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 Randall’s Wines & Spirits in St. Louis, MO.
All Top 100 retailers are leaders in their markets, demonstrating how off-premise stores can provide great customer service, stay on top of the latest trends and get involved in the local community.
Innovation and Customer Support
In a small strip mall location in Fairview Heights, Illinois, just a hop across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, is Randall’s — the brainchild of George Randall, who began the business in 1998.
As George’s son and business co-owner Todd Randall explains, his father had a unique vision to sell the majority of their product online through internetwines.com.
“My dad was insistent that he was going to sell on the web from day one,” Randall says. “He really believed in it. And remember, this is 1998, so choosing to focus on Internet sales wasn’t the norm.”
“People thought he was crazy,” Randall adds. “But if you wanted to order alcohol online back then, there weren’t a lot of options. It was really just us and Wine.com. Some of the bigger wine shops had websites, but few had pictures and descriptions of their items. Most didn’t even have an online shopping cart.”
For those that did stop by the store, it must have been quite a sight, as Randall’s Wines & Spirits was selling some fairly niche products online, and they stocked those items on the store shelves. As a result, the selection was a lot deeper than other stores in the Midwest.
“We had some really exotic stuff crammed into that little store,” Randall says.
A couple of years later, the father-son duo moved the store down the street to a larger building, where they are still headquartered today. “We dealt heavily in Bordeaux futures for the 2000 and 2003 vintages, and that really catapulted us to the next level,” Randall says. “After that, we decided to open more stores.”
The Randall’s second store is an old warehouse in St. Louis. It’s located a little south of the city center, not in a commercial district.
“Again, when we opened that store, people thought my dad was crazy. But today, that’s our biggest store by volume,” Randall says. “We opened up two more after that in North and West St. Louis County. We’ll be opening our fifth St. Louis store later this year.”
So what makes Randall’s stick out in the minds on consumers? Quite simply: the selection. Both Tony and George work hard to stay on top of new products and new trends.
“We don’t like to wait for a brand rep or a distributor to present a product to us. It’s up to us to do the research,” Randall says. “It’s our job to ask questions of suppliers. And if we find something that we think is a great deal for our customers, we’re all in.”
“We don’t hesitate to buy all of a supplier’s inventory,” he adds.
Randall’s Wines & Spirits also handles a large amount of exclusive import wines from France, Italy and Spain, with a special emphasis on Bordeaux. That program has done really well for the company.
“We made the decision early not to mark up our exclusives like our competitors. Instead, we pass the savings on to the customer,” Randall says. “In doing so, we’re able to offer great wines that you can’t find anywhere else for prices that are impossible to beat. It allows us to consistently over deliver, to give the customer more than they were expecting. I think that keeps people coming back.”
Still, Randall is quick to point out that it is not the products that define Randall’s. As cliché as it may sound, it’s the people.
“Everyone talks about customer service, but we make it a goal to talk to every single customer,” Randall says. “We don’t have any sort of sales quotas, and we’re not focused on monetizing that interaction. We just want to make sure that the customer gets the attention they deserve, and that they know we’re there to help.”
The Randall’s team also emphasizes fun. Things have been a little subdued during the pandemic, but they generally do their best to create a party atmosphere in the stores by playing the music a little louder, offering samples and rotating George’s collection of vintage cars through the stores.
And like others within the industry, the pandemic forced Randall’s to rethink delivery and in-store pickup.
“We were already doing those things, but with many of our customers suddenly dependent on those services, we knew we had to up our game,” Randall says.
They switched platforms for local orders, which gave them the ability to update their inventory more or less in real time. This was especially important, as once-common items were now in short supply.
“We also expanded our staff, allowing us to turn around orders more quickly, and to deal with the increased volume,” Randall says. “Today, that delivery and pickup business is still going strong. It’s not going to replace our in-store experience, but it’s a very reliable option for customers who find pickup or delivery more convenient.”
Randall’s is also back in the Bordeaux business. As Randall explains, they took a strong position on the 2016s, and they’re continuing to expand their offerings both in classified growth and also in more everyday Bordeaux.
“We have a growing list of wines from the region with 90+ scores and sub-$15 price tags that are proving popular with our customers both in-store and online,” Randall says.
In addition to having a team that the Randalls can be proud of, they also enjoy interacting with customers, offering an affordable luxury that brings people joy.
“I’m biased of course, but our customers are a fun bunch,” Randall says. “I think we attract that type of customer with the atmosphere we present. Most customers are already in a positive mood when they walk in. What could be better than that?”
On the supplier side, Randall finds people he can learn from, and he’s made some great relationships. “That’s not to say I’m not having it out with wholesalers and brand reps on a regular basis,” he admits. “I have a job to do for my customers, and that means having difficult conversations with my suppliers when I feel customers’ needs aren’t being met.”
Later this year, Randall’s will open its fifth store on The Hill — one of the most iconic neighborhoods within St. Louis.
“It doesn’t get as much tourism as some other parts of town, but if you’re from here, you know it,” Randall says “If you grew up in this city, there’s a good chance you had one of your most memorable moments at a restaurant on The Hill. It’s something we’re very proud to be a part of.”
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, How RNDC Built A Legacy of Expertise.