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 Cheers Liquor Mart.
First opened in the early 1970s, Cheers Liquor Mart in Colorado Springs, CO is a 36,000-square-foot, three-story, free-standing building — one of Colorado’s first “Big-Box” discount liquor stores. As Jack Backman, owner of Cheers Liquor Mart explains, he is the third owner of the business, having taken over in 1995 when the second owner lost his lease.
Considered to be a landmark in north central Colorado Springs, Cheers has won “Best of the Springs” awards for 26 years in a row from two different newspaper publications, as well as the Top 100 Retailers in Beverage Dynamics magazine.
“We have also been proud member of the Wine and Spirits Guild of America for over 10 years,” Backman says, “and we enjoy the buying opportunities and education we receive from sharing ideas with other retailers from around the country.”
Backman first started in the liquor industry in 1976 as a stock boy at a store in Denver. He was 21 years old.
“It’s amazing to think about how many changes I’ve seen and had to deal with over the past 45 years. The part of the job I like the most that it never gets boring and is very challenging,” Backman says. “I am constantly searching for new ideas to improve our store and make things better and easier for our customers and employees. Keeping up with current trends, technology and unexpected occurrences is a never-ending battle.”
Throughout the many years of owning Cheers, Backman has earned the esteem of thousands of customers who have come to celebrate Cheers for its great customer service, low everyday prices and the large product selection. This includes unusual and hard-to-find items in the store’s wine, spirit and beer departments.
Cheers’ customers also love the store’s frequent shopping program, beer and wine clubs, in-store tastings, wine dinners and annual sponsored events like the Charity Golf Tournament, Steers and Beers (Bourbon and Beer Tasting) Fundraiser and the store’s annual Scotch and Whiskey Charity Event.
Cheers is also a proud supporters of more than 50 charities in the Colorado Springs community.
To further enhance customer experience, Cheers was remodeled about four years ago. This update involved ripping off the entire front-end of the store, resulting in a more-modern looking and customer-friendly environment.
“We are constantly trying to keep up with current trends by resetting product placement and displays,” Backman says. “Within the last month, we have converted one entire aisle of the store into ‘Whisky Row’, featuring and showcasing our huge selection of bourbons, scotches, Canadians and Irish whiskies. We have also increased the size and cooler doors for the ever-growing seltzer popularity.”
Owning a business for more than 25 years comes with its fair share of challenges. In 2019, Colorado laws changed, allowing convenience stores to sell full-strength beer for the first time since Prohibition. Backman and his team had to deal with the competition of having a large Safeway, located a mere 500 feet behind his store, putting in an expansive beer selection.
“We had to focus on not only pricing but our selection. We had to concentrate on products and packaging that they didn’t sell or promote and match their ‘club pricing’,” Backman says. “We also had to step up our game on our wine and spirits sales and profitability.”
Like many within the liquor industry, the ongoing pandemic has also been a huge challenge for Cheers. As Backman explains, although the business had a website and app for several years, it never offered a live shopping cart.
“One of the things we worked on in 2019 was figuring that part out, and we were luckily able to go live with the shopping cart in February 2020,” Backman says. “We were working the bugs out that first month, and then Covid hit in March and we had to figure it out and adjust on the fly.”
The Cheers Liquor Mart team was suddenly inundated with delivery orders, curbside orders and pick-up orders. The whole process became extremely labor intensive, as the store went from one driver and one delivery truck to three drivers and three trucks.
“Our delivery business went from 2% of our total sales to 10%, and currently is continuing that way,” Backman says.
The business also had to adapt to keeping its customers and employees safe through social distancing, constantly sanitizing and canceling in-store tastings and all other events.
Pandemic aside, Backman enjoys the challenge of being responsible for a business of this size, and the demands of suppliers and hundreds of customers, as well as overseeing 30 to 35 employees. “I also enjoy the freedom of not having the usual 9 to 5 job, and being able to set my own schedule and what I’m going to do each day,” he says.
The focus for the immediate future of Cheers Liquor Mart is to hold onto the increased business and new customers they were able to attain in 2020. In addition, the team plans on promoting the app and delivery service.
“This is going to be key for us as we all know how much e-commerce is growing in every segment of the general retail marketplace,” Backman says. “The curbside addition to our business is here to stay and we will be concentrating on that also. We are also looking forward to resuming our tastings, events and special promotions. All of those things are an important part of earning new customers and driving more traffic to our store.”
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.