Note: This feature ran in a supplement in the latest issue of Beverage Dynamics that celebrated family-owned businesses in the beverage alcohol industry.
The family business has long been a staple in the American economy. According to the Small Business Administration, about 90 percent of all U.S. businesses are family owned or controlled.
Buster’s Liquors & Wines in Memphis, Tennessee is one such family-owned entity. For more than six decades, multiple generations of the Hammond family have been working hard at founding and growing a successful liquor retail business that serves the local community.
Josh Hammond is the president of Buster’s Liquors & Wines and grandson of the founder, Buster Hammond. “Good timing, the willingness to say ‘yes,’ a key understanding of customers’ needs and an eagerness to meet those needs have made Buster’s a concrete establishment within Memphis,” he says.
But founder Buster Hammond had not always sold liquor. He was originally in the grocery business with his friend, Tom Kirk. Together, they built three successful HamKirk grocery stores across Memphis and were recognized as the first grocery to open on Sundays in the city.
“Over time, the partnership waned and they agreed to set a price and flip a coin for the business. Buster loss,” Hammond says. “Soon after, Buster was approached about opening a liquor store next door. The original Buster’s store on South Bellevue has long been closed since we moved to a new location, but the old HamKirk Grocery remains open to this day.”
They say the adage “location, location, location” reigns true in determining the success or failure of retail establishments, and Buster’s is no exception. As Memphis grew and expanded outward from the downtown and the mighty Mississippi River areas, Buster Hammond had good sense to move his liquor store eastward in the late 1960’s to the store’s present location.
Today, this location is now centrally located in the city, with three heavily traveled east/west thoroughfares that converge nearby. Surrounded by affluent old neighborhoods and The University of Memphis around the corner, the Poplar/Highland intersection is one of the busiest in the city—and it is here that Buster’s calls “home.” But good location is nothing without good business sense.
The Second Generation Takes Over
According to Josh Hammond, it was Buster’s son and Josh’s father, Rommy, who recognized the future of the wine industry when he took over the business. Rommy agreed to sell any wine his local wholesale representatives brought him.
“My brother Morgan and I have complimented those two important aspects of location and selection by developing product knowledge with our staff and improving our internal systems,” Josh says. “As Morgan likes to say, Buster built the road, Rommy expanded it into a highway, and our generation is turning it into a ten-lane super expressway.”
Rommy Hammond agrees, and says it was a natural for him to take over when his dad began slowing down.
“My son Morgan really didn’t want to finish college; he wanted to come into the business,” Rommy explains. “Then Josh, after he graduated from Alabama, wanted to take six months off and find himself. I told him he could find himself at the store and work for me for six months, then go find himself if he wanted to. He’s still there to this day.”
A Second Transition
Josh admits that while keeping the business intact has never been an issue, keeping his wits about him is a different story.
“Buster’s has evolved through two successions,” Hammond says. “Both can be described as responsibility takeovers, with the younger generation gradually performing all the duties of the elder generation.” But neither transition came without its rumblings.
“Buster grumbled constantly about all of dad’s wine purchases in the 1980s, saying, ‘that stuff will never sell,’” Josh says.
“Sooner than later, Buster came around. About fifteen years ago on a flight out of town for a family wedding, I mentioned to dad he should let Morgan handle all the daily ordering – a duty Rommy relished – mainly because the task kept him knowledgeable about inventory, selling trends and store upkeep.
“After ordering for 30 years, it just wasn’t that easy for him to let it go. The notion really upset my father and the weekend turned out to be miserable. I’ll never forget the golf outing as temperaments flared. But by Monday morning, he had a huge change of heart when he returned to Memphis, especially after learning a good friend had a stroke. Rommy agreed it time for him to let go of some stress and smell the roses—on the golf course, no doubt.”
Josh Hammond says the biggest challenge to running a successful family business in this industry is communication and being on the same page. And from an operational standpoint, managing employees and turnover are the company’s biggest challenges.
“While we’ve enjoyed the long tenures of most of our management team, being a small company means not everyone can move up the ladder,” he says. “It’s important to remain clear about employment expectations, offer competitive wages, offer meaningful feedback and deliver on benefits that can make a lifestyle impact—whether its flexible scheduling or merely great understanding and compassion from superiors.”
As the current president, Josh Hammond says setting goals and sharing those accomplishments with the staff are what gets him excited about the business.
“While we’ve grown from a mom and pop environment to a small company with over 45 employees, it’s important to recognize we owe our employees much gratitude for our success in representing our family tradition and core values,” Hammond says.
Members of the Community
Family businesses are undoubtedly the fabric of any community. The Hammonds have always prided themselves on being involved with many local fundraisers and charities. They also make a concerted effort to listen to their customers and meet their needs.
“There is no better compliment than customers telling us, ‘this is the only place I shop because my family has been shopping here for generations.’ It really doesn’t get any better than that,” Josh says.
There is little doubt for the Hammond family that the next big opportunity for Buster’s will be opening a second location.
“Since we have 30 more years on our lease and I borrowed about $1 million, I hope business is really good,” Rommy says. “I have four grandchildren—each son has two children—and hopefully some of them in the future will want to follow in their fathers’ footsteps.”
Maura Keller is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor. She writes for dozens of publications on a variety of business-related topics. When not writing, Maura serves as executive director of the literacy nonprofit, Read Indeed.