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Interview: ABC Fine Wine & Spirits CMO Bob Gibson

July 31, 2017

Orlando-based ABC Fine Wine & Spirits, a 75-year-old privately held retail chain, has 125 locations across the state of Florida. Last year the company brought in approximately $500 million in revenue. Over the last seven years, ABC has invested in extensive renovations to many of its older stores and also boosted efforts in employee education to compete against the rising tide of national and regional chains entering the Sunshine State. SND assistant editor Shane English recently spoke with ABC chief marketing officer Bob Gibson on the state of play in the Florida retail market. 

SND: How is ABC evolving to keep up with the competition in the Florida market?

Gibson: We’re investing in new techniques to train our team members. We’ve provided dozens of educational courses to team members for many years, but now we’re revamping things to create more of an e-learning opportunity to greatly expand the level of education that they get. We also provide several levels of wine training, all the way up to Master Sommelier. For craft beer specialists, we have cicerone training. We also have over 30 trained tobacconists in our business, working to help educate consumers in that area.

SND: Are you expanding with new locations?

Gibson: We’re focusing on replacing smaller stores that may no longer be as competitive or compelling with new, modern stores. The revitalized locations, coupled with our revamped staff training, will help us compete with the grocery stores entering the market. We have at least 10 projects on our plate right now. For example, we recently stocked a store in Crystal River, Florida, where we’ve constructed a brand new building.

SND: What categories are performing best in your stores?

Gibson: Cognac, high-end Tequilas, Irish whiskey, rye and Bourbon all are doing extremely well right now. People are drinking a little better, and they’re also experimenting a lot more. And they’re really gravitating toward Tequila. It’s not just about Margaritas anymore—it’s about exploring the variations and nuances of different sipping Tequilas. Scotch is also becoming more interesting as people learn the differences between whiskies from various regions of Scotland. Japanese whisky is also doing very well, although there are only a few brands.

SND: In addition to your retail locations, ABC has a growing e-commerce business. How is that developing?

Gibson: E-commerce is still a relatively small part of our business, but it’s growing. The vast majority of people are going on the website, looking at a product page and then going to a store. Close to 70% of our online shopping is done on mobile devices. We’re also doing a lot of rapid expansion across the state with delivery services like Instacart, Shipt and Drizly. More than 100 of our stores now provide delivery through these mobile app services.

SND: What are your thoughts in the aftermath of Governor Scott’s veto of SB 106, which would have allowed spirits to be sold alongside other consumer goods in groceries?

Gibson: A couple of very large, out-of-state organizations like Wal-Mart and Target were trying to change the law in Florida when there was no compelling consumer demand for it. We’re of course pleased that the governor vetoed the bill, and we think it was the right thing to do. If any of those organizations want to build a liquor store adjacent to their superstore, they can certainly do that. For us, it was a safety issue, and that’s why we joined with Publix in opposition to the law.

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