Thursday, April 16, 2015

Saskatoon Co-op Liquor Store

The Saskatoon Co-op Liquor Store opened on March 28, 2014. As of one of Saskatchewan’s first specialty liquor stores, I was curious to find out more about what is involved in setting one up. Dawn Wreford, the store’s Liquor Procurement and Marketing Manager, was happy to oblige.

Dawn started working in a restaurant when she was 14, so she has lots of experience in the hospitality industry. She’s completed the first two levels of the International Sommelier Guild’s program and in 2010 she started working for Select Wines & Spirits. As a manager, she was responsible for promoting their products and getting them listed in Saskatchewan. It was a switch from serving wine to selling it, working closely with SLGA on logistics, pricing, promotion and supply.

Dawn now had a good feel for both sides of the industry and was well placed to help the Co-op set up their new store.

Selecting the Products 
The Co-op currently stocks approximately 4,000 different products, substantially more than the 2,400 products you’ll find in SLGA’s full-line signature stores (e.g. 8th Street, 2nd Avenue, University Heights).

Approximately 60% of the store’s product is warehoused at the SLGA distribution centre out of Regina. It represents the most popular brands that people will expect to find when they come into the store. The Co-op carries just about everything that SLGA carries so that people aren’t disappointed.

The other 40% is where the Co-op can really differentiate itself by carefully selecting wines, beers and spirits that they believe are under-represented. These products come from various sources, including Alberta, BC and individual wineries in Argentina, Chile, Italy, France, and Spain.

“It takes some training to fill out the sections,” Dawn explains. “You want a fair selection of wine from each region of each country. You don’t want all the same varietal or the same price point.”

Dawn felt that Ontario’s VQA wines were under-represented in Saskatchewan so the store has dedicated a section to them. “They’re really good wines,” Dawn says. “The VQA program is solid and they’ve been making wine for so much longer than BC. They have a different climate too; their Riesling is really good.” The Co-op stocks Hidden Bench wines that are hard to come by as they often sell out at the winery.

When asked for more recommendations, Dawn directs me to the French and Italian sections, which she believes are under-shopped.

If you’ve been looking for a product, say so. “If more than one person requests a wine, I’ll try to bring it in,” she says. “It feels really good when we see someone with a huge smile on their face because they’ve found something unexpected or something that they’ve been looking for.” The store has already been able to meet requests for Underberg Bitters, Aperol, Pastis, good-quality grappa, and some high-end whiskies.

Working Together 
Dawn credits a great deal of the store’s success to the Co-op employees and the store’s partners.

The Co-op has 32 liquor stores in Alberta, but this was their first in Saskatchewan. All the Saskatoon staff came from other areas in the co-operative. “They weren’t wine people,” Dawn says, “but they’re learning all the time and really interested in helping people.”

All the products are channelled through the SLGA. “The SLGA has been a very good partner,” Dawn says. “The team on the special orders desks has been very helpful and supportive. As long as the supplier can provide the right information, SLGA is game to order it.

Suppliers approach Dawn directly and small distributors, such as Doug Reichel Wine Marketing, have been very supportive.

The walk-in beer cooler has a huge selection of craft beers that changes from week to week. There are often limited edition beers, one-time-only offers from sales agents. “We try to react quickly and bring in new products so that people don’t get bored,” Dawn says.

The Co-op was the title sponsor for Premier in 2014 and presented beer for the first time.

One way to discover new products is by attending a tasting. The store’s tasting room is well equipped and you’ll receive a plate of bread and cheese to accompany the drinks.

The tastings are listed in the monthly newspaper flyer, but they can also be found online. Guess the Expensive Wine is one of the most popular tastings and there is a monthly beer tasting. The store also hosts winemakers on a regular basis.

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