Summer 2015
In Good Spirits By Zeke Jennings

At the end of a long day, many folks like to unwind by imbibing in a drink or three. Specialty retailers of wine and spirits know that supplementing their stock of liquor with fun and funky accessories and gift items result in more sales.

In-store sampling

“Please don’t sample the merchandise” is not the case when it comes to retailers of wine and spirits. In fact, the exact opposite is true, which is why wine tastings and other in-store events are so crucial to sales.

And if, during the tastings, retailers utilize other products that are for sale in the store’s gift shop, that’s even better.

“Our in-store complimentary wine and beer tastings primarily help with selling cheeses and chocolates in addition to the wines and beers featured,” said Teri Van Tassel, who along with her husband, Joe, co-owns Cannery Wine and Spirits in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, seller of craft beer, wines, liquors and ingredients and supplies for home brewing and winemaking. “We’ll try to fit in cheese and chocolate pairings occasionally. At times, we’ll offer free branded glassware such as a pint glass or chalice with the purchase of the craft beer featured,” she added.

These lead to sales of such popular items as branded beer glassware, wine aerators and chillers, and one of their bestsellers, Beer CapMaps, made by locals who have recently gone national. They also feature pre-made or custom gift baskets with items from the store.

Wine on Main in Clayton, North Carolina, is a bottle shop and wine bar located in a converted cottage. In addition to wine from predominantly small wineries, the business sells art, gourmet food, gift baskets, kitschy wine glasses and accessories.

The owners host a variety of events, all of which revolve around wine. Not only do they host free weekly wine tastings, but they also host book signings, live music on weekends, flower arranging classes and even a psychic reading for an aptly titled “Wine and Spirits Evening.” At each event, they serve wine that correlates with the theme of the evening.

One advantage to these varied events is that they are varied enough that they draw in different demographics, potentially increasing their customer base.

Incorporating gift shop items into events leads to additional sales. For example, at a recent tasting, co-owner Mandy Tamplin utilized Vino Ice, a device that keeps wine cold. Following the event, she said that many attendees bought that item in the gift shop, a separate room in the building.

The events help develop a customer base. Getting to know your customers, their likes and dislikes, is key to drive in traffic. Cannery began a grain club for their beer makers and a membership rewards program as well as connected with local chapters of home brewers.

Displays and shop set-up

Tamplin, who worked as a wine rep for many years, advised that the store should be free from clutter. “Keeping clean lines and good lighting, keeping everything tidy —just making sure everything has a price,” she said.

Having an artist for a business partner doesn’t hurt when it comes to merchandise displays. “We have some antique pieces of furniture we use. We really try to mix vintage and new pieces for display for a charming feel,” Tamplin said.

Because most of their real estate is taken up by liquor shelving, at Cannery, gift items are placed in areas that have high traffic and visibility. “We quite often will place a few of the gift items near the type of alcohol they might match up with. We do what we can to feature the gift items in our storefront display as a complement to our primary products,” Van Tassel said. They also hang the Beer CapMaps all over the store, while some wine accessories are hung on decorative string, cascading down from shelving units. They’ve also been known to display products around used bourbon barrels.


With such a wide variety of choices in this product category, developing a knowledgeable customer base is also a key factor in sales. For example, Wine on Main has a wine educator who teaches classes about various elements of wine, often leading to sales afterward.

Also, placing reviews of wines on shelves helps the customers make informed buying decisions.

“In the past, the store has hosted beer-making classes and that certainly helps with the supplies and ingredients sales and can also help with craft beer and glassware sales,” said Van Tassel, who stresses the importance of educated employees. “The more knowledgeable the staff, the easier it is to upsell the gift accessory products by identifying needs and offering solutions.”


Opening a wine/spirits shop involves a great deal of research. As the laws vary from state to state, it is critical to engage legal counsel before launching a business.

For example, in North Carolina, the sale of spirits is not privatized, though wine can be sold by private businesses. “There are different types of permits,” Tamplin explained. “We have a wine shop permit that only allows us to sell wines by the glass, not beer by the glass, but we can sell beer to go. We can sell regular wine and fortified wine.”

“Because we are primarily a boutique wine, craft beer and liquor store in the state of Wisconsin, we are required to hold a Class A Liquor License,” Van Tassel said. She added that all employees need to obtain a bartending license, and at least one licensed employee must be in the shop at all times, and as a retailer, you have the right to refuse a sale, if you feel your customer has had enough alcohol.

New products and trends

From hip to funky, from sophisticated to edgy, this year’s International Housewares Show featured it all.

Although people have been brewing their own beers for awhile now, homebrewing kits were front and center. Business has grown steadily for the Mr. Beer company each year, said Rick Zich, company president. “A lot more people are doing it. The craft brewery industry is giving it that kind of exposure,” he said, adding that many craft brewery owners got their start with a Mr. Beer kit.

Building upon the popular game played on college campuses across the country, the Mini Beer Pong by Scienz, Inc. appeals to all ages. The item is a tabletop form of beer pong, complete with spring-loaded catapults, the attached cups only hold one ounce of beer.

“It is travel-friendly and can be played anywhere,” said company co-founder, Derek “Ducky” Dahl.

The company currently sells a wooden game but is working on launching a more affordable version in plastic, hoping to have units in production before the holidays.

Both Zich and Dahl believe that retailers who set up the product will have more luck with sales, as it will allow potential consumers to get a visual and, in the case of Mini Beer Pong, but to interact with the game.

LS Arts has a wide array of glass bottle toppers with designs ranging from flamingoes and peacocks to nautical-themed wine charms. Spray-painting a wine bottle (after peeling off the label) is a great way to display bottle toppers. “It really makes the bottle stoppers pop and come to life,” said the company’s sales manager, Katie Radillo.

Other new products that made their way to the housewares show included several by Corkcicle, the company that makes products to keep beer, wine and spirits chilled. For example, the Whiskey Wedge is a specialized glass that chills whiskey but melts more slowly than ice cubes.

“Our Whiskey Wedge, in particular, has great packaging that really sells the product. We do also include a small poster with every case pack that the retailers tend to use as part of the display,” said partner Stephen Bruner.

Other drinking vessels include Govino’s line of glassware, including a full line of “to-go” dishwasher-safe flutes, wine glasses, decanters, etc.

Trudeau’s new line of wine and cheese accessories includes the Cooling Aerator, the wine-preserving pump with two stoppers, stand up cheese knives, cheese markers and international and daisy wine charms, all of which are perfect fits in wine and retailer gift shops.

The bottom line

These products don’t necessarily sell themselves, but with the right amount of exposure, through events and tastings, as well as an educated staff, retailers who do their homework should are capable of achieving a considerable degree success in this product category.

Zeke Jennings

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