In addition to profiling our 2021 Retailer of the Year, Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, our editorial team has chosen four other Top 100 winners ranked in our top 20 to highlight. This includes Buster’s Liquors & Wines in Memphis.
Brothers Josh and Morgan Hammond, along with their mother Gay Hammond, currently own Buster’s, which was originally established by R.M “Buster” Hammond, Sr. in 1954 near downtown Memphis.
According to Josh, Buster’s was established during the “heyday” of the Motown music movement, with such famous entities like Stax and Royal Studios located nearby.
Before opening the liquor store, Buster had already earned a great reputation in the neighborhood with his “gift of gab” while operating HamKirks, a grocery store chain with three locations named after himself and partner, Tom Kirk. At some point, he and Tom agreed to dissolve the partnership, set a price, and flipped a coin for the business. Buster lost and then opened Buster’s next door.
In 1970 Buster’s occupied less than 1,600 square feet. Today, the business boasts 16,000 square feet and is looking for more space.
“Buster had a knack for promotion,” Hammond says. “It began every day upon with the first customer as he would ring a huge ship bell outside the front door yelling ‘First sale of the day!’”
Buster prided himself on serving many North Mississippians, as it was the closest liquor store around for miles. MS license plates still continue to grace their parking lot daily.
Hammond says there are four key attributes that make the store truly shine. These include service, selection, location and the word “Yes!”
“Our people provide the best service and we catered to any and all who enter our store,” Hammond says. “It’s the unique ability for our staff to remain courteous and appreciative to all our customers, while offering humble knowledge that keeps them coming back. Hence, our trademark slogan, ‘We Have Your Spirit’.”
Buster’s also features one of the largest selection in the Mid-South with over 13,000 SKUs in stock. Hence, their other trademark slogans, “If We Don’t Have It, You Don’t Need It,” and “Supermarket of Fine Spirits.”
“We strive to say ‘Yes’ to all new products, customer requests and community involvement, and to avoid saying ‘No’,” Hammond says. “Customers truly appreciate us going that extra mile, even if it’s a phone call several days out to say, ‘We tried but couldn’t find the product, I’m sorry’.”
During the last five years, Busters’ has seen more change in its retail environment than they saw in the previous 50.
“Dad died in 2017 and we began placing two orders weekly instead of every day,” Hammond says. “There were also no more cumulative deals — all deals are now ‘one-drop’ only. Wine is now in grocery stores and liquor stores now carry corkscrews, beer, cheese, cigars, accessories, stemware, etc.”
“Liquor retailers can also conduct in-store tastings and deliver locally,” he adds. “Total Wine & More entered Tennessee in 2018 with a store in Knoxville, after a legal battle that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And with the Covid pandemic, our ecommerce website has taken off with curbside and delivery services that are also new to our industry.”
During the last 18-plus months, the Hammonds have been diligent in keeping their staff safe while trying to remain open for customers.
“Ultimately, we could not do both, so we closed our store to the public after two weeks of Christmas-type sales in March as the demands of limiting customers, social distancing and cleaning were too much to think we’d come out unscathed,” Hammond recalls.
Buster’s only accepted online orders with curbside pickup or delivery. It was not ideal and they lost business in the process, but it provided a moment of calm and safety for the Buster’s staff.
“We also fed them catered box lunches everyday so they didn’t have to venture out as well,” Hammond says. “We also had our entire store sprayed twice a week. It was a trying time, but our staff did an incredible job pivoting in the matter of one day to become a warehouse fulfillment-type center with ‘pickers and runners’ for curbside pickup service.”
Carrying on the family tradition is at the core of Buster’s. The family business is rooted in deep history, and now celebrates the fourth generation who has begun working in the story. They also have several staff members who have worked at the store for more than 35 years, adding to the already-strong familial atmosphere.
Hammond says that the industry is stable and has “happiness all around it.”
“Most consumers who purchase libations are happy and plan to have fun with family and friends. And what’s not to love about that?” he says. “And then you throw in great relationships with suppliers and reps who also care deeply for your store and our success. It all makes for a great industry to be in. Also, it doesn’t hurt we get access to some incredible bourbon, located so close to Kentucky. Tennessee is bourbon country, too, for that matter, as we all never stopped drinking it when the rest of the country did. Guess we can thank Jack for that by keeping the brown water flowing.”
So what does the future hold for Buster’s? Hammond points to further expansion and a second store that are both essential for the company’s continued success.
“We’re keeping our eyes open and we’ll also continue to embrace technology where possible to help our staff become more efficient and grow sales,” he says. “Just when you think the industry couldn’t reinvent itself, here comes the allocated bourbon craze, single barrel store picks, seltzers out our ears, RTDs, e-commerce sales and who knows where this all ends. I suppose one day, we’ll be selling cannabis-infused sparkling chocolate popcorn wine!”
Melissa Sherwin 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 @MelissaNSherwin. Read her recent piece, Our 2021 Retailer of the Year: Gary’s Wine & Marketplace.