David Owens

Sherbrooke Liquor

At Sherbrooke Liquor in Edmonton, they’re here for the beer. Of course, the store sells fine wine and exceptional spirits too, but if you’re craving a great craft brew, this is the destination you want to plug into your GPS.

“We’re known for having the largest beer selection in Canada,” says Chief Operating Officer David Owens. “People come in and wander in amazement looking at all the things in our store. If you’re looking for something unique, you can usually find it at Sherbrooke.”

The store carries a vast selection of domestic, import and craft beers, most of which can be found in a massive, 1,200-square-foot walk-in cooler. It’s so big, with so many items on display, David says, “Customers will walk into the cooler, stand in there for a little bit, then walk out. Then they’ll go back in wearing a coat, so they can spend more time in there.” The store also has a growler bar featuring an array of freshly poured beer.

A Family Affair

Sherbrooke Liquor has been around since the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until 2003 that David’s family bought it and began transforming it into the destination retailer it is today. It was initially his brother’s idea. Back then, Jim Pettinger was operating a now-defunct liquor delivery service, so buying the store was a natural addition to that service. It was also Jim who got them into beer. “He’s a collector, and we began collecting beer,” David describes.

David’s parents are the principal owners, although they are mostly retired now. His sister sits on the board, Jim has moved on to new ventures, and David runs the store. “I still check in with them once a quarter to let them know what’s going on,” he explains. “It’s actually really good. My folks have a tremendous amount of trust in me, and I want to keep that, so I work my butt off to maintain that trust.” Since his dad, Stephen Moran, still likes to stay involved, David says with a laugh, “I delegate things to him every once in a while.”

David came to the liquor retail business after a lifetime in other food and drink enterprises, including 12 years at Starbucks. “My friends keep joking that I get better throughout my career,” he says. “I started with pizza, went on to coffee, and now I’m into booze, and they like that considerably more.”

The “family” part of the business also extends to the staff. David recently instituted a profit-sharing program for staff, giving them a real incentive to stay invested in the success of the operation. “It’s great to see the positive impact that can have,” David shares. “Our family philosophy is that we’re not in this to get rich overnight. It’s a long-term process.”

David also emphasizes training, which he feels was a piece that was missing as the store and its reputation grew. “It’s tough when you think you have a small business, but you’re not really a small business anymore, and you don’t have the fundamentals in place,” he says. Several staff members have taken WSET training, and the goal is to have all of them beer certified. “We really are here to help people learn,” he states. “Our belief is that the absolute best bottle of wine, the absolute best beer, or the absolute best whisky is the one you enjoy the most. It doesn’t matter if it’s a $10 bottle or a $100 bottle.”

Connecting with the Community

When it comes to marketing, Sherbrooke Liquor is active on social media, including Twitter (@BeerBlast), Facebook, and their own blog, which focuses mostly on beer.

More importantly, David says, they are involved in the community, and not just at beer and wine shows. They sponsor music events and charitable fundraisers such as Uniquely Me, which supports the Edmonton Down Syndrome Society. “We’re getting out in front of everybody,” says David. “It’s not just the beer geeks coming out to our store.”

Then again, he gives the beer geeks plenty of reasons to visit, including all those ales, lagers, porters, and stouts, not to mention the unique brews that are custom-made by local craft breweries. “We’ve had 29 different beers brewed for us under the Sherbrooke name,” David recalls. (His favourite was the Double Dutch imperial porter created for the store’s 10th anniversary.) “We’re just a fun place to be at the end of the day.”