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Interview: Ed Sands Of Washington Retailer Calvert Woodley

November 22, 2017

Retailer Calvert Woodley has served the Washington D.C. community since 1982, stocking 6,000-7,000 SKUs on its 4,500 square feet of retail space. This year, the store will bring in around $20 million in revenue. SND assistant editor Shane English recently spoke with Calvert Woodley owner Ed Sands about current trends in the nation’s capital.

SND: How has Calvert Woodley’s mix evolved over the past few years?

Sands: The market for spirits is very vital right now, very active, and that’s eating into our wine business. In the past few years, wine sales have declined by about 5% while spirits sales have risen by 5%. That’s brought us to about 50% in wine, 40% in spirits and 5% in cheese and deli, and 5% in beer.

SND: Which spirits categories are driving sales?

Sands: Small-production craft spirits are doing very well. Our sales of high-end spirits in general are very healthy, and price is not a deterrent. Whether it’s single malts, craft spirits or Bourbons and ryes, people are willing to pay. So the top end in spirits has become a very significant category, dollar-wise, for our business. The $50-and-up tier has become a key contributor.

SND: What trends are you seeing in wine?

Sands: Grand Cru Bordeaux has slowed down quite a bit, but the Petites Chateaux and Crus Bourgeois are filling that space. We’ve always been a big Bordeaux store, and 20 years ago we got into the Petite Chateau and Cru Bourgeois business. Today we carry about 100 chateaux in the under-$30 segment, and that’s become very big for us—particularly now that the Grands Crus are at such high price levels. The futures market is nothing like it used to be. I wouldn’t be surprised if it collapses in the next couple of years. Younger people just aren’t interested. They don’t want to buy, wait two years for their wine, and then wait another 15 years to drink it.

SND: What other wine regions are doing well at your store?

Sands: Spain is very hot, and so is Argentina. And believe it or not, Eastern European wines are selling well. There’s a segment of the market, perhaps because we have a lot of international people in Washington, that’s very interested in those wines. The volume isn’t huge, but it’s very active: Bulgaria, Moldavia, Hungary and Croatia are all garnering interest.

SND: How is the e-commerce segment progressing?

Sands: We sell a lot of wine online. We used to sell even more, but now we can legally ship to only 13 or 14 states. About six or eight months ago UPS stopped taking wine, and that has hurt us. We’re in a peculiar situation here, because we’re located right between Maryland and Virginia, and I can’t ship to either state. If I could deliver there, my business would increase by 20%-25%. I wish that when the Granholm decision (allowing out-of-state wineries to ship direct to states that allow in-state direct-shipping) came down from the Supreme Court (in 2005) that it had included retailers as well as wineries. Getting back to the High Court again will be a big challenge.

SND: How is the competitive environment in Washington, D.C. in general?

Sands: Supermarkets in our area all carry wine, and they all have multiple outlets. The drugstores are also selling wine. Trader Joe’s is in D.C., and not just the suburbs. In addition, the D.C. supermarket chains can sell wine in all of their stores, while dedicated retailers like us can have only one store. People aren’t averse to paying a dollar more a bottle in the supermarket. Our sales of the more popular American wines—Kendall-Jackson, Beringer and so on— have been impacted greatly by that.

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