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Retailer Garfield’s Finds Solid Role In An Ultra-Competitive Chicago Market

August 24, 2018

Garfield’s Beverage Warehouse, a third-generation Chicago retailer, continues to expand its footprint in a highly competitive market. The company does $20 million in annual revenues from its five locations, and is currently in the process of planning new stores.

The Garfield family are stalwarts of the Chicago retailing scene. The business was founded in 1951 by Norman Garfield, who started with a small store in Cicero. Over the ensuing decades, the family has thrived in the Windy City and its surrounding suburbs. Today the business is co-owned by Norman’s son Bruce, and Bruce’s son David.

Four of the five Garfield’s stores are in the Chicago suburbs—in Crystal Lake, Barrington, Palatine, and Norridge. The fifth location is in the city itself, in the Wicker Park neighborhood. Crystal Lake is the flagship, and was renovated in 2016 to include a full-service bar. The Barrington and Palatine stores are set in affluent suburban villages, while Norridge is a mixed urban-suburban community with a sizeable Polish-American population. Wicker Park is Garfield’s newest store, opened two years ago in a millennial-centric neighborhood. “We wanted to move to a place with a younger crowd, with disposable income,” explains David. “The store is doing a nice business, and the margins are incredible.”

The Garfield’s stores range in size from 3,000 to 15,000 square feet, with Crystal Lake being the largest and Wicker Park the smallest. Sales are equally divided between spirits, wine, and beer at 30% each, with miscellaneous items comprising the remainder. Garfield’s carries up to 1,000 spirits SKUs across its stores. Unsurprisingly, whisk(e)y sales, and Bourbon in particular, are surging.

Garfield’s offers more than 5,000 wine SKUs, with California dominating sales. Top wine brands overall include La Vieille Ferme Rosé ($8), Illusion red blend ($10), and Fableist Cabernet Sauvignon ($20). The chain has around 300 beer SKUs, ranging in price from $5 to $16 a 6-pack. Craft accounts for nearly 50% of beer sales, with an average retail ring of around $10 a 6-pack. The company does well selling local craft brands, such as those from Revolution Brewing.

“Our biggest challenge is that this is such a competitive market,” says Bruce. “There are many warehouse stores, and when it comes to price, the grocery stores are very aggressive. It’s difficult when you’re buying 100 cases of a product and the chains are buying 100,000 cases.” Amid such stiff competition, Garfield’s stands out with a heavy focus on selection and service. “Having a knowledgeable staff and offering a large selection helps set us apart,” says David.

At press time, Garfield’s was set to open a sixth store by year-end. Bruce doesn’t rule out expansion beyond the Windy City, though he says there’s “still a lot of work to do” in Chicago.Terri Allan

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