Retailer of the Year: Cork Liquors

Working as a Family

Cork Liquors is among the rare family businesses to last through three generations – Warren’s son Travis, daughter Allison and son-in-law all work at the company full-time.

“My favorite part of being a retailer is having my family heavily involved in the business,” Scheidt says. “Allison is only a few feet away from me and runs our business office, and her husband is the liquor buyer at our main store. Travis oversees all of our marketing and pricing and specializes in craft beer. Having my family here is a big treat for me.”

Warren’s brother Don handles the company’s real estate acquisitions, leases and property purchases, given his background as a realtor. Allison joined the business after she graduated from Purdue in 2008, and Travis came on board in 2006 following his graduation from Ball State. While he was in school, Travis worked at a number of Indiana beer wholesalers, giving him a unique perspective on the industry. One day, Scheidt hopes his children will pass the business on to the fourth generation.

“I’m going to live forever, even though I haven’t figured out the details yet,” he jokes. “But it’s very important for me to keep the business family-owned. I would still only have seven stores if it wasn’t for them.”

When the opportunity to purchase four locations in Shelbyville came along, Scheidt was hesitant to expand. At that stage of his life, he “had a good thing going” in his hometown and didn’t have the need or desire to expand into a new market. But his children were young and aggressive and willing to commit to joining the business when they finished college.

“That made all the difference in the world,” he says. “Now I’m committed to serving small, outlying communities where we can make a significant difference in the types of stores we build and the products we sell. Every town we’ve entered, we’ve tried to make things better than they were before we arrived. We want to be an asset in the community, and that’s something you can do in a small town.”

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Warren works with his son Travis and daughter Allison.

Not Always Smooth Sailing

Like any business, Cork Liquors has faced its share of challenges over the years.

“We face the same hardships as any small business – mostly difficulties in finding a consistent labor force and competing against larger stores,” Scheidt says.

The towns where Cork operates are home to a number of large manufacturers. Cummins, a diesel engine manufacturer, is located in Columbus, and Greensburg is home to a Honda plant.

“Our unemployment rate is very low, so people are at a premium – especially good ones,” he adds. “But from speaking to retailers around the country, I know a competitive labor market isn’t unique to southern Indiana.”

In addition to increased labor costs, Cork competes against stores that sell a wide variety of products that package stores aren’t allowed to carry. To make things worse, many of these big box stores sell alcohol as a loss leader, below cost.

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Bomber selection at Cork Liquors.

“They’re not doing anything illegal – if these stores want to lose money on certain products, that’s their prerogative,” Scheidt says. “But I’d rather see it not take place, especially when all I can sell is alcohol products.” Other than cold beer, big box stores like Walmart and Kroger can sell any items found in Cork locations.

“People need food, fuel, clothing and medicine – all things these stores can sell legally that I can’t,” he adds. “When a competitor can sell the staples of life and then turn around and offer the only products we carry to consumers at below cost, I don’t like it very much. If those stores can afford to lose money, they should lower their prices on things that people need.”

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