Creating Memorable Experiences

Nurture your Clientele

With increasing competition in the liquor industry in Alberta, liquor retailers need to up their experiential ante. That includes checking in on your outlet’s ambiance and vibe, service and selection, and developing a no-stone-left-unturned approach to marketing, and your ability to nurture your clientele.

Tender Loving Customization
Customers become regulars for many reasons−value pricing, staff knowledge, product selection, and store layout to name a few, though in all likelihood it’s how their experience is personalized that encourages casual customers to become regular patrons. From there on in, it’s appreciation and TLC that will create a lasting impression. Rapport is the catchword of the day. Not only must staff be product savvy, they need to be considerate and conscientious about customizing a guest’s visit. This may be as simple as addressing them by name (nothing is more flattering), or texting them when a particular new Chardonnay has arrived because you know they are partial to that blend.

A Learning Culture

Courtesy of Craft Cellars

Photo courtesy of Craft Cellars

With 32,000 sq ft of space spread over two levels, Willow Park Wines & Spirits was an industry anomaly when it opened as a private enterprise in 1994. But Peggy Perry, Vice President of Marketing & Purchasing, was quick to see the opportunity.


“When I worked in Almhult, Sweden, hometown to IKEA, I realized how entertaining and interactive shopping could be,” recalls Peggy. “We adopted and adapted the IKEA model for Willow Park, centred around offering a fun learning experience. Education is one of our most important core values.” Consequently, the store was the first in Alberta to introduce free consumer-focused tastings, which over the years, have evolved into an energetic program that has sustained a consistent growth in revenues in spite of variable economies.

“Today, we run approximately 10 customer events each week−pairings, tastings, and meet-the-vintner nights to name a few, that draw in upwards of 500 participants,” says Peggy, whose industry experience and passion is evident. “In addition, we host private groups, and stage ticketed events such as festivals and formal seminars, so the venue is a happening place the whole time. Events create a buzz in the store and online, which together really drives our business.”

The learning ethos also contributes to staff productivity and retention, which in turn, creates a great customer experience. Willow Park Wines & Spirits is a Certified Education Centre for the Wine & Spirits Education Trust, and all staff members are certified Sommeliers, three are Cicerones and one is an accredited teacher. “The key is to get the staff out to the vineyards,” explains Peggy. “Our earlier incentives included a visit to Okanagan vineyards. Now, after two years of employment, we offer trips further afield like France and Italy. As a result, we have many staff members who started with us as teenagers and are still with us 10 and 15 years later, offering a depth of knowledge and expertise our customers have learned to trust.”

We have many staff members who started with us as teenagers and are still with us 10 and 15 years later.

Local Partnerships

Although it only opened in June 2015, Avenue Magazine has already heralded Craft Cellars among the top 12 boutique liquor stores in Calgary, in large part because of its support of local suppliers, and most especially for craft breweries.

“When we were envisioning our business, we really wanted to establish an experience that connected our customers with their community,” says Steve Trickett, Certified Beer Specialist at Craft Cellars. “The growler bar was borne from that passion because it gives small, independent craft breweries a way of sharing their story and their beer to a broader clientele than going it alone.
Customers can sample any tap, free of charge, and are able to discover the many exceptional beers that these breweries are putting out. We’ve become the go-to place for local beer and growlers.”

Customers can sample any tap, free of charge, and are able to discover the many exceptional beers that these breweries are putting out.

Craft Cellars has a similar philosophy when it comes to distilleries and meaderies. “We build a relationship with these producers and sharing that trust and confidence enriches our customer’s experience.”

The Heritage Hook

Whether an outlet is located in a heritage building, or the business itself is a part of local lore, story telling can play a big part if creating a memorable experience. Many venues use history as their unique selling point, polishing it up with an old-world charm and cozy ambiance, which at Jasper Park Liquor is as much about family heritage as it is about the pride of being Canadian. “We’re located in a Class A heritage building that my grandmother purchased in 1960 and that our family has owned ever since,” explains Tammy Vathje, owner. “The building has seen many incarnations—including a hair salon, a rental residence, and various retailers—before my mother turned it into a liquor store in May 1994. Everything about the store speaks to the warmth of its history and although modernizing it would certainly be easier to manage, it’s our heritage that sets us apart. I even made sure the new coolers had wood laminate outside to keep that ambiance.”

Tammy is equally careful about her stock selection, and keeps it largely within a Canadiana theme. “We are a tourist destination, so while we have a good selection of international products,

Photo courtesy of Craft Cellars

Photo courtesy of Craft Cellars

including unique spirits, we specialize in Canadian wine (the store has more than 200 labels), Canadian maple whiskies and liqueurs as well as selections from local microbrewers. We also try to secure as many sample bottles as possible so customers can try a brand before committing to a full bottle. It’s a gesture they really appreciate.”

Making Social Media Count

When used properly, social media really supports relationship building and helps demonstrate and personalize customer appreciation. The idea is to use various platforms to not just make announcements, but rather to converse with people and thereby grow your client base. Ideas that create online commentary are what attract the sought-after millennials (18-34 yr olds). This demographic is constantly tapping into review sites and apps to find quality venues and destinations that offer untraditional (i.e. memorable) retailing experiences. Since they will represent 50% of the consumer market for liquor within the next decade, it behooves us all to get with their psyche.

Innovative Ideas

Why not turn the tables on booksellers and baristas by offering book-signing events, and wine appreciation evenings paired with locally made chocolates? Try coffee klatches where cappuccino tasters are spiked with new innovative liqueurs.

Consider going even more digital. Games may not be a part of your store’s mix, but it’s hard to ignore Pokemon GO, the all-the-rage augmented reality game that is particularly geared to the high-spending millennials. Download the free app to check if there’s a PokeStop or Pokemon Gym location near you and start marketing. Ideas include specialized signage and discounts to players posting pictures on social media of the Pokemon GO adventures inside your venue – if they tag you! Take a look at Lure Modules. Operating within the app itself, lures are an  inexpensive and surprisingly effective way to tempt players into your venue.

Then there are innovative ideas like those from Honest Brew in the UK that are starting to generate spin-offs in the retail sector. These include their hosting a pop-up ‘honesty bar’ night where customers pay for its craft brews on a donation-basis, contributing what they feel the beer is worth. And to further promote their conversation with customers, all online orders receive a paper bottle opener, the instructions for which are found on the company’s YouTube page. Targeted? Yes. Engaging? Very. Memorable? Absolutely. And the results? The business started with just
seven breweries on the books in January 2014 and today it has more than 50. Honest Brew’s approach to selling may be unconventional, but their success is undisputable and is morphing into events at retail locations. Could a pop-up partnership be in your mix?