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With 40th Store Set To Open Binny’s Reinforces Its Market Leadership

July 17, 2018

Known for its vast selection of wine, spirits, beer, and cigars, Binny’s Beverage Depot operates 38 locations across the greater Chicago area, with two new stores—in Joliet and Evanston, Illinois—slated to open by the end of the year.The retail giant’s average store measures 25,000 square feet, with its largest at 50,000 square feet. Binny’s is also renowned for its Whiskey Hotline, which fields whisk(e)y- and other spirits-related questions from customers. SND senior editor Christina Jelski recently spoke with Binny’s Beverage Depot owner Michael Binstein to discuss expansion plans, ongoing investments in the whisk(e)y space, and current consumer trends.

SND: The two new stores will bring your footprint up to 40 locations. Are you exploring entry into any additional areas?

Binstein: We’re always looking for opportunities. When we were at 38, I thought we would stay at 38. Now at 40, I think there will never be a 41, but clearly you can never say never. It’s not only about expanding with new stores, but also seizing opportunities to evolve. We’ve spent a lot of money reinvesting in our existing locations, with some stores getting expansions, and others needing an old-fashioned facelift. Some need realignments in terms of categories. We’ve introduced spirits cellars in some of the stores, as well as wine cellars, and we have walk-in humidors in most of our stores. Our spirits cellars house our growing collection of rare and limited release Scotches and other whiskies, Tequilas, rums, and Cognacs. Current prices range from $200 to $75,000 a bottle.

SND: The Whiskey Hotline has served as a differentiator for Binny’s. How is the program evolving?

Binstein: The Whiskey Hotline was here before whiskey was cool. If you want to call and talk whiskey for 30 minutes, there’s somebody on the other end who can listen, educate you, and inform your purchasing decisions. Nine months ago we started something called the Whiskey Hotline Study Group, for employees. It convenes every Tuesday, with small groups of highly motivated staffers gathering to talk and learn about whiskey, and sometimes take a field trip. We also have something called the Whiskey Hotline Internal Briefing, which is an email to customers that comes out once or twice a week with offerings, new releases, and staff picks. It’s very precisely targeted.

SND: What trends are you seeing in terms of consumer spending habits?

Binstein: Customers are price-sensitive, and they should be. So whether you’re spending $5 or $5,000 at Binny’s, you have the right to expect good value. Our industry is very idiosyncratic because of the enormous tax disparities from state to state. The wholesaler cost differences can vary quite a bit across different states, which makes things difficult. Illinois has gone from being one of the lower tax states to being one of the higher tax states. I’m hoping that with consolidation at the wholesale tier you’re going to see more uniformity in pricing from coast to coast and from border to border.

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