Alcohol Retailer BevMo Sees Growth in Event Planning, In-Store Experiences

CMO Francesca Schuler Connects With Customers by Emphasizing Weddings, Tastings and Meet-and-Greets With Brewers and Vintners

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West Coast booze seller BevMo doesn't just want to sell you wine, beer and liquor. It wants to help plan your wedding.

Francesca Schuler
Francesca Schuler

The fast-growing retailer got into the nuptials business last year with a service that determines what -- and how much -- booze couples should order for the big day.

Customers who register online can come to the store for samples. There is no service charge. And if the order is over $500, delivery is free. 

"We can literally plan everything for your event," said Chief Marketing Officer Francesca Schuler. For BevMo, "it's a great way to start a relationship with a household who is starting out together."

Building more customer connections is a priority for the marketer as it seeks to build loyalty with in-store experiences like tasting rooms and exclusive product launches, including for the California debut of Casamigos Tequila, which is backed by George Clooney. The changes come as BevMo -- which operates 130 stores in California, Arizona and Washington -- eyes expansion beyond its West Coast base.

The opportunity seems riper than a juicy grape: So-called liquor super stores have increased in number more than 15% to about 1,200 stores since 2008, growing three times faster than conventional liquor stores, which still dominate with 40,000 stores, according to Nielsen. The superstores, including regional chains like Binny's Beverage Depot, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits and Total Wine & More, seek to differentiate themselves with a broader selection and an emphasis on customer service, said Danny Brager, VP-beverage alcohol at Nielsen. 

Ms. Schuler, a former Treasury Wine Estates marketer who joined BevMo in late 2011, last year hired Pereira & O'Dell as lead ad agency while repositioning the retailer as "Your Neighborhood Beverage Store." In an interview, she discussed other strategic moves, as well as broader booze trends.

Ad Age: You are pushing the "specialty experience." Define that.

Ms. Schuler: What we are focused on is really providing a place where you can learn about the product. You can come in and find new things. We have [beer] growler rooms now in our Washington stores. Those aren't legal in California, which is why we don't have them [there]. We have events where you can come in and meet a brewer, meet a winemaker. Now we are even doing spirits tasting. ... Most people can't go to Louisville and go on the bourbon trail, or go to Napa. So we really are able to provide that experience in-store.

Ad Age:What is the next big drink trend?

Ms. Schuler: Cocktails are definitely on fire as a trend, both on premise as well as people making cocktails at home. What we are seeing more and more of and will continue to see is people looking for ways to personalize them. ... What we get asked about a lot is: "I love this artisan, handcrafted cocktail I had at XYZ bar but now I want to make it for my friends at my book club. Can you help me do that in a way that doesn't require five hours?"

Ad Age:How are you using big data?

Ms. Schuler: We are putting in a customer-relationship management suite of tools that will enable us to really localize and customize the message. So if you are a bourbon lover, we will be able to get you a message about the new great bourbon that is coming out, when the distiller is coming into market. [We will be able to] send you offers that could be of interest and really tailor our message to much more your beverage preferences, vs. just sending everybody an email about wine.

Ad Age: How do you collect consumer preferences?

Ms. Schuler: We have a Club Bev membership program. ... That enables us to figure out what [consumers] purchased.

Ad Age:Explain your approach with events.

Ms. Schuler: What we are really moving toward is more signature events. Let's say you are a big bourbon drinker, and we have a particular distiller coming in from Jack Daniel's. We would send you an invitation ...  where you would be able to get a ticket to come, and you would meet the distiller.

Ad Age:You no longer advertise on TV, but do a lot of radio. Why?

Ms. Schuler: When you are at home on a Thursday night, you are not really thinking about all the beverages you need to buy tomorrow. ... Radio is really helpful because people are driving around, and we have a fun campaign reminding people about party solutions or cocktail solutions and why BevMo is great for that. It helps keep the brand top of mind while they are out doing their shopping.

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CORRECTION: The original version of this article stated that BevMo offers free delivery for orders under $500. In fact, the retailer offers free delivery for orders over $500.

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