Market Smarts

Innovative Marketing Solutions

In good times or bad, in celebration or sorrow, consumers continue to enjoy their alcoholic beverages. And so, the thinking goes, selling beer, wine, and spirits must be something of a no-brainer, right? As anyone who sells beverage alcohol in BC knows, it’s not quite that simple. It is especially difficult for pubs that have to compete with chain restaurants, and for private stores that have to compete with a government retailer that is also their distributor.

When it comes to marketing, pubs and LRSs have to be creative, versatile, and hyper aware of the trends that affect their businesses. Here are just a few innovative marketing solutions for promoting your own business.

Sell Online

From fashion to food to furniture, retail is moving online and liquor sales are following suit. BC Liquor Stores are scheduled to start offering online sales sometime in 2017. Until then, in BC, only those people who own wineries, breweries, distilleries, or liquor stores can sell alcohol over the Internet. That gives private retailers a year’s advantage to establish their own e-commerce sites. Some stores, notably Legacy Liquor Store in Vancouver and the Berezan Hospitality Group in the Fraser Valley, have already done so with great success.

Deliver the Goods

You’ve probably seen the cartoon on Facebook of a delivery truck that’s “like an ice cream truck, but with wine.” Well, it may not play French music as it roams around the neighbourhood, but
the black-and-white van announcing “Liquor Delivery” from Darby’s Public House & Liquor Store still makes a statement when it rolls down MarketSmarts-3your street. Not only does home delivery offer the convenience consumers are seeking these days, it’s also a terrific opportunity to display your store’s branding to thirsty consumers.

Deliver Service

BC has some of the most knowledgeable consumers in North America, especially when it comes to local products such as wine and beer. Smart retailers ensure their staff are even more knowledgeable. That’s why stores such as Brewery Creek in Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant and The Strath Liquor Store in Victoria ensure they have trained sommeliers, cicerones, and spirits specialists on staff. Investing in a course such as the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust) for sales staff can pay off big time.

The black-and-white van announcing “Liquor Delivery” from Darby’s Public House & Liquor Store still makes a statement when it rolls down your street.

Host Tastings

Professionally-led tastings are an excellent way to encourage customers to buy your products. Vancouver’s Legacy Liquor Store has made educated tastings a centrepiece of their marketing strategy; they’ve even invested in a massive harvest table where customers can gather for dinners, tastings, and special events like their summertime whisky series. Have a local winemaker, brewer, or bartender lead the tasting and you will also reap the benefits of a positive partnership.

Form Partnerships

MarketSmarts-sign2Joining forces with likeminded businesses doubles your public profile. In Kamloops, The Noble Pig Brewhouse actively supports local farmers and producers who, in turn, promote the Pig. Meanwhile, over in Victoria, Spinnakers Gastropub is collaborating with Silk Road Tea to make its Peach Paradise Hefeweizen. Yet another good way to partner up is to work with a special event, such as a festival or competition. Thanks to recent changes to BC Liquor Policy, private stores can now run retail outlets on site at some special events.

Joining forces with likeminded businesses doubles your public profile.

Be Crafty

Where sales of commercial beer have lagged in recent years, those of artisanal brews have soared, especially among younger consumers. It only makes sense for anyone who sells beer to take advantage of this massive trend. One clever way to do this is for businesses and craft breweries to collaborate on a commissioned beer. Stanley Park Brewing, for instance, recently teamed up with Lululemon Athletica to brew its Curiosity Lager, while Big Rock Urban Brewery created a special festival beer for Dine Out Vancouver 2016, and Fernie Brewing Co. crafted its Take a Hike pilsner in collaboration with Island Lake Lodge and Clawhammer Letterpress. Now imagine your own business name on a bottle of IPA or Hefeweizen. Cheers to that!

Get Social

The way businesses use social media continues to evolve. Loyalty programs, discounts, sales, special events, games, and contests can all be run though Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even Snapchat. For instance, Vancouver Island’s Liquor Plus (@DiscoverthePlus) uses social media to create a conversation and a community online–all while getting the word out about its products and specials.

Be Social

Hosting IRL (“in real life”) social events, whether it’s an in-store tasting or a karaoke party at your pub, is a great way to develop long-term relationships with consumers. Events like Monday Night Trivia at the Black Bear Pub in North Vancouver or the regular live music shows at the Canoe Brewpub in Victoria inspire guests to return again and again.

Make it Special

Go beyond your regular services and you can not only stand out from the crowd, but your business can become a go-to destination for people seeking something special. Retailers, for instance, can offer assistance with event planning or customized gift baskets, like the ones from Pacific Liquor Stores. Pubs can offer special services for special occasions, like the Mother’s Day brunch at Sir Winston’s Pub in Vernon or the holiday Monday brunches at the Gillnetter Pub in Port Coquitlam. The key is anticipating what your customers want. So why not ask them? Give guests a way to offer feedback that goes beyond Yelp and TripAdvisor.

Make it Sporty

It’s the big game and customers have flocked to your pub to watch their team play on the big screen TV. Have you done all you can to take advantage of the event? You could decorate the bar in team colours, give team jerseys as prizes, run pay-per-view sporting events, host live events with local players and, of course, offer food and drink specials. All of these encourage guests to stay longer, spend more, and come back again next time. Even better, become an official team partner pub! Jimy Mac’s in Langley has partnered with the Vancouver Whitecaps, and the Paddlewheeler Pub in New Westminster has partnered with the BC Lions. Each of these establishments receive additional promotion on the team’s website.

Encourage Loyalty

Building loyalty is not an easy thing. To be effective, a loyalty program has to be easy to use, offer real benefits and, if possible, be fun. A good example is the Darby’s Pub “Become a Legend” program, which allows customers to enter the “Hall of Foam” by enjoying 50 different beers in a passport-style booklet; those who do will receive a $50 gift certificate as well as a special T-shirt. They also have their name printed on a plaque in the Hall of Foam. How fun is that?

Don’t Forget the Obvious

One tool that is often overlooked is the power of a good website. True, social media is cheap and easy, but it is also fleeting. A professionally designed and well-organized website is a good way to let consumers appreciate the depth of the products you carry, the expertise of your staff, and any special services you can offer, such as gift baskets or home delivery. It can also feature articles on wines and spirits, allowing you to position yourself as a trusted source of information. Most importantly, it’s the best way for customers to find your location, hours and upcoming events, especially if it’s mobile friendly.


Ultimately, marketing your business means finding the right opportunity to build relationships with the community you hope to attract. Whether you use new technology or old, whether you reach out virtually or IRL, the best marketing should seem less like marketing and more like friendly connection.