Zachys Wine & Liquor has come a long way since opening in 1944.
Back then it was known as East Parkway Liquor House. What began as this single store in Scarsdale, NY — one of many small alcohol shops in the area, with 150 square feet and two employees — has since grown into a global brand recognized for its fine wine selection and expertise.
Suffice to say, founder Zachy Zacharia would be shocked to see what his legacy has evolved into 73 years later. Still in Scarsdale (though under its modern name), Zachys Wine & Liquor now boasts 5,500 square feet of retail floor, an expansive collection of warehouse space, and 3,000-plus brands of wine from around the world.
Zachys has also carved out lucrative businesses in online sales and wine auctions — including through its office in Hong Kong. Try explaining that to Zachy Zacharia in the 1940s.
As astonished as he may be, Zachy would likely be equally happy to discover that the company today remains within his family. His son Don is CEO, having purchased the original store from his father in 1961, while Zachy’s grandson Jeff is president.
“Running a family business is great, but it certainly has its challenges,” explains Jeff Zacharia (pictured atop, left), now in his 50s. “All of us are committed to working to make it work, as we say, and that has made us stronger. We’re all honest about our strengths and weaknesses, and that makes for a stronger team and a stronger company.”
A History of Innovation
Many family businesses are fortunate enough to grow. But few so significantly as a strip mall liquor store expanding into a global wine powerhouse. So what provided the magic for Zachys? The key, it seems, has been a continued eye for innovation across generations of leadership.
When Jeff ’s father Don bought the business in 1961, he continued to build it up slowly. This included moving to a larger location and rebranding the store to its current name. When fair trade laws changed in the 1970s, the store was able to refocuse its retail strategy from liquor to fine wine.
The timing could not have been better. “As the country’s tastes started to move towards fine wine, so did we,” Jeff explains. Americans were growing more interested in top wines from around the world. Tapping into this trend, Zach’s became a trusted source for product and expert knowledge. In this way the store rode the fine wine wave towards sustained growth.
Never content to settle on one trend, Zachys continued to innovate. In 1995 the company again jumped into another venture following changes to the law, by entering the newly created business of fine wine auctions.
Additional innovation followed. In 1999, Zachys.com launched as a wine website, well ahead of its time. From its earliest days the site allowed consumers from across the globe to order wine, shipped to their doorstep.
Innovation even took Zachys overseas. The 21st century brought expansion of the auction and digital businesses into China with the Hong Kong office. This aided fulfilling orders made through the company’s bilingual website, zachysasia.com. The company continues to grow in unique ways. Zachys recently opened a 20,000-square foot facility in Washington’s D.C.’s Northeast District, consisting of a storage warehouse, showroom and tasting/event space.
Jeff ’s brother-in-law Andrew McMurray (above, right), Managing Consultant at Zachys, spearheaded this latest project. Once again, a family that works together grows together.
There was a time when Zachys.com enjoyed the advantage of being among the only places online where you could buy bottles of wine. Obviously, in the hyper-digital world of 2017, that has changed.
“These days the country has gotten flatter and smaller,” Jeff says. “People can look at anyone’s website and see who has what and at what prices.”
What separates the company now within the ever-crowded online marketplace, Jeff explains, is their attention to detail. A consumer from California may not be familiar with Zachys — lacking the trust of people better acquainted with the brand — so the website must make clear what the company is about. “We are focused on fine wine in every part of what we do,” he says. “It’s very important that we get that message across to the consumer, whether they are looking for a bottle of wine for $15, or for $150-and-up.”
This includes displaying detailed information about everything they sell online, of course. But it’s more than that. “We have to stay ahead of the curve, offering new and interesting things from new regions,” Jeff says. “We travel the world searching for new and exciting stuff. That helps separate us from the pack.”
Recently Zachys got ahead of modern trends by offering older Bordeaux vintages (1960s – 2010) and En Primeur Bordeaux.
Zachys.com has strict rules for ordering online. Deliveries must be accepted with a signature by an adult who’s older than 21. They cannot be left at the address for pickup.
Zachys offers a protection fee. In return, purchased wines will be protected against breakage, loss, theft or fire (as covered by the company’s insurance) while stored in its warehouse and during shipment to the product’s appointed destination.
Zachys ships to all states where it is legal, and certain countries overseas.
Online auctions are another part of what differentiates the Zachys digital presence from other wine retailers. Since the company has a license to hold auctions, they can do so online as well. The company first conducted these sales in 2012 as an offshoot of their live events.
