If you like wine, you might have had the idea of opening your own shop. What could be better than tasting and discovering new wines, communicating with customers and recommending favourite bottles?
Not so fast. A passion for wine does not necessarily mean a successful career in wine sales.
I think people just think it’s fun, easy and relaxing, but you have to remember that you have to work your ass off to make money in retail, says Sarah Pierre, owner of 3 Parks Wine Shop in Atlanta. It’s not like you sell wine and suddenly make a lot of money. That’s not true at all. There are a lot of sleepless nights to figure it all out.
Pierre opened 3 Parks in 2013 after having had the opportunity to buy an existing but stagnant liquor store. The previous owner of the shop opened six or seven months ago, but it hasn’t been very successful.
Pierre’s experience and dedication to hospitality have been the key to his success. For more than seven years, 3 Parks has had a loyal clientele and Pierre has become a key figure in the community.
Study well, talk to as many people as you can, really understand the market. Understand who your customers will be and what they might want. -Sara Pierre, 3 Park Winery
The pandemic has prompted many people to taste wine at home, which has aroused a lot of interest in their business.
Due to the impact of this pandemic, there will be many retailers, Pierre says. Everybody [at the beginning of the pandemic] reached out and found their local distributors, you know? Some people have to drive about 30 to 45 minutes to get to a dealer. We now realized that we needed more stores to offer this service to the people.
Over the past year, Richard Garcia and his partners, Jamie and Liz Zeller, played with the idea of opening a natural wine store in Kansas City, Missouri. When Garcia was confronted with unemployment in his restaurant, the trio decided to try it. Big Mood’s Natural Wines opened in August.
My advice is to trust only yourself, Garcia. Don’t listen to all the people who say you can’t do it. That’s possible. It’s scary and very difficult, but if you want to work for it, take off the bandage and do it.
If you have ever dreamed of owning your own liquor store, here are some tips from successful owners across the country on how to do it right.
Miles White and Femi Oediran, co-owner of the Graft Wine Store in Charleston, South Carolina / Photo : Olivia Ray James
While the interior can be adjusted to achieve a certain look, the address of a store can make the difference.
The location is very important when it comes to a liquor store, says Femi Oidiran, co-owner of Graft Wine Shop in Charleston, South Carolina. Many people find liquor stores boring anyway, because everyone prefers to buy their wine in the supermarket.
Before Oeidiran and his business partner Miles White opened the Graft in March 2018, they thought it was a different place. But when it came time to sign the papers, the couple decided the place wasn’t quite right. That same week, her real estate agent called her to tip her off at the front of her current store on King Street.
You can have a great idea for a liquor store, but at the end of the day, if you don’t have a great location, prepare for a steep climb or a possible failure, Oidiran says. When we saw the place and I knew it was close to some great restaurants, that was all I needed.
In the same way, Garcia and his partners were forced to give up their first choice on the west side of Kansas City due to complications in the licensing process. But in the end it was worth it.
We were lucky to be rejected for this original site, Garcia says. As much as I love the West Side, it’s more of a neighborhood feeling. The area where we are now at the crossroads is surrounded by shops and there are many art galleries in our neighborhood. We’re close to famous places, so people are already coming down. There’s foot traffic. It certainly helped.
3 Parks Wine Shop in Atlanta / Photo : Caitlin Kolarik
Draw all your prints
Although Pierre has taken over the operation of the existing store, she feels she has made a new start from the beginning. The store did not have a stable customer base.
In the beginning I treated the shop 100% like a restaurant, Pierre says. I had fun with the music. I drank wine. All those who came were not customers, but guests. I still do.
I’m sure that’s exactly what led to the success of the store – there was no misalignment. I met someone’s kids right away. I was asking questions. I was just meeting people. It wasn’t a transaction.
Oyediran and White used their experience as sommeliers, but Oyediran also felt that visiting other institutions was a source of inspiration and perspective.
