Located a mere block away from the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL, the aptly named Gator Beverage has made a strong connection with students of drinking age at the school.
For Mark Barnett, owner of Gator Beverage, this means that his store has adapted to meet the evolving interests of the younger customers. “We were originally a specialty beer and keg store, but over time we’ve really evolved to become a full-service liquor store offering everything from wine to beer to kegs to liquor,” Barnett says.
Because of the younger-age customers and the nearby University setting, Barnett takes proper ID procedures extremely seriously. He trains and updates his employees quarterly on identification procedures, including how to spot fake IDs, and the principles of safe and responsible alcohol service.
“It is really fun to be in a college town,” Barnett says. “We really try to connect with the students in different ways.” One such strategy has been Gator Beverage’s internet sensation — namely its TikTok page, “Liquor Store 352,” a supplemental comedy social media effort which has now evolved to Instagram and YouTube.
“In less than a year we’ve acquired a million followers and a half a billion video views,” Barnett says. “It’s just incredible.” Indeed, the store’s social media presence has garnered national and international attention, and helped Gator Beverage stand out in the local community’s mindset, including among those who were not familiar with the store, as well as tourists visiting the area.
With more than 30 years of experience in the liquor retail space, Barnett and his team understand what it takes to properly operate and grow a business.
Due to recent growth, Barnett initiated a more efficient checkout process, which includes a conveyer belt system. This has helped eliminate key issues such as double ringing, missed items and general errors.
Although Gator Beverage’s inventory moves fairly quickly, Barnett has finalized the process of eliminating all store and cooler light fixtures that pose any risk to the flavor of the store’s products. In addition, Barnett has turned to UV sanitizing light technology for the store’s ice machine and air conditioning unit.
So to what does Barnet attribute the store’s success and longevity? Simply: The fact that the he and his team strive to connect with their customers and personalize their shopping experience. Barnett stresses that Gator Beverage is truly the type of family-owned place “where everyone knows your name,” and he believes in the importance of establishing friendships and relationships with customers, as well as giving back to the community.
That’s why each year since its inception, Gator Beverage has sponsored a beer festival held by the area’s local home brew club to raise money for area charities. The store also regularly donates merchandise for various charity events in the community.
“This is a small town, and once people get to know you and your business, you make a connection,” Barnett says. “We are part of the college experience for university students.”