as, “The Home Depot of home entertaining. Whether the party is for 200 people, 50 guests or 2, you can find everything you need here.”

With five outlets in Lexington and Louisville, Liquor Barn stores run from 25,000 square feet at the smallest to 80,000 square feet, at the largest — offering a mammoth inventory of beverage products. Chain-wide sales were up in 2004, Rosenstein said, with a beverage sales breakdown by category of 42.3% for distilled spirits, 26.3% for wine, 22.1% for beer and 9.3% for non-alcoholic beverages. This summer will see the grand opening of a sixth store, located just off the Hamburg Shopping Pavilion area of Lexington. The 35,000-square-foot space will serve as warehouse distribution for the other stores as well as another retail center.

WINE SELECTION

Liquor Barn has an extensive wine selection that not only includes national brand items but small production items as well. The staff makes it their goal to source interesting wines from all over the world by visiting winemakers in their element in Italy, France, South America, South Africa, Oregon, Washington, California and even on their home turf of Kentucky. “We look for small producers, the kind who work with just five or ten acres of land to make outstanding wines,” said Rosenstein.

PICT0059.tif over view hiLiquor Barn stores are huge, averaging 25,000 square feet at the smallest to 80,000 square feet at the largest.

Supporting these small producers has become part of the fabric of business at Liquor Barn. Sheila Omer Ferrell, the public relations and special events manager for the company, noted, “The Rosenstein family firmly believes that it isn’t enough to ‘do well’; one must also do ‘good.'” Following that motto, Liquor Barn has helped small winemakers that do not necessarily have access to large marketing budgets. Some winemakers have since found fame in the industry but remain loyal to Liquor Barn for its initial support. Oregon winemaker Ken Wright is one. “We supported Ken Wright from the start, before people had really heard about his pinot noirs. He recognizes us for that and always gives us a great selection to sell.”

GETTING THE WORD OUT

Liquor Barn highlights wine producers in a full-color, eight-page newsletter that is published six to eight times per year. In every issue the newsletter features a wine of the month or a producer, which covers a variety of their wines. The publication also recommends two wines for under $10, indicates the best-selling category in the store and reveals the tasting notes on a number of wines conducted by a staff tasting panel, with members rotating with each issue. The newsletter also features a distilled spirits product of the month, a cigar of the month and seasonal sensations that focus on edible delights.

Distributed to a customer mailing list of 30,000, Liquor Barn recently published the newsletter as a supplement to the Courier Journal. It is still too early to tell if this approach will be successful, Rosenstein said.

The company also recreates the newsletter on a web site, which receives a huge amount of hits every day.

A more traditional, and still highly effective, form of publicity for the chain is print and broadcast advertising. For the first time ever, in addition to their twice-monthly print ads in the Courier Journal, the company ran two television commercials that aired on an NBC affiliated channel. Ferrell remarked, “The ads were clever and sophisticated. One was for Korbel and the other for Baileys. Both were immensely successful.”

In her position as pr manager, Ferrell has gotten Liquor Barn appearances on local TV shows that offer entertaining advice. “We’ve covered everything from planning a party to tips on how to safely open a bottle of champagne.”

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The chain’s food sections feature interesting selections of breads, cheeses, meats and chocolates, among other items.

GOURMET FOOD SECTION

Carrying a great gourmet food selection is part-and-parcel of Liquor Barn’s belief of providing customers with the best in wine, food and spirits. All their stores showcase hard-to-find cheeses from Europe, Mexico and a special selection of domestic and local artisan Kentucky cheeses. Also available at their stores are a gourmet selection of meats, not to mention small production, famous Kentucky ham, craft chocolates and bread from a local baker, Jim Betts. The aromatic herb encrusted foccacia, the rustic ciabatta and old-world beer bread have brought attention among regular customers and local press alike. A recent article in the Courier Journal applauded the quality of their bread at all three Louisville locations. The chain carries an array of catering supplies that attracts customers from personal party hostesses to professional chefs and caterers.

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