Travel, go to other shops, go to other bars that people say are the best, do some research and try to find out in your head why they work, he says. Keep a notebook handy and keep writing down your ideas. Look at them, find the best ideas and things you’ve learned, and put them into practice. It really is a reflection of all our experience and history in Charleston.
Some of the most important experiences are tasting and learning about wine. Pierre advises to keep abreast of manufacturers and trends.
You have to remember that someone comes into your shop and that their first experience in your shop can be their last, she says. If they come to ask you something and you have no idea what they’re talking about, this could be the last time they visit your store. And then they tell their five friends: It’s a nice place, but they don’t know much about wine. You never want to be that person.
Design meets selection in 3 Parks liquor stores / photo Caitlin Kolarik
Seeking local support to help finance
The opening of an off-license is a crash course in local legislation and business, from off-license regulations to profit and loss accounts. If you do not plan to hire a consultant, it is useful to investigate what resources are available for small businesses in your area.
Garcia recommends researching the services and courses offered by local universities and community colleges that can help in drawing up a business plan, applying for subsidies or taking out a loan.
Pierre stresses the importance of knowing your finances. This includes the payment of the rent, the salaries of the employees and, in the case of Peter, an inventory of the wine up to $50,000 at any given time.
It’s all nice and fun until you start paying your bills and looking at your finances, she says. This is the most important part for me, and I wish I had more time for it. Start by taking some of these programs to really learn how to deal with finances, because some margins can be quite difficult.
Professional advice has proven to be a godsend for Graft, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
said our accountant: Liquidation, liquidation, liquidation. We need money, Mr. White says. Management helped them create a new online sales platform and developed successful budgets.
Don’t spare the accountant, he says. Take the best you can find and pay them what they want. It makes life a lot easier.
Recommended natural wine at Big Mood Wine Shop, Kansas City, Missouri
If you decide to enter the wine business now, you will have to make adjustments due to the Covid-19 and the financial constraints of many customers.
Big Mood’s original vision included a wine bar, but now the focus is on a boutique and a wine club. They also give courses on winemaking.
It’s like working in a restaurant, Garcia says. We work in the hotel and restaurant sector and you just shrug your shoulders and need thick skin. Adaptability is your best weapon.
You have to be very creative, Pierre says. There’s nothing permanent, there’s a lot of moving parts and we keep throwing.
According to Oeidiran, adaptability also applies to working in partnership.
You need flexibility, especially when working with someone, because what doesn’t bend, breaks, Oydiran says. Accept the fact that you will probably make a mistake at some point. If you’re still convinced you’re right, you’re in big trouble.
Flexible spaces in the Graftwine shop / photo by Olivia Ray James
Ask yourself the difficult questions
When Graft opened, the owners were disappointed by the lack of a progressive liquor store in a city focused on food. The idea for Graft was born because… there didn’t seem to be any really strong markets that were really trying to introduce Charleston’s culture to the winery, says Oydiran.
But they first consulted three regional distributors.
It’s really great to dream so big and want to do something, but you have to make sure it’s supported by science, he says. Make sure there is a requirement before you do anything, and then make sure you have a firm intention of what you want to do and achieve.
Input from distributors and market trends have helped Pierre make the transition from restaurant to retail and have shown him how to create a better experience for his customers.
Study your ass, talk to as many people as you can, really understand the market, she says. Understand who your customers will be and what they might want.
In a Big Tune that focuses on natural wine, the question was whether the city would support it forever. Since its opening, Garcia and its partners have achieved success with their wine club and specialties. When the pandemic’s over, they’re hoping to expand with a wine bar.
It turns out there are some people who already have some kind of fanaticism [in Kansas City] for natural wine, he says. The answer was very good.
Ultimately, it is important to have fun amidst the various challenges and pitfalls associated with running a business.
Have fun, Pierre says. It must be fun, because your fun seeps into the group. People see it. So you want it to be a pleasant and fun environment for everyone.
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