This past week I had two conversations with two different customers about the relative merits of buying wine from the grocery store vis-a-vis the small independent store. Both of these fellas are good customers here, one having been a shopper here for the entire twenty years, the other for just a month or so. The old timer shared with me that another one of my customers told him the grocery store nearby was selling better wines now. Later in the week the newer customer had contrastingly asked, "Why would anyone shop there when you can get better wines here and at lower prices?" These were separate conversations at different times, not a group discussion, which probably wouldn't have resolved the where-to-shop issue anyway.
So let's look at the two businesses. The business of chain stores is mass marketing and to do that you have to find out what most people like and then mass produce that on an industrial scale. The business of the little guy is to find affordable wines that express distinction in quality outside of the channels that stream mass market product to the chains. The chains build a reputation using business school/insider trade savvy combined with advertising know-how. (Martha Stewart wines?) The little guy uses his accrued experience in the business and "shopping cred" built by customer referrals. The chains use the wine industry lobbying arm, the Wine Institute in Washington D.C., to know what to stock. The little guy avoids that approach at all costs and does the consulting and tasting himself.
On this end and having worn both hats, I can say that satisfaction lies with doing it yourself while being a corporate type is where the money is. If a chain ever got the right balance of industrial wine with artisan production, the small retailer would be history. If the retailer ever got the funding to buy the mass market wine deals, he still wouldn't succeed in that game because the fix is always in the favor of the chains. But this discussion is irrelevant anyway because the small retailer has a different philosphical approach to what this industry is and the chain industry will always be about mass marketing.
This coming Friday, the 11th of April, between 5 and 8pm, Nan Harrison of Hemispheres Global Wines joins us here for a tasting of California wines and more. Nan's effusive personality along with her product knowledge make this event a must-experience for everyone. Please join us.