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Christian Navarro: Market Watch Leaders Retailer of the Year

October 21, 2020

Christian Navarro has never shied away from a challenge. The president and principal of Wally’s Wine & Spirits in Los Angeles has built his business around the pursuit of excellence. He’s overcome challenges along the way, building upon a Los Angeles institution with a pedigree that stretches back more than 50 years and now has revenues of more than $60 million, led overwhelmingly by wine. For his tireless work in building and reviving the Wally’s Wine & Spirits brand, Navarro was recently named the 2020 Market Watch Leaders Retailer of the Year.

Wally’s has always put a premium on new ideas. Navarro debuted the company’s first retail-restaurant hybrid concept in 2014 when he launched Wally’s Beverly Hills location. Inspired by its success, he replicated the format in Santa Monica in 2018. The venues can seat more than 100 people each for on-premise dining and drinks, and they feature full bars with innovative menus. Wally’s Beverly Hills store spans 7,000 square feet and its Santa Monica unit is 10,000 square feet; the company’s warehouse is larger than 30,000 square feet. “We’ve evolved from being just a wine retailer to being an experiential lifestyle company,” Navarro says. “We’re a combination of retail, restaurant, and bar, and they all help each other. We’re very fortunate for that. This model is designed for the 21st century.”

During lockdown the on-premise dining areas had to be shut down, but the stores embraced the to-go format and began offering pre-made meals and pre-boxed specials. “We’ve always had a gourmet specialty store, but we expanded our offerings and it’s becoming quite successful,” Navarro says. “We’ve always offered delivery too, but we’re doing more of it, which is why we’ve been able to transition so quickly. We’re probably doing 200-300 meals a day between the two locations for takeout, curbside pickup, and delivery. It’s become robust.”

Wally’s online retail sales exploded during the Covid-19 pandemic, and Navarro adds that the stores still saw regular customers, though with limited capacity and with social distancing measures. “We have a robust website as it is, but web sales tripled over the last few months,” he notes. “We’re continuing to change, upgrade, and evolve the website.” The stores don’t currently have mobile apps, but Navarro says he is interested in experimenting more with smartphone technology. The pandemic ushered in a new flock of online engagement potential, which Wally’s embraced. The company hosted several events, including branded parties and tastings, through Instagram Live, Facebook Live, and Zoom.

Moving forward, more growth is imminent for Wally’s Wine & Spirits. Navarro has global growth aspirations and says several plans are in various stages of development, though no specifics could be revealed at press time. “We’ve got multiple units in the hopper,” he adds. “We have a couple deals coming in the U.S. and overseas, in markets we feel have people who will understand what we’re trying to communicate. We’re not for everybody. We’re for the people who are striving for the best in their life at every level.” Market Watch has more on Navarro’s efforts to position Wally’s for its next phase of growth.—Laura Pelner

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