State store #157 is the apple of the eyes of the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
In a state like Washington, where its 155 agency stores generate well over $400 million in revenue, it’s a task to pinpoint what enables one store to stand out from the rest. Limitations of state regulations encourage owners and managers to rely on creativity to keep one store from looking like a clone of another.
Store #157 manager Douglas Gulman, with a mix of ingenuity and solid business practices, has made his store into a $4.7 million operation. Customer comments about the Burien, WA, store have garnered attention from the Washington State Liquor Control Board.
And Douglas Gulman, Store #157’s manager, has done just that.
Whether it is his unique way of displaying wines, his employees’ positive attitudes or the recent move into a busy part of Burien, WA, Gulman’s store has gained the attention of the WSLCB as one of the state’s top wine and spirits outposts.
Store #157’s recent move to the bustling section of Burien underlines the importance of location. Now, instead of being surrounded by houses in the small community, the three-block move placed Gulman and his store in a well-trafficked shopping area containing a Blockbuster video store, Albertson’s grocery and a Starbucks coffee shop. The new location has increased sales for him and his seven dedicated employees, up 15.8% to $4.7 million in the past year. “The short move has made a difference,” Gulman commented on his increased revenues. “Our entire customer base has changed.”
Location is only part of why store #157 has received attention from WSLCB. If someone asked WSLCB deputy director Daniel Lieberman, he would say the store’s increase in sales started from the inside out. In the state’s records, Lieberman noted that store #157 had garnered more attention than others in the area for its impeccable service and dedication to wine and spirits knowledge.
The inside-out phenomenon starts with the employees, who, though they are not formally trained, are strongly encouraged to taste the spirits and wines sold in the store, visit wineries in the area and to keep abreast of current releases via periodicals. Gulman said the store has not experienced much turnover in employees, so most staff members are well-versed with the store’s products and have been around long enough to have a grasp of the spirits and wines stocked in-store. Gulman also works to bring unity to his employees through a casual dress code — requiring employees to wear burgundy T-shirts, logoed with WSLCB, on Thursday and similar teal shirts on Saturdays. Gulman fostered the T-shirt idea after a district picnic, when store #157 workers donned matching shirts for the occasion. “It looked really neat; we were all the same,” he said. Now the shirts have become a symbol of the staff’s teamwork, which Gulman believes reflects the uniqueness of his store.
Dolly Amend, assistant manager, poses wearing the store’s two-day-a-week uniform, a T-shirt bearing the initials of the Washington State Liquor Control Board. Thursdays, employees wear burgundy shirts and on Saturdays, a logoed teal shirt to show the staff’s unity.
The ambiance and design of the new store also carries a sense of distinction. Customers are greeted by a red carpet at the entrance of the store, from which customers can get a good view of the store’s burgeoning wine department. The department holds nine sections for still wine and two for sparkling wine. Most wines are tagged with descriptions and prices to make wine purchasing a snap for customers. The store’s “U Wines,” wines specially ordered from a Washington hub store, are most likely to be labeled first, Gulman commented, since the special wines are an addition to the store’s usual wine inventory. The wine section continues throughout the store with a non-brand specific merchandising technique. Wines are arranged on and around wine barrels garnished with grapevines, ivy and the occasional scarecrow.
The 29-section spirits department sits along the store’s perimeter. The dark, wooden shelves are organized by spirit type and clearly labeled with embossed gold signs. The store also has plenty of room to house three check-out stands, one two-door cooler that holds Guinness, Red Hook brews, malt beverages, such as Colt 45, along with several white wines and champagnes. There are also two gift gondolas that rotate with the seasons. For the holidays, Gulman stocked the gondolas with gift packs, miniature 50 ml bottles and special orders. And to rake in a few more sales, the gondolas also serve as a place to sell slow-moving items from neighboring stores. “In the past years, we have been a ‘dump’ store. Generally, stock moves pretty fast on them,” Gulman added. “We tend to have diverse clientele, who see the gifts and just buy them.” Overall, store #157 sells about 1,100 items, which includes most everything the state allows, along with special orders.
Displayed is an example of innovative merchandising for the store’s burgeoning wine section. Instead of using brand-specific point-of-sale materials, the store displays its wine on grapevine- and ivy-covered barrels from a nearby winery.
The top-selling spirits in dollar sales are Cuervo Gold Tequila, MacNaughton 4-Year-Old Canadian Whisky, Jack Daniel’s Black, and Crown Royal and Black Velvet Canadian whiskies, reflecting the area’s proximity to the Canadian border. Best-selling wines include E&J Gallo’s André Extra Dry and the Wine Group’s Franzia Chablis in a box. These faves don’t account for the U-wines ordered from hub stores, of which there are 21 in Washington. Special ordering wines, Gulman remarked, is a service that helps keep his customers walking through his doors. “If we can bring it in, we’re happy to order it,” he commented. Wine-seekers can consult the in-store list of hub wines, an employee will place the order, and it will be in the customer’s hands in a day or two. Some hub wines have been so well-liked that they have joined the ranks of the regular wine stock. Gulman takes the wine section seriously, highlighting products that show increasing demand and discontinuing those that sit on shelves too long. He said that over the past few years, he has fine-tuned his wine section.
Gulman keeps his eyes on the state to make sure his customers get what they need, and as far as he is concerned, he can meet almost any customer’s needs. Which is why when the privatization issue arises in the state government, Gulman stands in favor of the control state system. “I feel that with state control, there is better control of a product,” he said.
Store owners, like Gulman, have a justified reason to be concerned about privatization, especially since Lieberman said he has heard rumors that the issue may be pushed more firmly in legislation this year. With that in mind, the WSLCB is turning a critical eye inward, making moves to run the system more like a corporation than like any other arm of the government. “Instead of operating on appropriated funds, we are making a move to work as a percent of sales–like a business would,” Lieberman added.
Lieberman, who was hired from the private sector, believes that once the WSLCB no longer works under appropriations, the system can progress by, for instance, opening more stores to meet increasing customer demand and like store #157 accomplished, by enhancing customer service.