Trendspotting: Turning Cumbersome Special Orders Into Quick, High-Margin Sales

Last week Kurt Hebel sold a case of wine before even getting out of bed.

Kurt runs Chuck’s Fine Wine, a high end beer and wine shop on the east side of Cleveland. Last Monday morning greeted him with an email from a customer: “Can you get this?” Attached was a picture of a Malbec she had enjoyed recently on a business trip.

For most retailers, such requests often elicit a groan, but Kurt just smiled and opened his BevQuery app. BevQuery is a new online service that connects beer and wine retailers to distributors of the products they’re looking for.

As he does several times a day, he input the name of the producer, vintage, and variety, and tapped ‘Submit.’ His screen instantly told him that his query had been routed to Vintner Select, the Malbec’s distributor in his territory.

At the same time at Vinter Select’s offices on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Jason Price’s phone chimed with the sound of a cash register, letting him know Kurt’s query was awaiting response. Jason quickly checked his inventory and responded to the query on his own app with pricing and availability numbers.

Still enjoying his coffee, Kurt’s phone chimed with Jason’s response, which Kurt forwarded to his customer via email: the malbec was $27.99. “I’ll take a case,” she replied. Kurt placed the order through the app and the Malbec was included in his next delivery.

This scene, unimaginable just a year ago, is now commonplace in the Ohio market, where I recently helped to launch BevQuery. Having already submitted over 6,000 queries, retailers have been universally enthusiastic as the platform has helped them increase high margin sales while negating the need to juggle dozens of printed catalogs. In the process, distributors have also significantly accelerated turnaround times on special orders.

BevQuery uses state-supplied registration data, as well as data from distributors to cross-references a retailer’s location with territory-to-brand representations to determine which distributor handles a given brand for a particular store. Data is refreshed at least monthly to stay current with the constantly changing landscape of the wholesale market.

BevQuery comes to market at a critical time for the three-tier system. A confluence of factors is changing consumer behavior radically: the maturing influence of critics, publications, and social media; the rise of online retailers; and the ubiquity of mobile devices and search engines.

The result is an emerging consumer class with a high intent to purchase very specific products. But with post-recession inventories still tight, retailers are increasingly missing out on these sales. Part of the reason – and the problem BevQuery solves – is how cumbersome it is for retailers to find specific products. The growth in the online and direct to consumer (DTC) markets reflects this – the DTC market leapt by 15.5% in 2014 to $1.82 billion.

BevQuery aims to help three tier players reclaim some of those high-margin sales by shortening the distance between consumers and the products they want. Free to retailers and distributors, BevQuery generates revenues from data sales and premium services such as data hosting and promotional pushes for wholesalers. Plans are in the works to expand to other markets as momentum builds in the distributor base.

Steve McIntosh has spent 19 years designing software solutions for Fortune 1000 companies.  He also holds a certificate from the Court of Master Sommeliers, is an alum of The Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, edits the blog Winethroplogy, and has been an avid wine collector for over 25 years.  In 2011 he founded KJM Products, the parent company of BevQuery.  He lives in Columbus, Ohio with his wife and daughter.

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