Kyle BainesAndrew Hilton Wines & Spirits
There was a time when Kyle Baines had aspirations of becoming a neuroscientist. In 2000, he was studying at the University of Lethbridge while working part-time at his father’s wine store. It wasn’t long before he realized that he loved the day-to-day interactions with customers and that he was more passionate about the history and production of wine, beer, and spirits than the science of the brain. He became General Manager of Andrew Hilton Wines & Spirits in 2003 and bought it lock, stock, and wine barrel from this father (now retired) in 2013. If he has ever looked back, it is only to see how far he has come.
This progressive Lethbridge retail operation opened in 1985 and was initially called Andrew Hilton Wine Merchants. It was the third privately-held independent wine store in Alberta, a full seven years before privatization in the province. Born of a partnership between Max and Lorna Baines and Jim and Kate Langston, the first store was a whole new vision for Southern Alberta. (The name is derived from a combination of the original owners’ middle names.) At the time, wine could only be purchased from government liquor stores, and both selection and customer service at these outlets was limited. With an initial collection of about 400 specialty wines and a small core of dedicated wine enthusiasts as employees, Andrew Hilton was a world apart from the government stores. With ever-increasing product lines and a growing customer base, the store quickly outgrew its first location. In 1990, the Baines family became sole owners. They moved Andrew Hilton to a building with 2,400 sq. ft. of retail showroom space.
In 1994, with the introduction of privatization and to reflect their now expanded product offerings, the store was renamed Andrew Hilton Wines & Spirits. The name change reflected a new commitment to maintaining the same high standards they had established for the wines, now expanded to include their new portfolio of beer and spirits.
Today, Andrew Hilton Wines & Spirits employs about a dozen people, all of whom are dedicated wine, beer, and spirits aficionados, and the store remains an industry trendsetter. It boasts an expansive selection of over 1,000 wines and nearly 200 single malt whiskeys – one of the largest Scotch whiskey selections in Western Canada.
“We focus on carrying a range of unique items and independent bottlings,” explains Kyle Baines. “I carry product from many of the smaller estate wineries from Canada and around the world. In several instances, we have worked with and developed personal relationships with vintners before their wineries have become popular, which ensures us the best selection.”
When craft beer started to come on strong a few years ago, Baines ensured that his store was one of the first to respond to this global trend. When growler bars became popular, Baines was one of the first to champion the concept. He challenged the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission’s (AGLC) regulations that allowed breweries but not liquor retailers to fill growlers. “I wrote and submitted a proposal to AGLC to change the regulations,” recalls Baines. “They got back to me about 10 days later and said, ‘You are right!’ Consequently, the rules were changed, and liquor retailers are now able to fill growlers. This regulation change opened the door for us to install the very first growler bar in an Alberta liquor store in 2013.”
For the initial product launch and testing, Baines purchased and retrofitted second- and third-hand components to build his pour station. It wasn’t long before his growler bar’s success warranted the purchase of a top-of-the-line counter pressure filler, enabling Andrew Hilton to guarantee the freshest, most carbonated, highest-quality growler fills in Southern Alberta. Beer pours from the six kegs on tap are facilitated without releasing foam and loss of carbonation. The pressurized air system is highly efficient, so there is less spillage, which results in overall cost savings and has drastically increased profits. Best of all, customers receive a superior product and they keep coming back for more.
“I have made a commitment to the local craft and mainstream breweries, and I always have at least one locally brewed beer available at the growler bar,” adds Baines, “but I also carry beer from Belgium, Germany, and the Pacific Northwest. It is an ever-changing selection that is all driven by customer demand. It has been wildly successful.”
Recently, Andrew Hilton was presented with the Lethbridge Sun’s 2015 ‘Best of the Best’ in the Liquor Store category. When ask how and why they may have been voted the winner of this designation, Baines is at a loss for words. “I really don’t know,” he says with a laugh. “For the past 10 years, the award has traditionally been given to discount retailers. To be honest, I had kind of given up on ever receiving it and was just quietly going about running the store. It was a huge surprise when we were contacted by the Lethbridge Sun, and we are sincerely flattered and proud of this vote of confidence from the community.
It is no longer just about price. People are becoming more open to sampling new and different wines, beer and spirits, and that is the market niche that we fill.
“I believe that for us to win the ‘Best of the Best’ award signifies that there is a definite shift in market demand,” concludes Baines. “It is no longer just about price. People are becoming more open to sampling new and different wines, beer and spirits, and that is the market niche that we fill. This store is about knowing our products, listening to our customers and, above all, having knowledgeable and friendly employees who are dedicated to delivering superior customer service. That’s what makes Andrew Hilton stand out.”