Fine beverage retailers in Maryland are deeply concerned about what appear to be the early stages of their government preparing for legislative approval of grocery and chain wine and beer sales. This action would change the competitive balance of beverage retail in a manner akin to a WalMart or Home Depot popping up on Main Street. I feel that not only is all not lost but that it is a unique time for action and empowerment amongst independent wine retailers. Fighting a predestined victory for such legislation is a waste of energy. Recognizing the situation before it happens provides an opportunity to expend that energy improving your market presence now to establish your brand and the invaluableness of your service.
Here are my comments from a recent LinkedIn discussion about this topic:
The only course of action for independent stores in these situations is to consciously, overtly, and proudly provide products and service unlike what would be available in grocery/chain settings. Most chains operate off of lists of proven market performers and buy mass quantaties of pedestrian product (at steep quantity discounts) off the tops of those lists to provide consumers a perception of value.
The consumers that independent stores wish to attract need to be trained now–before chains enter their market–that the ubiquitous California red blend that can be found “on sale” for $10 at the big stores, more often than not, represents cheapness, not value. The wine does not have to be undistinguished 300K-case-production bulk juice to be affordable–similar prices can be found in every category in the world of wine without compromise of care from vineyard to bottle, production standards, or uniqueness of character.
I do worry that many consumers have come to accept the homogenization of quality and flavor-profile that pervades the bulk production market (which is, admittedly, better than it has ever been even if incredibly boring) as the standard by which value is determined. However, I do not think it is too late to pull back the curtain and educate otherwise. The end goal is creating consumers who don’t simply drink wine; rather, comsumers who “experience” wine.
Much more can—and should—be done to ensure preparedness for a healthy transition into this new market landscape, but this is the core idea. Wine consumption should be an experience, not a task. Now is the time to engender that philosophy in your store and in your customers.