After several weeks of selling Yellow Tail, Cupcake, and Sutter Home, I had all but given on being able to sell the Cakebread Chardonnay and the Masi Amarone. Then along came a young, well-dressed man looking for a holiday gift for his boss. When I showed him some of our nicer reds like the Steltzer Cabernet Sauvignon, he said he wanted something better. We walked to the special display where the more expensive wines were laid horizontally to keep the corks from drying out. The lovely Far Niente label caught his attention with its etching of a winery nestled in gently rolling hills and encircled by delicate grapevines and a tasteful gold border. “Is this a good wine?” he asks. I reply that it’s a prestigious Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Although I’m familiar with this wine’s reputation, I haven’t been so fortunate to taste it. The customer concludes that this is just the right bottle to impress his boss. Thus, marked my first big sale.
It didn’t take long to recognize the familiar faces of repeat customers and get to know bits of their lives that they chose to share. Even though years have passed since we owned the store, I still remember some names and stories. In a conversation with an elderly customer, she begins to reminisce about her wedding 40 years ago. She is wondering what to do the leftover wine that she had saved from the reception and asks if we would be interested in it. We’re wondering if good Bordeaux might still be worthwhile after 40 years. Then she drops a bomb. The wine bottles are open. We suppress a gasp and politely decline the offer.
While I enjoyed getting to know the customers, I also became aware that some of them seemed to have alcohol control issues. Small bottles of vodka were very popular for both portion control and for drinking in secret. We had several customers who showed up daily for a small size bottle of vodka because buying a larger one would result in drinking it all in one night. Another was using small bottles to drink on the job. The ethics of supporting their dependency weighed on me. The Boozy Lifestyle is meant to integrate wine, spirits, and food with social activities, not drown your sorrows by drinking until you puke and sporting a hangover as an encore.
The day we sold the store, I left a note on the window saying goodbye to our customers expressing how much we appreciated them.
3 thoughts on “Tales of the Liquor Store: Getting To Know Your Customers”
Interesting post and perspective.
I like how you described the Far Niente label. It was dreamy.
What did you mean by keeping the corks from drying out? What’s the significance of that?
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Hey Jason, good question. You may notice that a good wine store will lay the bottles down so that the wine will have contact with the cork and prevent it from drying out. If a bottle is upright for too long and the cork dries out it may be difficult to open, becoming brittle and breaking into pieces as the corkscrew enters it (had this happen). In our liquor store, higher priced inventory moved slowly so we were careful not to ruin the corks. If bottles are flying off the shelf, this may not be as important. If you store bottles at home, I would suggest laying them down.
Very interesting — I didn’t know that!