An open letter to Minnesota wine retailers

Hello my retailer friends.

You are the ones that find great wines for me, and the ones that enthusiastically greet me when I walk in the door.

You are the ones that I see come alive when a good customer arrives, and get excited when a good bottle is opened near you.

Shhhhhhhh…. come closer …. I want to fill you in on some secrets about your competition.  Secrets that, if you listen, will only make you better (and more successful as a small business).

Your competition (often right down the street) … 

  • … has a sheet of paper somewhere in their store saying “Sign up on our email list!” but rarely sends out an email.  When I do get an email from them, it’s usually a typo-filled notification of a tasting happening the next day rather than anything deep, educational, or thought-provoking.  And never do they simply tell me about a wine and why they love it and why it is important to them.
  • … has a horrible website with no thought, investment, or design acumen put into it.  And of course they don’t have a blog (or if they do, the last post was ten months ago).
  • … has a Facebook page that they never update, or even if they do occasionally update they tell me things rather than ask me things. Never have I seen a wine retailer online in Minnesota ask me “What wines do you like?”
  • … has a Twitter account that they never use.
  • … has dust on bottles, boxes laying around, and a general sense of disorganization.
  • … doesn’t greet me when I walk in.  If anything, the obviously hourly employees (who look like they slept on a bus) are annoyed I’m there.
  • … has a confusing mix of shelftalkers, often out of date, that implies to me they want the shelftalkers to do the work rather than the store.
  • … has a lack of employees that seem to give a damn about wine.  My standard question is “What do you have from Piedmonte?” to which I usually get lead to Pinot Grigio.
  • … rarely has anything featured, on special, on sale, or promoted (and no, a stack of wine is not a promotion.  Go to Whole Foods or Macy’s to see what I mean by ‘promotion’.  Hint: a promoted item is one that they want to make sure you see, learn about, touch, and get tempted by.)
So what can you do?
  • Take my email address that I’ve trusted you with and send me relevant information including some education.  Make them entertaining.  Send me emails other than “New 95+ point Napa Cabernet has arrived.”  The biggest opportunity right now is for retailers to connect wine with something else: travel, food, the Super Bowl, you name it.  Here’s a free idea: for the Fishing Opener weekend, not only do you have a display of wines that are “Great with Walleye” but also a display of “Great for when your husband is gone.”  Offer 50% off the second bottle purchased, encouraging couples to stock up.
  • Make use of Facebook and Twitter to keep in contact with me and ask me what I’m looking for.  If you don’t understand Facebook and Twitter, then take an hour to read up.  It is how people are communicating.  Guess what?  On Google Places, Yelp, and other sites your customers are already talking about you.  Shouldn’t you be part of that conversation?
  • Clean your store up … an employee being paid $14 an hour should be able to dust a whole store of bottles for under $20.
  • Have good shelftalkers that open a world of wine information to me.  If they allow me to connect to larger world of wine info through my smartphone all the better.  The new QR talkers that are showing up are wonderful things.
  • Employ people that want to learn about the beverage industry instead of people that just want a job.
  • And more than anything else feature, promote, and present to me wines that you are behind for all the right reasons (and getting a free TV is not a good reason).  Have the bottles open to taste. Pay employees that can speak wisely about them. Give me a take-away about the wine, so even I don’t buy it then I can at least have some information to read later.
There is a huge opportunity at the moment for wine retailers to learn from other businesses.  Go into the Apple Store, Target, Best Buy, Anthropologie, or even local restaurants like Punch, Brasa, or any of the Blue Plate or D’Amico restaurants and you’ll see businesses at the top of their game, putting their energy into the right consumer-focused strategies.
Do the same and you’ll be more successful. Simple as that.


  1. Amen!

    If you find one that heeds any of that sage advice please let us know but the crusty former retailer in me says it ain’t gonna happen.

  2. Great article. I also see so many shops/stores that have people who are not educated about wine working in them. It creates a terrible environment for those who walk in the door, excited to be informed about the “latest and greatest” or the “best hidden gem”, etc.

  3. My two cents: the only way to improve ma and pa liquor stores is to allow wine and beer to be sold in grocery stores. When that happens, the local liquor stores will have strong incentive to become boutiques that specialize in craft beer and wines, with great service, knowledgeable staff, tasting and pairing events, live music and even community sponsorships to charitable events.

  4. There are some small shops that do this, you might just have to go out of your way to find em. The Wine Thief in the East and Vinifera Wines and Ales in Plymouth in the West. Both small shops but the employees know every wine in the store and are enthusiasts. Vinifera always has a ton of stuff on sale.

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