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Gary’s Wine & Marketplace Evolves In Changing New Jersey Market

May 8, 2018

Amid significant shifts in the New Jersey beverage alcohol market, liquor retail chain Gary’s Wine & Marketplace saw revenues reach $53 million last year, with wine comprising two-thirds of total sales. Gary’s operates five stores in New Jersey, the latest of which opened last December. Founder, president, and CEO Gary Fisch says his keys to staying relevant are strategic growth and a willingness to embrace the industry’s changing dynamics.

Gary’s has always been active in selling high-end wines, but that business has changed dramatically in recent years with the growth of winery direct sales, Fisch notes. He’s traditionally been among the top buyers at the Premiere Napa Valley auction and has supported Bordeaux futures, but neither sector is what it used to be.

“In Napa, we used to compete against other retailers for allocations, and maybe a restaurant chain,” Fisch says. “Now, we’re competing against rival retailers, restaurants, and other countries, because Napa has done a great job in Japan and China. We’re also competing against winery direct sales. Most wineries have been nice enough to maintain an allocation for us, so we’re still in the high-end Napa game. But we’ve had to change our approach, and it’s frustrating.”

Fisch says many customers who once bought ultra-premium Napa wines at his stores now purchase directly from the wineries, so he’s constantly having to seek out a new audience. Bordeaux futures are still important—and Fisch bought heavily into the 2016 vintage—but they don’t sell as well as they have in the past. “As long as we can keep introducing new people to these wines, we’ll be okay,” Fisch says. “But now I look for other places to buy wine. I’m taking two trips to Oregon this year to look more closely at Oregon Pinot Noirs, and I’ll probably go to Portugal. We have to do that for our business.”

The online sales piece also continues to evolve, presenting new challenges. Fisch describes the online wine business as a moving target, noting that laws are changing constantly and the states to which he’s allowed to ship vary on a regular basis. Currently, Fisch can ship wine to 13 states. Because of the recent shipping crackdown, he can no longer ship to New York consumers, which has put a dent in his online business.

“Some of the states where we used to ship were our biggest online customers, and now we can’t ship to them,” Fisch says. “It’s a shame for those customers, and a challenging piece of our business. We’re focusing on pick-up and local deliveries. For Bordeaux futures and Napa Cabernets, that’s become a global audience, and we don’t ship internationally. When you take the national sales out of that picture you have to rethink how you sell those wines.” Market Watch has the full story on how Gary’s is evolving to compete in the changing retail market.—Laura Pelner

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