If you build it, they will come.

Everyone misquotes this line from Field of Dreams. The line is 'if you build it, HE will come'. But for all intents and purposes, let's run with the misquote. Liquor stores need to do better!

I live in the southern suburbs. It's great...it's pretty - lakes, parks, grassy verges with trees in front of each house. I'm very lucky.

But we also have zero 'destination' restaurants (bar travelling into Constantia 3 suburbs away), a handful of good coffee shops, and no well stocked liquor stores in our particular group of neighbouring suburbs. Sourcing Campari has become the bane of my life as I need to travel 5 suburbs to mostly guarantee that the store will stock enough to whip up a Negroni.

Which leads me to wine.

My most recent trip to my local booze store, somewhere between the 2nd and 4th booze ban, had me sighing with despair at the disappointing range of wines available, as well as the lack of ingredients to morph a Friday wine hour into a Friday sunset cocktail hour . This particular liquor store had recently been taken over by TOPS at SPAR...despite another TOPS being situated 3 blocks further up the road . I quite like a wander around the Rosmead Avenue store (5 suburbs away) and am quite familiar with one of their Stellies branches (the great trek away). But my anticipation of an improvement in the stock was quickly decimated. If anything, the quality of wine and liquor had decreased.

And here in my realisation:

Liquor stores cater to their assumed target market and not to what that target market could potentially purchase. If you live in a middle income area, as I do, your choice of booze is vastly different to if you live in an affluent market...and very different to what you see in lower income areas. You'll see specials on cheap, mass marketed booze...and far fewer quality producers.

This particular store used to stock things like Springfield's The Work of Time...but since being acquired by TOPS it's hard to find a bottle of wine that isn't sealed with a screwcap. I know, I know...screwcaps hold no indication of quality...except that it is absolutely an indication of quality for the average consumer.

One of the suggestions that always pops up in discussions about the future of sommeliers and the education of consumers is why liquor stores and supermarkets (and, in all honesty, casual dining restaurants too) don't employ knowledgeable staff who are able to advise on alcohol and, inevitably, increase the revenue through better quality products. It's such a shame and a waste of opportunity that we've /I've come to expect uninformed staff at the vast majority of stores and restaurants. I no longer engage with the staff beyond a friendly greeting and confession that I'm beyond help (not arrogance...just my wishy washy rubber armed indecisive consumer behaviours).  I've been trained, through years of disappointment, to know that the staff aren't able to truly assist my needs. In fact, I've had a bit of fun over the years playing wine assistant to strangers who are lost in the wine aisles.

Thank goodness for boutique stores like VinoPronto, Wine Concepts, Caroline's Wine Cellar, Wine Tonight on Main, and a small handful of others...all in affluent areas [edit: and now Constantia Wine & Craft in Plumstead]. Fair warning, just because a store stocks boutique wines, doesn't mean that the staff have been sufficiently trained...you'll notice that I haven't listed all the boutique stores in Cape Town...hint hint.

So here's my thought:

Rather than assume what your target market will consume and aim for the lowest possible price point...why not stock products that you know are great quality and encourage your customers to learn to respect the value of a good product.  Products where the story behind the wine, gin, whisky, vodka sells itself...stories that the staff can easily remember and delight in retelling to customers. Why not put your staff through basic wine, spirits and beer training so that they are empowered to advise on products? Why settle for what a distributor tells you to stock, when you can line your shelves with what you believe in and that your consumers will return for time and again? There is impressive value across the range of price points in SA...we're really lucky/cursed that local products are still exceptionally well priced. Show, by example, that there are options beyond former co-ops and dominant, globally owned beer brands.

If you educate your customers, they WILL return. If you build it, they will come.

Leave a Reply