Every year, like clockwork, the holidays seem to appear out of nowhere. For the beverage industry, especially retail stores, holiday prep tends to begin just after the summer season ends. Additional buying, planning, and organizing are added to the never-ending list of daily duties that keep a retail store in regular operation. So how can a shop get a head start on the busy holiday season?
1. Stock up (and splurge!)
When it comes to holiday retail, there’s nothing worse than realizing you’ve underestimated the supply necessary to fill your clients’ needs. “Bulking up on stock is always a key part to being prepared for the holiday season, from great go-to wines to pair with turkey for Thanksgiving dinner to lots of bubbly for New Year’s Eve,” says Bryan Matland, the store manager for Millesima USA, the New York City arm of a Bordeaux wine retailer.
“As the U.S. extension of Millesima SA, we are known for our Bordeaux selection, and we are a destination for those looking for classified-growth Bordeaux,” Matland says. Each year, in anticipation of the holiday season, he begins the process of choosing and importing a large selection of the wines at various price points from Millesima’s warehouse in Bordeaux. “We stock up on wines to suit anyone from your high-end collector of first growths to those who just want a great $25 bottle to pair with their holiday roast.”
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Rule number one? Always have enough on hand, at every price point bracket. And don’t forget to stock up on those few special cases of high-end, hand-sell bottles that would normally collect dust throughout the year. This is the time of year when clients will be looking for well-considered staff picks and recommendations—and be more likely to splurge on them too.
2. Hire extra holiday help
Though training new employees may seem like the last thing you have time for, the investment pays off in increased sales during the post–Thanksgiving Day craze. “We hire about 50 additional staff for our four stores,” says Gary Fisch, the owner and CEO of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, based in Wayne, New Jersey. The holiday-time positions include cashiers, basket makers, gift makers, packers and shippers, and floor staff.
“If someone comes in and is an absolute rock star during the holiday season, we will find work for them and keep them around long term,” Fisch says. “There’s always loads to do—right after the holiday season, we start preparing for the Superbowl, so it’s go, go, go!”
The takeaway? A little investment in some extra hands goes a long way—and someone you hire might just make a perfect addition to your regular year-round team.
3. Decorating pays off—literally
Don’t be afraid to shell out for holiday decorations. A festive window, seasonal music, and various holiday-themed accessories can make all the difference in attracting new clients into the store. And if the decorations can double as merchandise, even better.
“Everything I decorate with is for sale. Never miss an opportunity to make that cash register ring!” says Leora Madden, the owner of Pearl Wine Co., a boutique bottle shop and wine bar in New Orleans. Decorations include festive glasses, wine-themed Christmas tree ornaments, seasonal place settings, cocktail napkins … Says Madden, “We even had some grape string lights that someone bought!”
4. Prep for a marathon season
Prepping yourself as well as the shop is important for operating a well-oiled machine. Always be one step ahead—and take care of your physical health.
Most shops will extend their hours of operation during the holiday season to accommodate the influx of customers and orders. While it may be tempting, don’t shortchange the hours allotted for cleaning, organization, and shelf restocking; if anything, these tedious tasks become even more necessary during the busiest times of year. Budget at least an hour or two every day, before or after operating hours, for mundane (yet necessary) maintenance tasks.
Personally prepping for the holiday season is just as imperative. “I sleep as much as I possibly can in the months leading up,” Madden says. “I’m mindful of the marathon ahead, and I plan accordingly with diet, exercise, and cash for inventory.”
Fisch views the season similarly, using the same 26.2-mile analogy. “Preparing for the holiday season is like training for a marathon,” he says. “During the year I work six days a week, but during the holiday season I work seven. I [also] switch [my reading] from novels to more [industry and wine-focused] articles, to make sure that I’m well equipped to answer any questions my customers have.”
5. Program holiday offerings and events
For retailers with a strong e-commerce business, like Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, holiday promotions include offering special gift baskets and curated wine packs to customers online. At Pearl Wine Co., email blasts with holiday suggestions begin the week before Thanksgiving and continue through New Year’s Eve. For Millesima, the focus is less on gift promotions and more on advertising the business, especially through publications where clients will be searching for gift ideas.
Among the most effective techniques for boosting sales? Offer holiday-themed in-store tastings. Whether you’re promoting food-friendly wines for the table or offering a spirit sample served up inside a signature cocktail recipe, in-store tastings are the best way to get clients—new and long-standing—interested in what you’re selling this season.
Vicki Denig is a New York-based wine and spirits journalist and wine educator, discovering the world through the lens of a glass, one sip at a time. When not tasting or traveling, she can most likely be found running through Astoria Park or sipping on Cabernet Franc.