Marc LeBlanc

Liquor Lodge: jasper’s Destination Liquor Store

At first glance, the tourism-oriented links on Liquor Lodge’s website seem peculiar. Then you see how Marc LeBlanc has created a destination liquor store in what could arguably be one of Alberta’s most acclaimed travel destinations, and it all makes perfect sense.

Marc’s unique style of liquor retailing even won the peer-nominated, ALSA Chairman’s Award in 2014, which is presented to a store operator who has demonstrably provided outstanding service to the retail liquor industry.

“Jasper is a world-class destination experience for two million visitors each year,” Marc says. “So, if you are a part of the Jasper community, then you are a part of fulfilling that destination expectation and the products you offer must be of world-class calibre.”

An Experiential Vision
With that vision firmly in mind back in 2007, Marc set out to build a liquor outlet where design, service, and product selection were unparalleled. Having spent three years with the Coca Cola Company, Marc’s shift to beer, wine and spirits enabled him to transfer some tried and true marketing tactics to a different arena.

“Obviously, there was a learning curve moving from pop to liquor, but my time with Coca Cola exposed me to very sound and well-practiced trade executions based on 100 years of accumulated learning and intellectual property,” Marc recalls. “I learned how to order properly, merchandise effectively, unload trucks, build sales displays, and sell. Above all, I embraced the mantra to ‘clean it, price it, and set it to standard’ which is why Liquor Lodge embodies clean visual lines, products that have properly fixed printed price tags, and displays that are set to a standard.”

In the case of Liquor Lodge, this translates into a 200 sq. ft. walk-in cooler, clutter-free aisles, custom cabinetry with LED lights, and Vintage View wine racking. The store’s entire ambiance exudes a boutique experience that emulates the professional yet relaxed feel of Jasper itself.

Customer Engagement
But that’s only the start. Marc’s philosophy for experiential engagement includes an Enomatic Elite sampling bar where patrons can try up to four ½ ounce samples of wine from an 8-bottle range, before they explore the more than 500 different wines on display. “International visitors want a Canadian experience, so we specialize in Canadian wines – especially from the  Okanagan – as well as locally-crafted beers and ciders. We also have a good selection from elsewhere, including some hard-to-find gems such as magnum bottles in our Italian wine

In addition to the ALSA Chairman’s Award, Marc was also nominated in the BDC Young Entrepreneur Awards contest in 2013. Although he didn’t come away with the $100,000 prize – monies that would have turned the store’s basement into a state-of-the-art wine tasting facility – the national recognition fueled his creative thinking elsewhere. “Alberta’s centralized warehouse system makes for a hugely competitive industry, so it’s vital to keep the branding’ fresh,” Marc notes. “Instead of the renovation downstairs, we invested money and energy into our spirits section. We’ve since developed an expertise in single malt whiskies and now carry more than 100 varieties.”

Marc also uses Alberta’s link liberally throughout his website. “75% of our store inventory comes from the Connect Logistics warehouse in St. Albert. Because it’s always
current, I don’t have to duplicate the information with website updates. We have 1,500 followers on Facebook and find that platform more effective to share more immediate store-specific marketing and news.”

The Good Life
As for the future, Marc’s earlier plans to enter new markets have taken a back seat for a while, in part because he and his wife, Megan are new parents to Theodore, born in January 2015.

“This industry is hugely competitive, so new markets are very limited, and I’m realizing that what I’ve got here is pretty much as good as it gets. When I opened the store eight years ago, it was from scratch in terms of securing financing, designing the space, learning the business and working, working, working. I’m so proud of what we have accomplished, and being recognized by one’s peers tells me that we’re doing something right. I absolutely love the Jasper lifestyle and the Liquor Lodge lets me stay here to enjoy it and to raise a family.”

At 36 years old, Marc is no longer eligible for the BDC Young Entrepreneur program, but that doesn’t dim his enthusiasm. He is an entrepreneur at heart and while he “may not swing at every pitch, I’m always aiming for the benches.” Dragon’s Den, watch out!