Is America Ready for Wine Superstores?
By Rick Moss
In the Fort Lauderdale area, independent wine shops have long ceded the lion’s share of wine sales to big chains such as Publix and Costco. But Bacchus’ crown may soon be passed
on once again. Enter a spirit superstore named Total Wine & More, featuring a selection of 8,000 wines, 2,000 spirits and 1,000 beers.
Typical of the “category killer” strategy, price, in combination with unmatched variety, is the ultimate draw. Total Wine & More, according to the Miami Herald, offers wine
at $7.99 a bottle on average, generally one to two dollars below warehouse club prices.
In a category that has the high household penetration of pet care, for instance, the rationale for dedicating a superstore shopping trip to a single category has long been established,
but is America ready for big box wine retailers? Perhaps so, based to the latest stats. The United States, by 2008, is on track to be the world’s heaviest “quaffer” of wine, according
to a study released last year by International Wines and Spirits Record. Last year, wine did $26 billion in sales in the U.S., up 5 percent from the previous year, according to
the Wine Institute.
However, not all of this incremental growth is going to the new wine and spirits superstores. Independents, local chains and some innovative new franchises are doing well, bringing
a heightened level of service to novice wine drinkers. Despite the threat that a category killer poses for these stores, many smaller operators are taking a “new competition is
healthy” attitude, as long differentiation is part of the game-plan.
‘Anybody can stock everything that’s available,’ said Bob Gibson, marketing director for ABC, a chain with over 150 stores in Florida. “It takes some expertise to differentiate
the finer wines.’
Others appear to be bracing for a hit.
“It’s just going to make business tougher to do,’ said Michael Kassal, vice president and general manager of the 30 store Crown chain. “We can’t compete with price. We know
that our forte has to be customer service. We try to be the Nordstrom of fine wine, spirits, gourmet food and beer.’
Moderator’s Comment: What does the future of the American wine market look like? Is wine about to have its Starbuck’s moment?
Oscar Wilde once said that “America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.” Given that for more and
more Americans it’s impossible to imagine a civilized meal without “complex varietals,” perhaps we’re taking a giant step backwards.
As an aside, a recent experience in a newly opened specialty wine store gives me great optimism for independents and small franchises in the possible coming
battle against superstores. Being that our town is really skimpy with liquor licenses, part of the Saturday night ritual here entails grabbing a bottle or two on the way to the
restaurant. Entering the new wine shop just off the main downtown drag, we were very efficiently asked where we were heading for dinner. “Raymond’s,” we said, “right down the
block.” The sales person responded by suggesting a delicious and reasonably priced red that went perfectly with Raymond’s burgers.
And boy, did it ever. – Rick Moss – Moderator