Shaken Not Stirred:

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Store Owners Interview

August 2020

On July 10, 2020 right in the midst of our “new normal” WBSE co-leader Chad Cadden took to the Zoom stage to interview a pair of store owners that are worth knowing more about.  While ramping up for this, his next of many online events, he asked for volunteers to provide him questions to help guide the discussion.  The line of conversation would be aimed at a very important part of the bourbon hobby that I think is overlooked by the new enthusiast, the relationship.


When it comes to the owner-customer relationship it has many facets, indeed.  We were all new once, right? I have my own experiences to draw from back when I stumbled into bourbon as do each one of you taking the time to read this.  In general, I don’t think the concept should be a hard one to grasp. Be it personal or business, relationships are built on common ground. Done well, it’s created with time and respect and the evolution finds it’s natural rhythm and grows from there. In whiskey I think it can have it’s complications and in the interview Chad seeks to try and reveal some of the ins and outs of making that happen.


With an interest in transparency, I want to mention that the two gentlemen Chad interviewed are people that I am very fortunate to call friends.  Having said that, I am not the only one! George Fotis (Drug City Liquors, Dundalk, MD) and Justin Jarvis (Allview Liquors) are store owners that I believe everyone wishes they had in their community. While I joined others in providing Chad sample interview questions, I chose not to participate in the interview itself. I wanted to sit back and watch it organically to see how things came together. During the interview Chad’s partner in all things WBSE, Bill Varnell, asked for someone to pull together an article for the magazine as a follow up. I happily took a step forward.


Before getting into the meat of the discussion, I will say this.  The answers and the commentary from both subjects is genuine.  They weren’t pandering to the topic or trying to say the right things to make them look a certain way. Each speaks to their own style and how they interact with their customers. Customer is a broad term here because as we all know they come in many forms! Each store is different and depending on traffic they are situated 30 minutes apart by highway. They do share some customers - largely the enthusiast - and also have the typical neighborhood community support.  It was no mistake that Chad had these two on together.  George and Justin were introduced by mutual friends and it didn’t take long for them to realize that not only did they get along as friends and bourbon buddies, but as business owners they could do some cool things together as well! Who’d have thought that two independent liquor stores could collaborate and support one another from afar - rather than try to hoard customers and corner markets no matter how far apart!


Much of the discussion between the three is relationship-based with a focus on how they choose to sell those hard to find and allocated bottles to their customers. The always popular secondary market, flippers and the Google-educated newbie who wants “the Pappy” are topics that can’t be avoided when allocations are discussed.


The growth in whiskey as a hobby, bourbon most particularly, has brought out some interesting folks - this we all know!  Thankfully there are owners like George and Justin who are not only business owners with a bottom line in mind, but they’re whiskey people too! They share the same enthusiasm for the picks releases that we do. Understanding the excitement held by others only makes their job harder. When store allocations and barrel picks are outnumbered by your list of loyal customers, the approach to being fair is something the fellow enthusiast does not take lightly. It’s clearly a burden and just like in life making everyone happy is not an easy job!  The approach to how allocations are obtained is explored and you can follow it right to the point of sale.


While the insights offered are interesting and sound, one of the things I hope listeners will take away when they watch the video is something I’ve been talking about a lot recently as I follow activity on social media.  It’s patience! Yes, a tall order to be sure, but patience is what it will take with any worthy store and staff if you have any hope at all of becoming a part of their trusted group of customers.  In this day of anything we want is just a few button clicks away. When it comes to building trusted and long term relationships, in whiskey or not, they cannot be forced. Some may argue that they have the money and the stores have the goods - so I want it now - and may be willing to pay any price, but what you’ll find in this interview is that’s just not the case! You can’t buy true relationships and you’ll hear about how reputable owners deal with email offers for allocations before they ever arrive! 


So much of a “store relationship” discussion can almost feel a bit disingenuous at times, maybe even a bit calculated. I mean, if you own a liquor store and customers come to see you, isn’t it all just business based? Do I need to like the people on the other side of the counter? Do I care what happens once they leave the store? At Chad’s prompting, George and Justin will talk about that and what it means to them. It’s not all about the biggest spender or the number of samples shared. It’s deeper than that and they enjoy the relationships - the friendships - as much or more than the consumers do!     

This article is not intended to be a transcript. At just over an hour, we’re encouraging everyone to take a moment and a pour and check it out - see the link below!  If you’re an owner yourself, maybe there’s something here that will appeal to you and affect your own practices.  As a customer who lives far away in an ABC state, there’s things here that you may be able to take away too. For most of us it’s a glimpse into how business “done right” is not as easy as we civilians may have thought it was. Check it out here.