Creating a Point of View

‘€œWe have a really great staff that are merchants and salespeople who can have a conversation about wines that engages the customer. We don’€™t want our people to feel like they have to hustle for sales, because it’€™s really about making sure the customer is served and not harassing people to sell them,’€ she said.

With a 20-seat wine bar, a small back office on-site, special events and wine club pick-ups, room is at a premium at FPWM. So stocking and shelf space must meet simple needs: champagne and sparkling wines are in bins on the floor, New World white varietals on one side of the store leading to mostly Spanish and Italian whites, rosés and more champagnes, and a back wall devoted to Austria, Germany, France and half-bottles.

The back wall racks then take on domestic reds, leading to another wall of New World red wines, then Burgundy, the Rhone, Bordeaux and other French wines. The arrangement ends with Italy, Spain, Portugal and other European producers. Most of the wines stocked on the floor are $20 and under. Other rolling bins framing the wine bar are filled with wine priced $20 and up.

In order to retain some of the steady flow of customers passing through the Ferry building, FPWM has established a very successful monthly wine club, focusing on ‘€œexposing new producers, terrific values, and fantastic new styles and blends to our customers,’€ according to wine club information.

‘€œWhat’€™s interesting about the wine club is that over 50% of the members don’€™t have the wine shipped to them; they pick it up at the store,’€ said Granoff. When wine club wines are made available for pick up, FPWM features a selection of cheeses from SF’€™s much-loved Cowgirl Creamery paired with the wines. They also cross-merchandise the wine club with the Cowgirl Creamery cheese club.

Customers are also encouraged to subscribe to the store’€™s newsletter or attend one of its frequent lectures, often done by Zachareas or Granoff.

Oxbow in Napa
At the trio’€™s new store, the Oxbow Wine Merchant in the newly opened Oxbow Public Market in downtown Napa, they’€™re tweaking the same basic retail model.

Oxbow, founded by Steve Carlin, project manager of the Ferry Building Marketplace, invited the trio to try their idea further north.

‘€œThe Oxbow is very much an evolution of the store in the Ferry Building,’€ said Granoff. Downtown Napa is considered a promising retail area, but offers nothing like the traffic of downtown San Francisco, and the partners expect business to build slowly and require more local promotion, marketing and perhaps even advertising. Space was cheaper, and developer Carlin was focusing on even smaller businesses.

‘€œIn the Ferry building, we really didn’€™t have the option to build a kitchen,’€ saod Granoff, ‘€œbut here we did, a small kitchen with more extensive food offerings at the wine bar.’€ The space is about 1,100 square feet larger, and operationally even bigger, as the back office is off-site.

While the Ferry Market is constructed as a long narrow hall with the shops nestled snugly under the office floors above, the Oxbow building is more of an industrial-style metal barn with full floor to ceiling windows overlooking a river. The wine bar is the centerpiece of the entire space and divides the room, with the shop on one side, the seating area, market and kitchen on the other.

The team is also operating as the cheese merchant for the Market. ‘€œWe knew we needed to add another dimension to the store, and decided cheese was a natural marriage with wine. But we’€™re not cheese mongers,’€ said Zachareas. So they sought out help to hire staff and develop the cheese selection and build customer service from Kate Arding, a veteran of the West Coast cheese scene who helped establish Cowgirl Creamery. Now, local wineries seek help from Oxbow when deciding which cheeses to use in their winery pairings.

The cheese shop operates under the same concept as the wine inventory, with emphasis on small production and artisan items.

The wine selection isn’€™t identical to the San Francisco store, with slightly more California wine, and the trio is being visited by producers so small they’€™ve never even presented their wares in San Francisco. Pricey, high-profile Napa producers looking for a new vendor are usually disappointed. ‘€œWe need another $100 cabernet like a hole in the head,’€ said Granoff. ‘€œIf they come to us with something that can hit the shelves at $50, we can talk sooner.’€ And while local icons may have a hard time hitting the shelves, ironically, the visiting winemakers and others are scooping up many of the imported bargains Oxbow stocks.

As for future expansion of the concept, Zachareas said they’€™re willing to work again with developer Carlin if the right project comes along. Or not. Either way, the three wine vets have their hands full keeping these two stores and their various programs humming along smoothly.

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