March 26th, 2010

What Makes a Small Wine Shop Great

Dr. Vino, who I read regularly, recently posted a great article on what makes a small wine shop great.

Photo by Paul Goyette

Photo by Paul Goyette

I encourage you to read his article in its entirety, but essentially he calls out three key aspects to a great wine shop:

  • Selection – must be interesting. Doesn’t have to be big, but off the beaten path, specialized or regional selections would fit the bill.
  • Service – pretty much a must to any business nowadays. A small wine shop must have at least one knowledgeable staffer who can well assess a customer’s needs. Offering tastings or other community event is a bonus.
  • Price – need to be competitive, and ideally not charge above the normal 50% mark-up above wholesale.

As is usually the case, Dr. Vino is spot on, but I’d like to add a few of my personal observations as a frequent wine shop patron and a retail marketer.

  • Overall First Impression – not sure enough shops pay attention to this. What is that overall vibe or impression you provide your patrons in the first five seconds they’re in your store? Comfortable? Cluttered? Warm? Easy to shop? Shoppers will form an overall impression immediately, good or bad.
  • Customized Experience – Dr. Vino goes into this a bit in his article, talking about remembering a customer’s likes or dislikes. For me this isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have for any small shop owner. Personal greetings, special deals, customized recommendations…all of these things go along way. The goal is getting your customers talking about your shop in terms of “MY wine shop” versus “A wine shop” or “THE wine shop.”
  • Navigation – often a small wine shop’s charm is in the eclectic mixture and layout of wines, but sometimes finding your way around these shops can be downright frustrating. Understand how your customers shop (by varietal, region, or some other method) and make sure clear navigation help gets him or her there quickly, especially if the customer is in a hurry. This is one area I think where the bigger stores do a better job.

Small wine shops are the heart and soul of most community’s wine culture, including Cincinnati’s, and we all want to see them do well.  What else do you love or find frustrating about a small wine shop experience?

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