Clark Trim, owner of Colonial Wine and Spirits, a 15,000-square-foot single location in Little Rock, AR, cites the store’s “rare and unusual” selection of products as one of the reasons it has been successful for so long.
“We don’t just have what you see every day,” he says. “We have been collecting wines for 30 years, and have a reserve room with different vintages of top-quality wines. It’s a very unique inventory.”
Trim purchased Colonial from its second owners in January 1992. His family was in the retail spirits and wine business many years, and Trim himself previously worked in Europe in hospitality after serving in the military.
In the past year, Colonial has increased floor space for shelving and cooling to reset the store’s beer, RTD and seltzer spaces, but still points to its greatest accomplishment as “surviving the pandemic while keeping the Colonial team employed.”
“We saw so many businesses in the hospitality industry close leaving their employees and their families without a paycheck,” he says. At present, Colonial has 20 full-time and 17 part-time employees, plus five managers.
As luck would have it, Colonial was actually very prepared for the world to change. Prior to Covid, Trim says, Colonial was not
able to offer delivery. But when Covid hit and the Arkansas governor proclaimed an emergency, “one of the benefits was that we could deliver in the county,” he says. “We had developed a website with ecommerce, but weren’t using that feature because it was not lawful. Overnight, the governor made that proclamation, and we were off and running.”
Though it was fortunate to be ready for an online rush, a Costco opened a couple miles away around the same time, creating a real hurdle for the store’s sales. The initial impact was immediate and significant, Trim says, but it has since leveled off. Trim knows Colonial very much remains a destination, regardless of big-box competition.
“We take extremely good care of our customers, and we heavily pamper them,” Trim says. “I hear day in and day out that customer service is becoming a thing of the past with the rise of self-checkout, [but] our many accolades and achievements are due to our level of service.” (A few of its past recognitions include Best Liquor Store and Best Booze To Go for 18 years in the Arkansas Times, and the 2021 Readers’ Choice Awards for Best Liquor Store and Best Beer in the same publication.)
Colonial’s major marketing vehicle is its 20-year-old monthly magazine, “Celebrate More,” “the backbone of each month’s promotions,” Trim says. It is written and designed entirely in-house, and available both online and in the store. Colonial also provides a weekly e-newsletter highlighting the magazine, additional weekly specials, tasting events, mixology and more to over 6,000 members, rounding all this out with a solid social media presence across various platforms.
The business also invests heavily in its people. An education and training program, Colonial University, teaches team members customer service and expertise, team building, problem-solving and safety. Many of the staff have achieved enhanced sommelier and Cicerone certification with Colonial University’s guidance.
Charitable giving is also a main company value. Colonial donates monthly to the Arkansas Children’s Hospital and Arkansas Hunger Relief Alliance, and also gives to organizations such as the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra Guild, Arkansas Ballet, plus local schools, churches and community fundraisers.
In the next year, Trim would like to purchase an existing property or open land to build a new store that would increase square footage for product merchandising, and allow for attractive displays and cross-merchandising. (The laws in Arkansas are pretty specific, Trim adds; you can only own one liquor license.) Nevertheless, the extended warehouse space would accommodate the purchase of larger deals and the extension of product lines, in further service of the store’s sophisticated customers.
“To be successful in the upscale wine, spirits and beer business, it’s not just a customer who stops by to get their favorite cocktail,” Trim says. “It really is a lifestyle: They want the beverage that pairs with the meal that they bought the best ingredients for.”