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Dear Wine Shop Owner, Vol. 3
By Christy Frank
Aug 2, 2023
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It’s that time again – time for another installment of “Dear Wine Shop Owner!”  Current and would-be wine shop owners pose questions and I do my best to answer them.  The first installment turned into a rambling mind dump on how to write a wine shop business plan while the second explored the “whys” and “hows” of developing a return policy.
For the third installment, one dear reader asked how to go about choosing a credit card payments processor.  Consider yourself spared because as much as I love that topic, and as many liberties as I am allowed to take with this column, there was simply no way to turn PCI compliance and interchange rates into an entertaining story.  (But if you’re interested, please do drop me a line and we can talk about it.)

So instead, I’m answering a much more freeform question asking about my favorite insider tips for making a wine shop run smoothy.  If you happen to own or work in a wine shop, hopefully some of these tips will be helpful, or at least validation that you’re not alone in your foibles.  And for the rest of you? Consider this a little peek behind the curtain and into the wonderland that is the wild world of wine retail.
Happy reading – and as always, if you have any burning questions of your own, send them to me at christy.frank.wine@gmail.com

Cardboard is Your Friend.  It’s a well-worn wine shop cliché that loving wine is not a good reason for opening a wine shop.  What you really need to love is cardboard.  Wine arrives in cardboard boxes and heads for the shelves.  Cardboard inserts are rescued from incoming boxes, pulled apart and used as bottle separators.  Most boxes are artfully broken down and left for recycling.  And the really good boxes (because you will quickly learn the difference between a “good” box and a “not so good” box) will be saved for customers buying mixed cases.  What’s a really good box?  Any and all six-pack boxes.  Boxes that have somewhat subtle branding that can be covered up with a sticker or two.  And the best boxes of all?  Repack boxes from distributor warehouses, magically sized to fit thick-bottomed champagne bottles, extra-tall Riesling bottles, and jug-like liter bottles.  These boxes are what retailer dreams are made of… and no, you can’t have them to use to pack up your apartment prior to moving.
Single Bottles on the Shelf Never Sell.  Why is this?  I don’t know.  But it’s a stocking truth that if you have one bottle on a shelf with no bottles behind it, it’s likely to sit there for a very, very, very long time.  Is this because customers are being polite and don’t want to take the last bottle?  Is it because they think there might be something wrong with it?  I’ve never been able to figure it out.  But if you backfill that empty space, even with different bottles, that orphan will almost immediately find a home.

Have the Same Printer at Home as You Do at the Shop.  You may think that you’ll be able to remember which computer requires which toner cartridge number.  But I promise you that you won’t.  You are guaranteed to have the wrong cartridge at the wrong place when you are most need of a freshly printed page.
Be a Dog’s Best Friend.  This is especially important for city shops, where your foot traffic is literally on foot.  Dogs know which shops have the good treats, or really, any treats, and they won’t let their owners forget it.  At my NYC shop, we had dog regulars that would literally drag their owners through the door.  Their owners would try to change up the route, but the dogs would have none of it.  Pro tip: get small dog treats so that the small dogs can join in the fun.  Extra pro tip: keep the dog treats on the counter where the dogs can see them, and owners can grab a treat themselves.  The dogs will know they’re there – but the dog owner gets to make the final give or not-give decision.

Get your Giftwrap Options Sorted.  It’s nice to have a free option in addition to fancier pay-to-play giftwrapping.  But when you’re coming up with that free option, consider time and space, as well as cost.  Yes, a bag rolled in a large sheet of tissue paper and sealed with a sticker is a cute, cost-effective wrapping strategy.  But…have you ever tried to neatly roll a bottle in tissue paper on the cluttered counter of a wine store during the evening rush?  Have you ever tried to teach somebody to do this?  I have.  I’ve nearly lost staff over this.  Trust me.  Stick with tissue paper in a bag.  It’s cute.  It’s fast.  It’s cheap.  And it’s 100% replicable bottle, after bottle, after bottle.

Keep Your Online Store Photos Simple.  Speaking of replicable … if you have an online store (and post-COVID, all wine shops should have online stores), whatever format you choose for your photos, keep it simple.  If anyone can’t just snap the required picture with relative ease, you’ll have new wine arrivals kicking around, waiting for their time in the photobooth.  And if each bottle shot requires a full edit by someone trained in photoshop before it can be posted, then you’ll always need someone trained in photoshop on your staff.  Someone who knows photoshop, can roll a gift bottle in tissue paper…and knows about wine?  Good luck finding that person.

Don’t Sell a Wine Made from the Same Grape at the Same Price from the Same Region…unless you – and everyone that works with you – can easily explain how they’re different.  Nothing is more panic inducing than standing in front a row of $16 bottles of California Chardonnay and trying to explain how they each differ.  I can’t do it.  You probably can’t do it.  Please don’t make your staff do it!

Never Run Out of One Dollar Bills.  Walking into your shift at a shop and realizing that there are only four or five Ones in the cash drawer may actually top those identical $16 bottles of California Chardonnay for sheer panic induction.  Really, anything less than twenty Ones will start my heart racing.  Especially if it’s a solo shift.  Double especially if the banks are closed.  You can easily make do without pennies, nickels, dimes…and even quarters (as long as you have dimes), but not having Ones?  Just don’t be that wine shop owner.

Coins First.  Bills Second.  When handing out change, put the coins in the outstretched hand first, and then place the bills on top.  Do the reverse, and the change will slide off.  Yes, I actually train my staff to make this change this way.  Really.

When You’re Closed, Pull the Shades.  If customers can see you, you might as well be open.  So, unless you’re planning to hide behind the counter while you count out the cash (which I may do from time to time), pulling down the shop window’s shades are a much easier way to signal that you are indeed closed.  And…don’t forget to the lock the door.