A Family Operation
By Sarah Protzman Howlett
When Bill Tobin and his two brothers, Bob and Jim, opened a bar in 1985 called The Boulevard Pub, they never imagined that by 1999, they’d own three liquor stores and be in the process of making a fourth out the bar itself.
The first three Liquor Factory locations opened in 1988, ’92 and ’93. The fourth, the former bar space, bowed in 1999. After “15 years of long nights,” Bill Tobin says, they remodeled it for retail. “We still have a small bar in that store,” he says, “Our family grew up in town — and we all still live there today — so it is sentimental.”
In 2007 came a fifth store, and in May last year, its sixth.
All the stores are about a 10- or 15-minute drive from each other, says Tobin, who is also the stores’ bookkeeper. Jim’s two sons work in the stores; Bob’s son is a craft-beer manager for the company. One of its non-family employees has been with the Liquor Factory for 30 years; others have worked their way up to management from cashier positions. Liquor Factory employs 20 full-time employees, 40 part-timers and 13 managers. Tobin says Liquor Factory treats its customers like family as well.
“We are courteous and knowledgeable,” he says. “We help people out to their cars.”
Tobin says Liquor Factory operates “with the mindset that we are never too busy for anybody.”
The Liquor Factory focuses on excellent customer service and keeping its six locations in top shape. Three of the stores are standalones and three are in plazas, and Tobin says the company is also committed to renovating each store before its 10th year of operations.
“We remodel our stores a lot,” Tobin says, “and we stay open during our remodels. When we started out 30 years ago, those 1,500- to 2,000-square-foot stores with seven-door walk-in coolers were good enough. Now we need 36-door coolers.”
Even the aesthetics of its stores are upgraded regularly. “The younger generation, we try to keep up with their pace,” Tobin says, rolling out things like scrolling signs on the growler station in its 10,000-square-foot Sparta, New Jersey, flagship store. “You have to re-invest your money into the stores to keep up with the times.”
The Sparta store does the best business in the company, Tobin says, and features an eight-tap growler, wine shop and 26-door beer cooler. “The locals truly look forward to shopping here,” Tobin says. Liquor Factory’s wine manager, Talon Hogan, does annual tastings for a number of charitable organizations like the Sparta Education Foundation and Samaritan Inn, and the company donates to local charities near every location.
While the Liquor Factory aims to compete on pricing, Tobin says, it does not want or need to be the least expensive game in town.
“We don’t believe in being the cheapest,” he says, “but we take care of the customer and have good pricing, and that’s where we’ve been successful.” It experimented with delivery many years ago, before New Jersey laws tightened regulations on things like who could accept a delivery. After that, it became too big a bother for the brothers. They also eschew online sales, with Tobin saying it’s “not our forte.”
“Our customers feel very comfortable shopping at our stores,” Tobin says. “Our locations are easy to access and shop, plus we have a great selection of products and a great staff.”
Four of its locations have growler stations, and there is a separate email list just for people wanting to know what’s available. Its newest location in Byram, New Jersey, has a 12-tap growler station and one of the largest walk-in beer coolers in the state. The Liquor Factory has a presence on Facebook, BeerMenus, Instagram, Twitter – and even Snapchat, which it uses to highlight new products, promotions and events from store to store. Customers can ask questions through Facebook, and the company recently launched a new website.
Over the next year, Tobin says the Liquor Factory will hone in even more on excellent store management, and “making the best profit possible while still providing a fair price to the customer.”