Retailer Of The Year

In the state of Colorado, an off-premise beverage alcohol retailer can only own and operate one store. But what a store it can be. Applejack Wine & Spirits, in Wheat Ridge, CO, is the largest volume single beverage alcohol store in the U.S. The store itself, about 100,000 square feet in size, including its warehouse space, fills an entire building in a shopping center. “People think the space must have once been a supermarket, but, no, we built it as the liquor store,” explained Alan Freis, chairman. And Applejack has expanded three times, taking over the space of two other stores, since it first moved into the building in 1974.

0502aj2 The top Applejack executives: Jim Shpall (left), president and ceo, and Alan Freis, chairman.

Applejack carries over 16,000 SKUs. “If you can’t find it at Applejack, you don’t need it,” said Jim Shpall, president and ceo. In its advertising, Applejack bills itself as “America’s Largest and Finest Wine & Spirits Supermarket,” with the word “Finest” looking as if it has been penciled in. That’s because Applejack is a superstore but also more than a superstore. The same operation that offers low prices also prides itself on its extensive selection — it carries one of the largest collections of single malts in the U.S., Shpall said. The store that people go to in order to stock up for a party is also the store that wine collectors visit for wines they can’t find anywhere else. On Applejack’s “About Us” page of its website (www.applejack.com), the store’s philosophy is described this way: “One of the best aspects of working at Applejack is helping our customers with their special needs . . . There’s nothing we like more than playing the sleuth and tracking down that obscure vintage; or pulling together a one-of-a-kind gift package for that once-in-a-lifetime occasion.” So, who is the Applejack customer? “My customer is anyone aged 21 to 99,” declared Shpall. “We have something for everyone.” Applejack is one of the largest buyers of French wines in the country. “We probably have more of the recent great Bordeaux vintages than anyone in the U.S.,” said Shpall. However, the store is also the largest single seller of Coors. WINECENTERApplejack is considered a destination store where customers can find just about anything to satisfy their beverage alcohol needs. This egalitarian attitude infuses Applejack. Though the store has its share of high-end wine collectors, doing a brisk business in, for example, Bordeaux futures, Applejack does not favor them over its more ordinary customers. “My good customer who buys three bottles of wine every week is just as important as the one who spends $15,000 at a crack,” said Shpall. “All our customers are important.” When Applejack obtains a sought-after wine, therefore, it sells it on a “first come, first serve” basis.

A DESTINATION STORE

Applejack is, on the one hand, a destination store. Shpall has one regular customer who travels to the store from St. Louis every few months. “People pass by many liquor stores on their way to us,” said Freis. “They’re coming for our selection, our pricing and our help.” On the other hand, the store is also ideally situated. Located in a shopping center in Wheat Ridge, Applejack is right off Interstate 70, the main route to Colorado’s mountains. “We are one of the last exits out of Denver, about 45 minutes from the closest ski resort,” explained Freis.

EMPLOYEE

WINEWAREHOUSE

Applejack wine managers Shawn Lightfoot (left) and David Anderson in the wine cellar (above), and a view of the extensive warehouse (right).

That the store is in such a prime location is lucky happenstance. When the store was opened by its original owner, Herb Becker, in 1961, I-70 wasn’t even there. Becker built his new shopping center and its liquor store in an area of apple orchards, hence the names: Applewood Village Shopping Center and Applejack Wine & Spirits. Applejack is not the typical box-like superstore. “We don’t look like Costco,” said Shpall. The store, which went through a major remodeling five years ago, does not have high ceilings, and as a result of its many expansions, is actually full of nooks and crannies. Yet, it is not claustrophobic. Its main aisles, which Shpall refers to as its “avenue aisles,” are wide enough for three to four shopping carts to fit abreast. The store’s shelving is kept low, four-to-five feet high. “That’s so you can always see and what you see is most of the selling space,” said Shpall. The goal of the remodeling, which took five months to complete, though the store remained open through it all, was “to make the store bright, clean, the opposite of the stereotypical liquor store,” said Shpall. “We wanted to make it a consumer-friendly store, appealing to all demographics.” The inside of the store was entirely gutted, one section at a time. Even the direction of the aisles was changed, from east/west to north/south. “Everything from the floor to above the ceiling, including the telephone and computer wiring, was updated,” said Shpall. “We put in all-new lighting, all-new shelving.” Applejack also added four new registers, bringing it up to a total of 14 checkout lanes.

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