By Melissa Sherwin
Hugo’s is a common name across North Dakota and Minnesota. The family-owned business has operated a growing chain of Hugo’s Family Marketplace grocery stores since 1939. It wasn’t until 2008 that the company got into the liquor business, by purchasing an existing store and reopening it under its own name. Now the company consists of 11 grocery stores and five liquor stores known as Hugo’s Wine & Spirits.
“Our stores have a very warm and inviting atmosphere,” says Allen Dukart, General Manager of Hugo’s Wine & Spirits. “They’re all designed in a similar way and were set up to feel like you’re inside of someone’s living room, not a warehouse.”
With fabricated hardwood floors and a customized color scheme, Hugo’s liquor stores are most known for their wide selections of craft beers, ciders and malt beverages, along with a robust wine section. Each store features a 12-door cooler dedicated to craft beer. Although each location offers a slight product variation, 70% of beer and wine offerings are consistent across stores. All of the liquor stores are attached to Hugos’ grocery stores, but have their own separate entrances.
One of the advantages of being attached to the larger Hugo’s grocery store business is that the two types of stores can piggyback off of each other’s advertising efforts. About half of the company’s advertising is in the form of print communications, and the back page of Hugo’s weekly grocery store ads is always dedicated to the wine and spirits side of the business.
“Not everyone does a paper flyer anymore, but I can definitely see the power of advertising in print to this day,” Dukart says. “There are always going to be a certain number of people who still really want to see advertisements in print.”
Along with its print advertising, Hugo’s also does some television, radio and billboard ads. Social media is a very strong advertising outlet for the company as well, and the business has a dedicated social media director and reports wide consumer engagement across channels. All social media efforts are designed to complement the company’s website.
One of Hugo’s most popular in-store programs is its Uncorked Wine Club. Held twice per month at the flagship store in Grand Forks, North Dakota, the events feature representatives from various wineries who offer tastings of six different products. Customers can sample various appetizers and purchase the featured wines at a significantly reduced price. These events are capped at 25 people, and Dukart says registration typically fills up within minutes after the invitations are e-mailed out.
“We want to keep it small so everyone has a seat and gets personal attention from the guest winemakers and from our staff,” Dukart says. “A lot of customers keep coming back again and again for these events, as well as at other times just to shop in our store.”
The wine club has also helped boost the sale of premium wines at Hugo’s Grand Forks location. All products featured during the wine club events fall within the $16 to $30 range, and the company has seen growth across the entire premium wine category as a result.
Future plans for Hugo’s include the opening of both a new grocery and liquor store location in the next few years, expanding the success of this company’s already impressive retail portfolio.