Interview: Gary Fisch of Gary’s Wine & MarketplaceJune 6, 2017
The four-unit retailer Gary’s Wine & Marketplace is a northern New Jersey institution.While the market’s competitive environment continues to intensify, Gary’s has adapted to the changing tides and is projecting revenues to reach $56 million this year. SND assistant editor Shane English recently caught up with founder and owner Gary Fisch to discuss New Jersey’s current retail landscape.
SND: How are the conditions in your market?
Fisch: New Jersey continues to be increasingly competitive, in terms of local and national players. The local corner stores are raising their game, and price competition is as intense as it’s ever been. We’re also dealing with more winery-direct sales and competing with national chains, which are an increasing threat. To remain competitive, we’ve ramped up our investment in training our employees. We’re also offering more tasting opportunities for our customers. We have eight wines at a time in a tasting machine to introduce people to new grapes or regions, and we’re using the Coravin religiously.
SND: Wine comprises 67% of your sales, while spirits represent 14%, beer makes up 11% and foods and other items are at 8%. What trends are you seeing in wine?
Fisch: Price points are moving higher, with $15-$20 wines growing in popularity. We’re doing well with Napa Cabs, for example, in the $25-$35 range. Our average price per bottle is above $12 now. Rosé continues to be on fire. We’re up to 120-130 SKUs. Five years ago, we were at 15 SKUs at peak season. Over the first four months of 2017, rosé volume was up 32% to 14,400 bottles and value grew 27% to $200,000. Last year, we sold over $1 million worth of rosé, up 25%. Our three top sellers are all French, with Whispering Angel being number-one. We’ve also added around 50 new Chilean wines, and sales have grown significantly. As prices for Napa and French wines rise, Chile is providing an alternative. Chile has been an $8-$12 category in our stores, but we’ve now been finding great Chilean wines at $20-$40.
SND: Which spirits categories are exceeding expectations?
Fisch: We’re heavily involved in craft spirits. American whiskey continues to do well, and there’s further room for expansion. Some New Jersey stores are killing it with Tequila, but we haven’t seen that level of excitement so far. Still, our Tequila sales are starting to increase beyond the core brands like Patrón and Cuervo. It’s the same with gin. Handcrafted labels are starting to kick in, although I wouldn’t call that a momentous change quite yet.
SND: Gary’s has a robust online store. Are your e-commerce customers different from your brick-and-mortar customers?
Fisch: E-commerce customers are 100% focused on best price and availability. With our online business, we purchase large volumes of products we believe in, and thus have a longer period of availability. A great example is the Wine Spectator Top 100. Every year, we’re monitoring that list. We ordered over 40 wines from the Top 100 last year. We’ll buy whatever we can fit—not just a month’s worth—so that our customers can continue to find those wines.
SND: What major challenges do you see on the horizon?
Fisch: I believe there’s a great future in this business, but it will be more competitive than ever before. I was at the Impact Seminar and heard about Amazon’s plans in the industry. That represents a big challenge. But it’s clear that consumers still love to come and shop at our stores. You can’t replicate the in-store experience sitting home at a computer. I know that we’re in a world of change. My approach is to make sure we’re at the top of what we do, and then when change comes, we’ll be prepared.Subscribe to Shanken News Daily’s Email Newsletter, delivered to your inbox each morning.
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