Since Prohibition, federal, state and local governments have made the liquor business the highest taxed and most regulated in all of retail.
Some states operate liquor stores; others do not allow private owners to operate more than one store. In Kentucky, where 95 percent of the country’s bourbon whiskey is made, the largest wine and spirit retailer is Liquor Barn. As the director of merchandising and head buyer, Brad Williams might be Liquor Barn’s most important employee.
How much is your market share of Kentucky wine and liquor sales?
I’m not allowed to give out any market share info per our corporate rules. It’s a very large percentage of Kentucky’s largest cities — Lexington and Louisville — with major growth in other trendy cities like Danville and Bowling Green.
What does Liquor Barn do that other liquor stores don’t?
We have the best overall selection of spirits, wine and beer, great everyday pricing on national brands, a large selection of private label wines and an increasing amount of private label spirits and beer. The private labels are typically good quality at a great price. An example is our Four Roses Single Barrel bourbon: Nobody else ... has our special selection Four Roses.
Speaking of bourbon, you’re in Kentucky. How important is your bourbon whiskey program?
We have more than 150 different bourbons at any one time of the year, ranging from everyday three- and four-year bourbons to very high-end 12- to 23-year-old bourbons or specialty barrel-finished bourbons. We also have dozens of rye whiskies and corn whiskies from right here in Kentucky, and some from out of state as well.
Bourbon is one of the most important categories. We joke that we live in the “Napa Valley” of whiskey. It’s our largest sales category for spirits, and it’s important to us to help promote one of the true treasures of Kentucky.
Do you create special promotions around bourbon?
One of our favorite things to promote is our “hand-picked” barrel series of bourbons. We go to the distilleries and sample single barrels of particular bourbons and then choose what we would like to be brought into our stores. The bottles are denoted as “hand-picked” and have labels that indicate when we picked it or what barrel it was ... These items are wildly popular with our customers and don’t typically hang around very long.
You also do a lot more than just liquor.
Yes, a big part of this business is getting people to come back. We pioneered retail growlers back in the mid-’90s and now it’s one of the focal points of our new stores. We also focus on balloons for all occasions, gift baskets, great cigar humidors and specialty foods not found anywhere else in the state.
Where does Valentine’s Day rank in terms of holidays for Liquor Barn?
Traditionally, Christmas/New Years, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day, Labor Day and July 4th will be bigger, but Valentine’s Day is a critical holiday for the first quarter of the year.
What kind of promotions will you do for Valentine’s Day?
We have Valentine’s Day cards in all stores, a great product for Valentine’s Day. A lot of people forget the card! We typically have hot prices on champagne and chocolates. We sell roses at a lot of the stores and have done chocolate-covered strawberries — a big hit for that guy trying to make an impression.