Building Your Database

Extending Your Reach

If you build it, they will come. Because by building it—your customer database, that is—you can stay in touch and coax your buyers back with great offers, promotions and discounts. Following are some tips to build the crowds, and keep them coming back.

Email Updates

Email and social media are some of the most powerful ways for stores to reach their target audience. Once you’ve got your customers’ email addresses, you can keep them updated on specials and promotions with regular newsletters or periodic mailouts. There’s no hard and fast rule about how often to send out email updates; some liquor stores email newsletters on a monthly basis, while others reach out as needed. “We don’t do a newsletter per se,” says Graham Usher, owner of Un-Wined in St. Albert, which offers events like whisky tastings and cocktail-creation-themed nights. “We just send out event notices depending on what we’ve got going on.”

While software analytics can tell you how good your reach is in terms of clicks and opens, it’s still tough to determine the ROI of email marketing. One thing everyone agrees on, however, is that it’s important not to overwhelm your customers with repeated mailings. “People don’t like getting email after email,” notes Usher. “You’ve got to be strategic about sending them out, and really make it worth their while to open it.”

Social Media

Some establishments put more emphasis on social media — an increasingly important platform to reach your customers, and one that mustn’t be overlooked if you’re wanting to draw Gen Y and millennial customers to your store. “We use social media and our website to announce events,” describes Chris Carleton, co-owner of 7 Degrees Wine, Beer & Spirits in Edmonton. “Once people are at an event, we give them a business card and maybe a gift certificate to get them to come back to the store.” Carleton announces upcoming events using Eventbrite, which helps 7 Degrees build its database through ticket sales and contests.

Encouraging customers to post reviews of your store on your website or on other review sites (think Yelp) is also a good way to build your database. “Social media is important,” explains Usher. “If we get people tweeting and retweeting about what’s happening in our store, it’s a good thing.” After a tasting, Usher and his staff encourage people to post a review on Yelp.

Loyalty Programs

A loyalty program doubles your selling power. The strategy is two-pronged: encourage customers to come in and shop for specials or enter to win merchandise like barbecues or patio sets, and once they’re there, reward them with points for their purchases. They can then collect these points toward future shopping trips. After a certain dollar amount in purchases, some stores offer extra ballots toward draws for items like iPads, bikes and tickets to NHL games. Getting people signed up for contests keeps them coming back, and also lets you identify your highest-spending customers. It also helps you track trends for inventory purposes. Beyond this, a loyalty program is a strong offering in a city where there’s a lot of choice between liquor stores.

Getting people signed up for contests keeps them coming back, and also lets you identify your highest-spending customers.

Customer Service & Education

In a crowded market, often what will truly set you apart is your customer service. “You have to make yourself known in the community to get people to come visit you, otherwise they’re just going to shop by price,” says Usher. “Early on I decided I’m not carrying products that are carried by all the chains. I can’t compete on price; I don’t have a major grocery chain backing me up.” Instead, Un-Wined focuses on customer service and education. “People don’t come to our stores to pull stuff off the shelf, they come to ask us for advice,” notes Usher. “That lets us promote wines in a certain way: we can say here’s a great barbecue wine, and maybe we’ll feature two barbecue wines on the weekend and let people come in and have a taste.” Sales pitches are
accompanied by education, with Usher urging his staff to focus on not just this sale, but the next one. “If someone asks about a Cabernet Sauvignon from the US, we’ll tell them about it whether they buy it from us or whether they go to Superstore. I’m not concerned about it. If you spend 20 minutes talking to them about wines and they don’t buy, they’ll be back if you gave them good advice. They will still think about you when they’re drinking that wine.”

Educational Events

Creating innovative educational events in locations around your community can also boost sales. “We use events like our European Wines for Every Occasion to take the store to the people,” says Carleton. 7 Degrees also offers a new twist on beer dinners, calling it their beer school. “Wine dinners are a dime a dozen and there are lots every weekend,” he says. “Nobody was doing beer dinners, so that was the first thing we did, combining it with an educational component. So now instead of an evening where you drink all wine from the same couple of producers, we organize beer beer and wine dinners according to a theme,” says Carleton. An example is The New World Wine’s European Ancestors, where the 7 Degrees team introduces, say, the French Malbec from which the more commonly understood Argentinian Malbec originated. These events are held off-site at restaurants, usually on a Tuesday or Wednesday night. 7 Degrees sells tickets to these popular events, that are advertised through multiple channels, and which benefit both the restaurant and the liquor store. “We pay for the food and supply the wine or beer,” says Carleton.


7 Degrees also offers a new twist on beer dinners, calling it their beer school.

The effort is paying off: after just a year of partnering with restaurants to create unique wine- or beer-themed dinners, Carleton says people are coming into the store to find the featured products. The store is always careful to include budget-friendly offerings along with moderate and higher-priced wines. Educating customers about beer and wine is still a relatively untapped market in Alberta, according to Carleton, and it’s one he has chosen to focus on in order to set his store apart from the pack. “Building customer loyalty takes time, and you have to really give them something worth coming back for rather than just 10% off,” he says. “It’s a slower build but a more sure one.”

At the end of the day, whether you run a loyalty program, sell tickets to events, offer prizes or promote specials, it all ties back to customer service and offering something distinctive. It’s about the importance of honouring the people who walk through your door, and acknowledging them for choosing your store instead of the many other options.