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BJ’s Wholesale Club Targets Growth With Brand-Focused Strategy

September 8, 2017

Westborough, Massachusetts-based BJ’s Wholesale Club operates 215 membership-only stores in 16 eastern states, 60% of which sell beverage alcohol, including 49 locations that offer beer, wine and spirits.BJ’s beverage alcohol buyer Gina Langone has led the department for nearly two decades. SND contributing editor Terri Allan recently spoke with Langone about the chain’s approach to the drinks category.

SND: What is your approach to buying and merchandising beverage alcohol?

Langone: Buying is done centrally, but we pay special attention to local trends through IRI and Nielsen data. Because our stores are located from Maine to Florida, there are differences in selection across the footprint.

SND: How much space do you devote to beverage alcohol?

Langone: We look at pallet counts. A typical club would have 30 pallets for alcohol, but our largest store has 150 pallets. On average, it’s 45 pallets across beer, wine and spirits.

SND: Do you seek a treasure-hunt approach to your beverage alcohol selection like other warehouse clubs?

Langone: Because we’re a membership-based business, we want to keep our selection exciting, and the treasure-hunt aspect is very important to our members. But it’s equally important that people find what they’re looking for—brands they know and trust. So I seek a combination of both. We also seek out special packaging, such as co-packs—things you wouldn’t see in a grocery store.

SND: Which category is your top performer?

Langone: Beer is big for us due to the fact that we sell it in all 44 stores in New York State. But as laws and licensing are revised in many states that may change over the long term. Within beer, our stores have a strong affinity for imports. We do extremely well with brands like Corona Extra, Heineken, Stella Artois and Modelo Especial.

SND: What are you seeing in the wine category?

Langone: We’re seeing lots of excitement in rosés, red blends and Pinot Noirs. Brands priced over $15 like Meiomi Pinot Noir and Whispering Angel rosé are really growing. New entries like 19 Crimes red blend are doing well, and we’re looking to capitalize on the popularity of the 90+ Cellars wines. Our most popular price point is $10-$14, and our members know that our wines at that tier are typically priced higher in other stores.

SND: What’s been the response to wines under your proprietary label, Wellsley Farms?

Langone: It’s been two years since we launched those wines, and I feel we’re delivering an incredible value. The $9.99 price point is very aggressive for the quality in the bottle.

SND: How are spirits doing at BJ’s?

Langone: Brown spirits are on fire, with brands like Jameson, Crown Royal and Jim Beam performing well. We’re still selling a lot of Fireball. Premium Bourbons like Woodford and Maker’s Mark are selling like crazy, and we’ve found that Jefferson’s Bourbon presents very strong value at about $10 less than other brands. White goods aren’t as exciting as brown goods right now, although Tito’s vodka is still growing at an incredible pace.

SND: What’s the long-term opportunity for beverage alcohol at BJ’s?

Langone: Beverage alcohol is a relevant category for our members. As state laws change, we hope to be able to continue to expand the category to more of our members.

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