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Interview, Part 1: ABC Fine Wine & Spirits’ Dave Larue

June 14, 2021

With 123 stores stretching from the Florida Panhandle to Miami, Orlando-based ABC Fine Wine & Spirits is the largest independent liquor store chain in the Sunshine State, and has revenues estimated at well over a half-billion dollars. Dave Larue, great grandson of founder Jack Holloway and nephew to principals Jess and Charles Bailes III, serves as vice president, sales, and is involved in virtually every aspect of the business, including merchandising, promotions, and pricing. SND contributing editor Terri Allan spoke with Larue about ABC’s experience throughout the pandemic and the trends that continue today.

SND: How would you characterize ABC’s performance in 2020?

Larue: We had a banner year, with monthly sales up 35% on average, driven by pantry loading and shifts to larger package sizes. While spirits represent our largest category at 65% of sales, we saw a little shift to wine—a higher margin product for us—as it reached a 20% share. Overall, we were fortunate to be able to remain open. When Covid hit, we were already well along with our digital platform with ship-to-home delivery and in-store pickup services, so we were able to launch curbside pickup in just three weeks.

SND: What changes that were made at your stores during the pandemic continue today?

Larue: Protective shields and masks for staff continue. Curbside pickup has leveled off but is still a good portion of our business. Our partnerships with Drizly, Shipt, and Instacart continue, as does our own same-day delivery program, launched last year and powered by FedEx. With that program, there’s no delivery charge for orders over $50. We’re investing in it and it’s a long-term play for us. We expect delivery will be a key piece of our business going forward, but brick-and-mortar will remain powerful. Our goal is that whatever our guests want, however they want it, we will get it to them.

SND: What trends are you seeing year-to-date, and what are the drivers?

Larue: While May sales were off about 6%, April was amazingly flat. So far for the calendar year, we’re still up—and way up versus 2019—and I don’t see us going on a major decline anytime soon. Hard seltzers and canned cocktails are exploding, with the variety packages really popular. Tequila is still hot, Bourbon is doing well, and Scotch is having a nice run. Cognac is also exploding, while other brandies are declining.

SND: What’s new on the spirits front?

Larue: With the exception of Teremana Tequila, which is doing well, the past year has been a tough time to launch a new brand. Customers sought out comfort brands and wanted to get in and out of stores quickly. Tito’s vodka, which was already at a ridiculous volume as our No. 1 spirit, increased 40% in our stores last year. Today the innovation is coming from the seltzer and canned cocktail segments. Crown Royal’s canned beverages came out of the gates roaring. We’re the largest retailer of High Noon in Florida, which for us is now second only to White Claw.

 

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