The difference between the two types of auctions tends to be the size of the lots. Live auctions are usually for larger collections. Holding auctions online allows Zachys to sell items that would not be a fit for in-person events, which is how these digital auctions got their start in the first place.
“It’s different clientele, because the value online tends to be a lot less” Jeff says. “Someone may not want to buy an entire case of ’82 Mouton, but they may want a couple of bottles. This allows them to get smaller quantities of the same great wines.” Despite the eBay-like atmosphere of opening these auctions up to the entire world, Jeff says that the outcomes remain satisfactory for the buyers. “The prices end up being just as good as, if not better than, our live sales.”
The online auctions have proven successful for the same reason as the live ones. “It’s really about building that longterm relationship with customers,” Jeff says. “We have earned the trust of our clientele who know and trust that we’re auctioning off some exceptional wines. We have developed that reputation.”
Auctioned items typically come from collectors who are selling, whether to balance their cellar or correct an area that they have inadvertently over-collected. The Zachys website contains information for sellers interested in working with them.
Zachys Goes to Washington
The decision to open a large warehouse in Washington D.C. was based on the opportunity for growth and innovation — the same strategy that has always fueled Zachys.
“We feel like we’ve done such a good job in New York getting to know our clients, but there are other areas in the country that we’re interested in,” Jeff says. “We’re very excited about D.C. There are a lot of excellent restaurants, and a lot of people who really love and know fine wine. We felt like it was an important place for us to be.”
But why a warehouse? Why not a secondary retail location? The answer is in the modern market. As consumers increasingly look to their laptops and cellphones as the preferred way to shop, Zachys wanted to expand its reputation and ability to fulfill digital orders.
The warehouse includes space where the company holds wine classes, education seminars and other events. It allows independent organizations to use the space for their own events, so long as they relate to fine wine.
“This way we’re getting to understand the people of D.C., and their needs and wishes when it comes to fine wine,” Jeff says. “Opening a retail shop is a lower priority.” Still, there remains the possibility for a second shop. Jeff says that the company will allow the D.C. site to develop naturally, and they will continuously evaluate the best uses for the location. Nevertheless, a large part of the location will almost certainly remain warehouse space.
“I’m a big believer in owning your own inventory,” Jeff says. “That way you can have it ready when the customer wants it.” In the age of Amazon, promptness is paramount for the customer. When people purchase items online they are increasingly used to receiving them in an expeditious manner. The D.C. warehouse allows Zachys to get its wines into the hands of local shoppers the next day or the day after.
In an emergency, Jeff says, the warehouse could probably get product into the hands of a customer on the same day.
Education Remains Key
Continued employee education remains vital. Which is not always easy in the forever-evolving category of wine. “I feel like I know less about wine now than I did ten years ago,” Jeff jokes.
Zachys staff go on wine trips around the world to expand their knowledge. Zachys encourages employees to taste constantly, while taking and sharing notes. Although the company does not use an app like Evernote to digitally streamline this process, such a practice is “already under consideration.” Customers who walk into the store, or deal with personnel through Zachys.com, will find many different languages represented by the staff, as the company prides itself on being multilingual.
“The wine world is totally international,” Jeff says. “People we come in contact with are from all over the world. And while I believe that English is a good language for anyone to speak, it’s important that we have people on staff who can speak French, Spanish, Mandarin and Japanese.”
An affiliated business came into existence in an organic manner when a number of New York customers buying wine were slow to pick up their purchases. When contacted about their tardiness, these people explained that they simply lacked space for the bottles. In the meantime, they said, the company was welcome to charge them storage fees. So they did.
That process launched New York Fine Wine Storage, a full white-glove service. “Space is at a premium, especially in New York,” Jeff says. “And people don’t always want to do everything themselves. Sometimes they want people to do it for them.”
The secure, temperature-controlled warehouse will hold purchases for up to 60 days. Afterwards, customers are billed for every six months until they take delivery.
As for long-term storage, Jeff says he found it more efficient to store wine by the case. Though this does mean that some customers have to split their collection over multiple lockers.
Come On Down
Zachys also carries a small amount of liquor online and in its Scarsdale shop. As with wine, they try to focus on items that are ahead of the curve, like rare bourbons or single-barrel bottles.
These are some of many special items customers can find by visiting Zachys Wine & Liquor in person. For as critical as internet sales are these days, there’s something to be said about the feeling a wine-lover experiences when they walk into a store like Zachys.
Says Jeff, “Many people come into our shop and feel like a kid in a candy store. There are just so many fine wines here for them.”