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Interview: Florida’s Crown Wine & Spirits Sets Plans For Major Expansion

September 2, 2015

For more than 60 years, Crown Wine & Spirits has been a retail powerhouse along the Atlantic Coast of Florida. The company, which operates 13 stores, had sales of $35 million last year, with wine and spirits comprising more than 80% of the total. Over the next five years, Crown expects to more than triple in size, while expanding its Internet business and adding a boutique wine offshoot to its portfolio. SND recently spoke with wine buyer Veronica Litton, who’s been with Crown for nearly three decades, to get on update on progress.

SND: Crown Wine & Spirits has changed dramatically over the years. How has the company evolved?

Litton: Our first store opened in downtown Fort Lauderdale in 1955. Within a decade, the company had grown to 10 stores. By the mid-’80s we had more than 20 stores, and in the late ’90s and 2000s we reached 30 stores in six Florida counties. Over the last five years we restructured and downsized to 10 stores. This year we went into expansion mode again. We now have 13 stores, with plans to grow to 50 stores over the next five years. Our owners (the Kassal brothers) are very ambitious.

SND: Crown made a commitment to fine wine early on. What sells well in your stores?

Litton: We started as more of a discount store, but our owners wanted to attract upscale shoppers. We’ve grown by staying one step ahead of consumer taste preferences. The company made an investment in fine wine in the ’80s and then added gourmet cheeses and meats, gift baskets and cigars. We’ve also found a niche by hand-selling specialty products. We call ourselves providers of a gourmet experience. Our shoppers prefer higher-end, specialty wines and spirits. I furnish about 1,500 wines for our stores.

SND: What are your top-selling labels?

Litton: The top offerings include Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio ($18.97 a 750-ml.), Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label ($43.97), Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve Chardonnay ($11.97) and Meiomi Pinot Noir ($19.99). Our selection is versatile, and I cater it to each location. We’ve seen a huge spike in sparkling wines and American Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Pinot Grigio, lighter-style wines and rosés.

SND: How do your stores stand out in such a tough market?

Litton: Florida is extremely competitive. We stay in touch with our consumers constantly, and we have a large base of loyal customers. We also have fun in our stores. Our employees enjoy themselves, and that translates to our shoppers. The Internet has also been a powerful tool for reaching a larger base of customers. We see potential for significant growth there.

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