James "Bevmologist"
James "Bevmologist"
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Number One Beverage Retailer on the West Coast: Time to BevMo!

Old Liquors Magazine exclusively interviews Certified Specialist of Spirits Brian Bowden

BevMo! is the leading specialty beverage retailer on the West Coast. Founded in 1994 as Beverages & More!, with a store in Walnut Creek, CA, the retailer quickly expanded, opening its first San Diego store in 1997, and then several stores throughout Los Angeles and Orange County in 2001. That same year (2001), the company re-branded itself as BevMo! Today it has grown to 166 stores throughout California, Arizona, and Washington state.

The average store is over 10,000 square feet in size, although the company has begun introducing a number of sleek, new-generation locations that possess a smaller footprint in a high-energy, aesthetically attractive environment that appeals to today’s shopper. The privately held company continually expands its market reach by opening a handful of new stores each year, mainly in towns and cities where they do not have an existing store.

Their philosophy is simple: “Shopping for beverages should be as much fun as drinking them.” The average BevMo! store typically offers more than 3,000 types of wines, 1,500 types of spirits, and 1,200 types of beers.

Brian Bowden – CSS BevMo!

Old Liquors Magazine’s Anise LeAnn met with BevMo!’s Certified Specialist of Spirits (CSS) Brian Bowden and Chief Marketing Officer Tamara Pattison and asked them a few questions as to the secret of BevMo! success.

It says on your website that shopping at BevMo! is more than just shopping for beverages. Please describe that for me.

We love what we do here at BevMo! That’s why you’ll find so many amazing products in every aisle. Our buyers work hard to be first to market with all the latest spirits, wine, craft beer, soda, snacks, and more. Our stores have thousands of items from every beverage category to please even the craziest request. Looking for chocolate bitters? We have that. Want to try Moonshine? Which brand are you looking for? Like craft beer? We do, too! We have more bubbly than you have celebrations! Like caviar? We sell more caviar in California than any other retailer because we are a celebration destination. We have aisles and aisles of wine from big brands to locally crafted wines from all around the world, plus all the party accessories, glassware, barware, gourmet snacks, cigars, and gifts.

Time to BevMo!
Time to BevMo!

Our offerings reflect the incredible range of interests and needs of our customers.  As you’d imagine, being located in California means servicing a highly informed and educated wine, beer, or spirits drinker. Of course, we offer products that appeal to all levels and tastes, but there is a definite need to be on top of what’s trending, what’s unique, what’s a must-have, and what’s a must-taste today. We pride ourselves on being alcohol experts, and that’s something our customers have come to expect and appreciate.

The employees’ working mentality seems very dedicated (as seen in Facebook videos). Your own CSS Brian Bowden is employee #19—what’s your secret?

Yes, we have an amazing team at our corporate office (who collectively have over 100+ years invested in the company) and in the field, but the true heroes are our store associates. They make shopping at BevMo! fun. Our in-store staff of “BevMologists” are as knowledgeable as they are approachable and friendly. They assist with creative pairing recommendations, party planning expertise, and a wealth advice for the worldly as well as the novice.

BevMologist

We like to say that “Every hour is a happy hour” when working at BevMo! Unlike many retailers, we empower our staff to engage with customers who need assistance or advice, or who seek answers to questions they may be hesitant to ask. Our people are experts, and that goes a long way in creating a workplace that is rewarding and fulfilling. Who wouldn’t love to work in an environment surrounded by great wine, the latest craft beers, and the ever-evolving world of spirits?

We realize that this business has been built by our associates. We feel that we understand—and serve—our customers better than any of our competitors. Our associates are the reason we are able to create the best possible shopping experience for every single person that walks through our doors.

A highlight seems to be the in-store tasting events. What a great idea. Can you give me more details on that?

As you can imagine, our weekly in-store tasting events are extremely popular with our customers. It gives us a great opportunity to introduce them to new and different wines, spirits, and beers that they normally may not experience. It helps them expand their taste preferences and explore new and exciting offerings from around the world or around the corner.

Tasting at BevMo! - James with Customer
Tasting at BevMo! – James Explaining the Nuances of the Tasting to a Customer

What are some of your most important stores (biggest, highest turnover or special for another reason, e.g., a special collection)?

As mentioned, we feel we understand our customers better than our competitors.  We have spent tremendous time, energy, and capital into identifying what our customers want—and what they might likely be interested in experiencing. We’ve empowered our associates and BevMologists to make the shopping experience “intimidation-free.” When opening the doors to our store, it should be with a sense of excitement and enthusiastic anticipation. It should be fun because the typical visit is in service of planning or triggering “fun.”

We have grown considerably over our first 22 years, but we like to think we are the hometown store for so many California cities and towns. We’re local, and that is a huge advantage we have over competitors. We’re not a warehouse and we’re not selling eggs in aisle 24. You can’t expect a supermarket cashier to know the difference between a Malbec and Merlot and that’s why shopping at BevMo! is far and away a superior choice.

And our knowledgeable staff and welcoming stores set BevMo! apart from Total Wine and other national chains. Shopping for a great wine or a new and exciting Whiskey, or an incredibly unique craft beer is an experience that should take place in a BevMo! and not a warehouse.

In general, we see trends like private account managers, concierge services, cellar management, craft spirits, and small wine estate offerings. In general, how does BevMo! enhance the whole customer experience?

Brian Bowden: In the spirits department BevMo! puts in place a core selection and then we enhance that with a selection and luxury items. In certain locations, we increase the local/craft selection based on the area and proximity to these distilleries. We also have training manuals, online tutorials, etc., so that our sales associates have the tools and product knowledge to offer the best possible customer experience while they are shopping in our stores.

What is hot right now? Wines? Spirits? Old Cognac? Vintage Armagnac? Port?

BB:  Bourbons, Irish Whiskey, and Scotches continue to do well across the entire marketplace not just at BevMo!. Older Cognacs and Armagnacs seem to be more seasonal toward the holidays with the exception of yearly gift giving for birthdays.

Whiskey Selection at BevMo! – a Few of Many

I see you have stores in Washington and Arizona. Those markets seem so different. Can you tell me what the current trends are in craft spirits in Arizona?

BB: In reality, the top spirits items in both markets are not that different for everyday items. That may be due to some seasonality and many customers from the Northwest having winter homes in Arizona. Both states have local distilleries; in Arizona, we do carry items from many distilleries like Thumb Butte, Desert Diamond, and Arizona Distilling Company. The local brands definitely help us enhance our selection for our customers.

Washington has a closer feel to California, but is there any spirit in that store that you can’t find in California?

BB: Once again the core group of items is the same in Washington and Arizona but we do focus in on some local distilleries like Heritage, Bainbridge, Whidbey Island, and 2bar that produce some very good spirits are not currently available in California.

Photo Credit: Anise LeAnn

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