Under New Management: Yankee Wine & Spirits Upgrades To Move Forward

The Digital Domain

Before Ciskey took over, Yankee Wine & Spirits lacked a robust online presence. Now, thanks the efforts of Ciskey and his brother/co-owner Scott (pictured atop, left), the store enjoys an effective digital presence.

“Since buying the place, the internet has been the best tool we have,” Ciskey says. “I can’t tell you how many times we’ve put something online, people have seen the product and then come in looking to purchase it. I know it works.”

Of course, this scenario requires that people are connected with the store’s website and social profiles to begin with. One way that Yankee Wine & Spirits has built up this critical online following is by directing customers to the sites while in-store.

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When someone comes in looking for something hard to find (or sold out), Ciskey suggests that they follow the store’s social accounts for stocking updates. The business card he hands out has all the store’s links printed on the back, to facilitate customers making these digital connections.

“I try to be very active on all our accounts–Instagram, Facebook and Twitter,” Scott says. “I try to be on them at least once per day.”

Scott also created and launched the store’s new, modern website. It took him over 160 hours to build, he recalls, with the site going online about four months ago. The store uses the website to post info like events, coupons, a blog and new products.

Google Analytics allow Scott to watch and measure how people interact with the website. Most people land on the homepage and the website averages about 400 clicks per day. “That’s not huge, but it’s growing,” Scott says. “The first month we were getting only 100 each day.”

Facebook has been even more successful for Yankee Wine & Spirits. On a slow day their page receives 200 clicks — on a better day, 1,000-plus. It’s become a consistent source of connecting with customers. It’s also an effective form of customer service. People post questions for Yankee Wine & Spirits, where Ciskey and his brother can answer in a timely, direct manner.

It’s another modern aspect of a business that, in short time, has benefitted greatly from a new owner who has enhanced the store with forward-thinking strategies and upgrades.

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Despite an increase in beer offerings, Yankee’s primary focus is still wine.

Wine Educator

Although Yankee Wine & Spirits of Newtown, Connecticut has recently increased its craft beer selection, the primary focus remains wine. And behind this big part of the business is a manager who brings a lifetime of experience and passion to the position.

Steve Small (pictured atop, right) first entered the alcohol industry as a pub owner in West Virginia. He later came to Connecticut, where he would own a package store for 13 years. He sold that shop five years ago, and for the last two years has worked for Yankee Wine & Spirits, all while also traveling extensively to explore wine across the world (and he is also a member of the Beverage Dynamics Retailer Wine Panel).

If there are vineyards to see and taste, he’s been there. And Small has liked what he’s found all over the map. “I really don’t think I can say there’s one specific spot that trumps all the rest,” Small says. “Though I was in South Africa a few years ago. The value-to-quality ratio there is quite high.”

“That’s key to our business, whether you’re selling a $10 or $50 bottle,” he continues. “A wine has got to represent a good value for its price.”

With such an expansive knowledge in wine and its production, it’s natural for Small to teach customers at Wine Yankee Wine & Spirits. So every third Thursday of each month, Small hosts lessons in the newly cleared out front of the shop.

Beyond his experience, his credentials include the Wine & Spirit Education Trust Level 4 diploma. That’s the highest credential handed out by the world’s largest provider or wine qualifications. It required Small travel into New York weekly for classes. He is also a certified wine specialist, and plans to seek similar certification as a wine educator.

“Our in-store classes started about a month ago,” he says. “So far they’ve gone well. I started with the basics of wine. This month I’m teaching wine-and-food pairings. I’ll go over how different wines taste with different foods like cheeses, sausage or something sweet. Because wines – both red and white – taste differently depending on what you’re eating with them.”

Small is already enjoying teaching wine. It lets him “share his knowledge and passion.”

Customer Questions

Of course, Small educates people about wine every day that he works at Yankee Wine & Spirits, since customers regularly come in with questions for store staff before making a purchase.

“The most common question we get is, ‘I’m making this for dinner. What wine goes with it?’” Small reports. “Or people will say something like, ‘I don’t like Chardonnays,’ and my reaction is, ‘Sure, but what Chardonnays have you tried?’ There’s this kneejerk reaction that they’re all overly oaky or buttery.”

Recommendations with certain varietals are also common, like a good cabernet or pinot noir, or red blends in general. Yankee Wine & Spirits does post ratings from major wine websites on some bottles, but they also taste test everything themselves.

“That way I can say that I’ve also tasted the wine and that the website and I agree,” Small says with a laugh.

It also allows Yankee Wine & Spirits to offer only what they consider to be the best products. “Because we’re tried it all, we can truly say that everything in this store is handpicked,” Chris Ciskey says.

So there’s an answer for any question at Yankee Wine & Spirits. And there’s a manager eminently knowledgeable in Small, who really knows his wine thanks to a lifetime spent enjoying and exploring the category. “I’ve really been all over the world,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to do that and it has been a tremendous experience.”

Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of Beverage Dynamics Magazine. Contact him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com.

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