A business that spans 83 years and four generations is obviously doing something right. For Kreston’s Wine & Spirits, everything boils down to one primary goal: providing outstanding customer service at all times.
“The most important thing to us has always been customer service, from my grandfather down,” says owner Bob Kreston (atop, right), who manages the Delaware-based retailer’s two locations with his son, Jeff (atop, left). “My grandfather was a firm believer in treating the customers properly and making sure they came back again and again. We also go above and beyond what other stores do by offering a better selection and more competitive prices.”
That business mentality is what has allowed Kreston’s to survive and even expand for more than three-quarters of a century–and it shows no signs of slowing down.
All in the Family
Kreston’s was originally founded by Bob’s grandfather, Samuel Kreston, back in 1933. Then known as Kreston Liquor Mart, the store eventually changed its name and underwent many renovations over the years.
The original Wilmington location is still in place, having undergone many expansions and now clocking in at approximately 10,000 feet of retail space. A second, 7,000-foot location about 30 miles away in Middleton opened 13 years ago when the Krestons identified an opportunity to break into a new market that lacked the kind of selection they were able to offer.
Bob says that the business abides by the same customer service principles that his grandfather implemented in the very beginning.
“We’re knowledgeable, we always have people out on the floor ready and willing to assist customers, we do little things like carry people’s packages out to the car,” he says. “All of those things make a difference and leave the customer with a very positive impression.”
With 14 employees and two stores to oversee, the Krestons have a lot of responsibility. Bob used to manage the business with his late father, Don, who passed away nine years ago. Bob struggled to handle most of the work himself until Jeff graduated from college four and a half years ago. Jeff says he always knew that his next step after college would be to help run the family business. These days, Jeff is the main managerial presence at the Middletown store while Bob primarily focuses on the Wilmington location. Whiskey and wine are Bob’s areas of expertise, while Jeff oversees the craft beer portion of the inventory.
Kreston’s has a longstanding reputation as a destination retailer known for its vast beverage selection and strong product knowledge among employees. While wine has been a focus of the business for years, craft beer has emerged as another category frontrunner, especially since Jeff came on board. The stores also carry a selection of accessories, gift items, and snacks.
In addition to offering a vast array of products, Kreston’s is also known for hosting a variety of events at its stores. Suppliers are often invited to come and host in-store tastings, which are generally held every Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
“We try to get a couple of brewers to come in and lead tastings each week, and we always try to feature wine tastings on Saturdays because a lot of people go shopping for wine on the weekend,” Jeff says.
The store also sponsors a number of fundraisers, including an annual Rotary Club tasting event. Kreston’s also recently supported a museum fundraiser and helped raise money for a customer who was experiencing serious eye problems. During these events, you’ll likely see Bob and Jeff personally in attendance, along with some of their staff. Jeff says it’s important for the owners to be a strong presence in the community, and that both he and his father like being hands-on. Bob agrees.
“We like doing these things and giving back to the community that has been so good to us,” he adds.
Kreston’s has thrived over the years despite the many hurdles that come along with running a small business, particularly one in the beverage industry. Competition that didn’t exist years ago is now much more prevalent.
While Delaware currently does not allow liquor to be sold in grocery stores, the possibility is a cause for alarm among liquor retailers. State law dictates that liquor store owners may only own two locations, so the Krestons have no possible expansion plans on the horizon. Additionally, Delaware does not allow retailers to ship or deliver products, so all purchases must be picked up at the store.
“These problems aren’t specific to us, as every other store in the state is dealing with them too, but dealing with them is a challenge and you have to deal with these issues while still holding onto your piece of the pie,” Jeff explains.
One way the Krestons promote their business is through advertising.
The business ran a television ad campaign several years ago, which generated a great response from customers. Kreston’s has a strong social media presence, and uses Facebook to post product information and news about upcoming tastings or other events.
Occasionally the Krestons will run a newspaper ad, and the retailer has also advertised in local magazines in the past. Another key advertising method is the use of billboards on major roads between the two store locations.
Kreston’s also sponsors the 76ers’ beer garden, which generates some great publicity for the stores during the game.
As a result of its efforts, Kreston’s has experienced consistent growth at both of its locations during the past several years.
Words of Advice
With such a successful history, what advice can the Krestons offer to other retailers? According to Jeff, providing solid customer service is really at the heart of it all.
“Good customer service is what the business was built on,” he says. “Make it your top priority, and surround yourself with the right staff members who are knowledgeable and friendly. Our staff know everything, and they do as much as they can to maximize the shopping experience for every customer. And it shows.” bd
Melissa Niksic is a freelance writer and marketing communications strategist from Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in Chicago’s Daily Herald newspaper, Time Out Chicago, Suburban Life newspapers, and various magazines. She is also the author of several children’s books. Follow her @MelissaNiksic.