Welcome to the final part of our series that recognizes our 2018 Retailers of the Year.
Beverage Dynamics for the second time opened up its annual Retailers of the Year Awards to a nomination process, attracting entries from top retailers across the country. Many received nominated from wholesalers, suppliers and other industry vendors, while some nominated themselves. All were required to complete a detailed entry form that included financial information, product mix, staffing and training policies, advertising spend and community engagement.
After our editorial team reviewed the entries, we chose 32 retailers as the best of the best. They represent every part of the off-premise industry, from single-store operations to large regional chains.
Winners received their awards at the second annual Beverage Alcohol Retailers Conference in Denver. Congratulations to everyone who won, and good luck to the retailers who enter next year’s awards!
Mixing On and Off-Premise
By Andrew Madigan
Open since 2004, Baltimore’s Socialize is a big, friendly store with a wide selection. One of its unique selling points is an upscale wine lounge in-store. The name says it all: Socialize. Shoppers can take their drinks to go or enjoy them in the comfortable, spacious lounge and mingle with fellow shoppers. One customer called it “a hidden treasure.” Another says, “I feel like I’m in Vegas or Miami!”
Initially, Socialize was a typical liquor store, according to owner Gurbinder Singh. Since then, he’s cultivated a vast inventory with hundreds of new products to satisfy the needs of his customer base. Today, Socialize specializes in beer – craft, import and domestic. The store is organized according to geographic region because it stocks beer from all corners of the globe.
Singh calls his business “a father-son joint venture.” His son, Gundeep, who graduated from Towson University with a BS in Marketing, has been instrumental in rebranding Socialize to make it more successful than ever.
The store is impeccably clean, organized and elegant, especially after a recent inside-and-out renovation. From light-up onyx and marble countertops to a multicolored glazed-glass wall and crystal chandeliers, Socialize has a chic, sophisticated look.
There are many special things about the store, but customer service is first among them. Socialize offers special prices for bulk orders, discount days for wine, and “preferred customer coupons.” Singh says of his business philosophy, “For us, customer service is one of the most vital components for a successful business. And we’re known for it!”
Competition from All Sides
By Annelise Kelly
Is it fair to say liquor is in his blood?
Tri-State Liquors manager Andrew Byer says, “My father Joseph Byer started with Seagram’s and worked there for about 17 years, then with Paddington Corporation, so he taught my brother and me the business from the get-go. He had a great background in the supply and distribution side, before finally realizing his dream to open his own store in 1984.”
Tri-State values staff like family. “We offer a good program with health care and paid vacation, moving them up and getting them educated,” Byer says. “Out of about 30 employees, at least 10 have been with us 15 years or longer, a few longer than 30 years.” Though golden retriever Bentley might be the most popular family member. “He’s always in the store, kind of like the store mascot,” he adds.
Byer’s top tip is “stay relevant, stay strong. Make sure you’re always moving forward because everything is always changing. No matter how big or small, stay right on the edge of things and don’t get complacent.” To that end, he’s currently working on an e-commerce platform, in anticipation of regulatory changes permitting online ordering.
Located a stone’s throw from the Delaware-Pennsylvania state line, Tri-State has lots of competition in the neighborhood. “Pricing is usually cheaper in Delaware over Pennsylvania anyway, where the sales tax is eight, eight-and-a-half percent. We’ve got the Wal-Mart of discount liquor (Total Wine) right up the street. But if anything it’s kept us sharper. We’ve flourished and grown really well along with it.”
By Maura Keller
Educating and training employees is top of mind for the managers of River Bend Liquors in Windom, MN. Not only can employees participate in ongoing tastings to expand product knowledge from distributor representatives, but each new employee also works closely with managers, across a variety of shifts, to learn about the store’s policies and procedures.
In the world of beverage retail, product knowledge is key and the store’s managers recognize that if an employee has a good base of product knowledge and are personable, customers will gravitate to the store and trust employees’ recommendations. Using social media, the store also advertises rare product releases and promotes special events, tasting and contests to customers.
As a municipally owned store, River Bend’s managers have to work closely with Windom’s finance controller and city administration to build the store’s budget and eventually get it approved with the city council. The store’s profits go back to the local community. As such, during the last 12 months, the store provided $500,000 to Windom’s new emergency services building.
An air of continuous improvement resounds through all of River Bend Liquors activities. From innovated store updates to new signage to improved marketing initiatives, the store’s team works diligently to offer ongoing updates that entice customers. In addition, the store prides itself on having many employees involved in the community outreach programs—raising money for the local animal shelter and for children’s cancer research.
The store also hosts the community wine tasting event through Windom’s Chamber of Commerce.