November 2008

The Cult(ture) of BevMo

By: Rachel Burkons

For this West Coast retailers, the is Yet to Come
There are a few words that might be appropriate to describe BevMo!’s growth in its short 15 years of existence: Meteoric. Methodical. Massive. Whatever you might want to call it, one thing’s for sure: If BevMo!’s past success is any indicator, the best is yet to come.

In 1994, Beverages & More! was founded in the San Francisco Bay Area, and within a year, six stores had cropped up. By 1997, the company had expanded into San Diego, and with a 2001 entry into the Los Angeles and Orange County markets, BevMo! had become a California staple. Six years later, BevMo!s began to pepper the Arizona landscape, and by the end of 2008, the chain will have grown to nearly 100 locations in two states.

Though the numbers alone are a testament to BevMo!’s undeniable success, a closer look at the company’s internal mechanism reveals that at the center of it all, passion, teamwork and a commitment to giving customers what they want are the qualities that have propelled BevMo! to the top, and from here, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Jim Simpson, President/CEO, has steered BevMo! to great success, with nearly 100 stores in California and Arizona.

An Adult Candy Store

Walk into any BevMo! store (most of which showcase 10,000 square feet of wide, gleaming aisles and are nestled comfortably between national retailers like The Gap and Best Buy), and one thing is immediately apparent: This isn’t your average liquor store.

“The ultimate goal was to be a specialty retailer, not to be a liquor store,” says David Richards, EVP of Marketing and E-commerce, distinguishing BevMo! from the anonymous mom-and-pop liquor stores that litter random street corners all over the world. “BevMo! was designed to have a ‘wow’ factor that customers would find to be like an adult candy store. It’s supposed to be a place where it is as enjoyable to shop for the product as consume it.”

It’s supposed to be a place where it is as enjoyable to shop for the product as consume it.” —David Richards

This emphasis on providing customers with the best possible experience has permeated all levels of the company’s operation, but is most apparent in the stores themselves, where products are organized by categories that are easy to understand and are accompanied by detailed, educational descriptions and color-coded signage. “There weren’t other stores doing these things,” explains Richards, “and there weren’t stores with the selection we offer.”

With 3,000 wines, 1,500 spirits and 1,200 beers offered (not to mention a wide variety of non-alcoholic beverages, specialty foods, cigars, glassware and bar and wine accessories), BevMo!’s selection is unparalleled. But it’s not just about quantity. “We have a very, very large selection, but it has to be carefully balanced and edited by our buyers,” explains Steve Higgins, EVP, General Marketing and Merchandising. “Our customers are also looking for brands that they recognize, and we try to give them that connectivity. We also try to give them the BevMo! knowledge, and be able to make recommendations.” That’s where Team BevMo! steps in.

More than Service with a Smile

Although hiring associates with a love of wine and spirits may seem like a simple way to provide customers with the solutions and service they need, at BevMo! it is only the first step. “All of our stores are staffed with people who have an in-built passion for the product,” says Richards. In order to build upon this passion, the company has recently brought on the talented Pat Sakai as VP, Learning and Organizational Development to work on product knowledge, and the company frequently sponsors seminars, tastings and winery visits (including several in France, Italy, Australia and Argentina), all to provide customers with the most educated assistance possible.

VineOne recently partnered with BevMo! to sponsor a sommelier training program; used to dealing with restaurants rather than retailers, VineOne was skeptical at first. “We had 84 people join this program, and we had a 100% graduation rate,” says President/CEO Jim Simpson, like a proud father. “It was phenomenal. These guys were blown away by the passion and success of our Team BevMo! members.”

Programs such as these ensure that associates are well-equipped, but BevMo! employees are also imbued with a sense of loyalty that only comes when a company recognizes the strength of a solid team. “We do our best every day,” says Simpson. “We need to treat our associates with respect, give them the ability to grow.” Education and promoting from within seems to work: With 1,600 employees, 104 people have been with BevMo! for more than five years, and 71 have been with the organization for more than ten of the company’s 15 years.

“Our business is built by our associates, and we never forget that,” says Richards, thankful for an employee base whose loyalty is rivaled only by that of its customers.
Steve Higgins, David Richards, Alan Johnson and Jim Simpson are a true team, and work with a passion that embodies the BevMo! spirit.

The Cult(ure) of BevMo!

“I’ve worked for a number of brands in my life,” admits Richards, “but at BevMo!, when I talk to customers, I discover a culture, a passion for our brand that I’ve never seen before.” Driven by impeccable service, the popular ClubBev! member program and promotions that offer values such as 90-point wines under $20, six wines under $6 and the incredibly popular five cent wine sale, which allows customers to buy one wine, get the second for five cents, BevMo! customers share an adoration for the brand that borders on fervor. (On the popular social networking website, there’s even a customer-run fan group called “When I die, instead of Heaven, I want to go to BevMo!”)

BevMo!’s loyal customer base has already proved invaluable in catalyzing the brand’s expansion. When the company was considering the move into Arizona, a search of the ClubBev! database revealed that 12,000 members already lived there. “No concept like BevMo! existed in Arizona before,” says Richards. “But we had customers who had migrated from California and knew what BevMo! was all about. They had so much anticipation of our coming to Arizona.”
BevMo! hopes to parlay this success to their next expansion, a top secret state-yet-to-be-named. If the past is any indication, conquering new territory should prove an easy feat.

Galactic BevMo!

Jim Simpson refers to BevMo!’s future growth as “Galactic BevMo!,” a concept that reflects the heights to which BevMo! aspires—and Simpson’s belief that “if you’re not growing, you’re dying.” However, BevMo! is cautious not to grow just for growth’s sake.
“The trick here is to be fast, but be smart,” says Alan Johnson, EVP, Business Development, Real Estate and Construction, and internally known as the Architect of Growth. “We have studied the markets, looked at competition and mapped trade areas. Now, we are armed, ready and dangerous.”

With a plan of attack in mind, BevMo! continues to impress. As the recipient of the TASTING PANEL’s 2008 Lifetime Achievment Award, BevMo! is being recognized and commended for its impressive past, growing present and bright future. But to Simpson, the fanfare may be premature. “I think our company is very deserving of the recognition—but we’re not done growing yet!” he laughs. “But we’re proud to share this accolade. I don’t think anyone thinks of themselves as an individual—we’re very much a team.”

THE TASTING PANEL, 6345 Balboa Blvd, Ste. 111, Encino, CA 91316
Content ©2016 THE TASTING PANEL magazine. All rights reserved