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Market Watch: Big Ambitions At Rising Minnesota Chain Top Ten Liquors

December 5, 2022

In just eight years, Top Ten Liquors has grown into a 12-unit retail force in the Gopher State. In 2021 total company revenue advanced a healthy 10% to $53 million, with spirits and beer each making up 35% of sales and wine comprising the remaining 30%.

Starting from its base in the Minneapolis suburbs, Top Ten is slated to reach 15 stores within the next year. Looking further, founder and CEO Jon Halper believes the chain could eventually grow to 25 stores in Minnesota alone by reaching markets like Rochester, Duluth, and St. Cloud. By 2030 he envisions occupying the top spot in the state in beverage alcohol sales.

Halper was deliberate in the purchase of his first four Top Ten stores back in 2014, and he continues to be today. When he was ready to make his move into beverage retail—just as Total Wine, Amazon, and Hy-Vee were also gaining ground in the Twin Cities—he came to one essential conclusion. “For too long Minnesota was a full-price marketplace, and even when retailers got discounts from their distributors on special deals, they weren’t passing those discounts on to their customers,” Halper recalls. “I knew we had to take a more promotional approach.” Halper enjoys visiting his rivals regularly and scrutinizing their assortments and pricing, and he often returns from these ventures with orders to his managers to revise Top Ten’s sale prices.

While spirits sales are on the rise at Top Ten, senior wine buyer Siri Nyman notes that wine sales are slowing. “Wine is falling behind spirits because spirits makers are using lots of celebrity endorsements and they now have a far better marketing machine,” she says. “Spirits brands have really gotten good at angling their promotions toward women.” The average wine sale at Top Ten, according to Nyman, is close to $15 a 750-ml., up from under $11 four years ago.

For all its local presence, Top Ten does not yet have a store in either Minneapolis or St. Paul proper, as local laws limit a company to one store per municipality. But Halper hopes to fix that soon. His biggest venture yet is expected to open this fall in the upscale suburb Minnetonka—a 7,500-square-foot store flanked by an adjacent 5,000-foot wine bar and boutique grocery. The wine bar will feature an impressive 104 wines lined up in self-serve taps and the space will have seating for 100 people.

For Halper, the new wine bar is a response to the growing perception that traditional retail doesn’t cut it anymore. “People want retail as an experience; they want to be entertained,” he says. He’ll be watching consumer reaction closely as he calculates further expansion. “If we figure out this wine bar concept correctly, it could be something we even take on to other states eventually,” he says, pointing to possible cities like St. Louis and Kansas City. Market Watch has more.—H. Lee Murphy

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