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Tapping Into Rural New Jersey, Bourbon Street Wine & Spirits Builds A Retailing Force

August 10, 2018

New Jersey retailer Bourbon Street Wine & Spirits operates eight stores in the state’s rural Hunterdon and Warren counties, and is set to open its ninth location later this year. Bourbon Street, launched by a brother-and-sister duo in 1996, has seen its stores become destinations—thanks their unique ambience and extensive product selection. Bourbon Street’s annual revenues now top $30 million across its eight stores.

“We came in young and when the industry was changing,” says Bourbon Street co-founder Michael Wade. “We brought in fresh ideas. We feel that we represent a change in the industry.” Wade’s sister and co-founder, Cheverly Wade-Richardson, adds that when she and her brother opened their first store in 1996, they knew little about beverage alcohol. “We had no background in wine, spirits, or beer,” she says. “From day one, we started reading, going to tastings, talking to people, and doing everything we could to learn about the industry. We had no idea what this could turn into.”

The company’s stores average 8,000 to 11,000 square feet, with sales by share of category comprising 36% for wine, 34% for spirits, 28% for beer, and 2% for non-alcohol items. The company stocks nearly 10,000 SKUs chainwide. Wine makes up about half of each store’s footprint, with spirits and beer splitting the remainder. The stores have high ceilings and attractive architectural elements, with a mix of sturdy metal and wooden racks used throughout. The wine sections in many locations feature wooden trellises adorned with Christmas lights and grape vines to create a garden vineyard feel.

Bourbon Street is a high-volume business that does well in premium wine—particularly with Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon. Its top-selling wine labels include Woodbridge Chardonnay ($12 a 1.5-liter), Cavit Pinot Grigio ($14), and Woodbridge Cabernet Sauvignon ($12). While the company doesn’t do private label wines, it often buys out excessive wine inventories or small-batch production runs in order to offer a product exclusive. “We’re doing our best to attract a more sophisticated wine clientele,” Wade says. “We didn’t hit the higher-end wine demographic early on, but we’ve moved into it.”

Many of Bourbon Street’s stores feature whiskey barrel displays within the spirits area to highlight the company’s private barrel program. Bourbon Street sends its whiskey director to Kentucky and Tennessee annually to hand-select whiskies for exclusive bottlings. While whiskies generate a lot of consumer interest and gin and Tequila are on the rise, the company’s top-selling spirits are Tito’s Handmade vodka ($30 a 1.75-liter), Svedka vodka ($20), and Smirnoff vodka ($20).

The beer section, meanwhile, continues to grow. Years ago, Bourbon Street was proud to boast 15 cooler doors in its stores. Today, most units feature 26 cooler doors and highlight a vast array of craft and seasonal labels. “We can’t have enough cooler doors,” Wade-Richardson says. “Our guests like to try new beers all the time. Some people try a different beer every time they come in.” Even so, the company’s top-performing beer labels are Miller Lite, Coors Light, and Bud Light (each $22 a 30-pack of cans).

Wade-Richardson notes that customer service remains a core element the company’s success. “Twenty-two years ago, we thought we’d only have one store,” she says. “But even as we’ve grown, we want people to come in, relax, and feel safe and secure. We want everyone to have an easy, casual shopping experience.”—Laura Pelner

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