Wine & Spirits Retailer - #2 national chain

Beverages & More (BevMo effective 2001)

BevMo website

Beverages more logo

The only thing more exciting than watching an enterprise you enjoy transition from small business to BIG business is actually having a hand in that growth. Such was the case with Beverages & More, a Concord, California-based firm that began opening wine & spirits superstores in the San Francisco Bay area in the mid-1990s.

For decades, California has had some of the most relaxed regulatory laws in the 50 states regarding the retail sale of alcohol. Wine, beer and spirits can be purchased at most grocery stores and pharmacies in the Golden State, a legal latitude and shoppers’ convenience that has spawned homegrown enterprises over the years such as Liquor Barn, and has invited out-of-state firms such as industry leader, Total Wine & More, westward.

In 2000, Beverages & More had experienced a couple of hiccups in their otherwise brisk rate of growth. Too-rapid expansion resulted in the closing of several stores, and they had been slow to develop their web presence, in part, due to the fact that a cyber-squatter had locked up the domain name and was demanding a seven-figure price to release it.

While Beverages & More was ultimately successful in securing that domain (a court ruling granted it to them at no cost), it was utilized only briefly. Just as customer abbreviation had turned Federal Express into “FedEx” in the popular vernacular, resulting in the global shipping firm’s rechristening, San Franciscans had affectionately been calling B&M “BevMo” almost since its inception. So in 2001, the company officially adopted the nickname bestowed upon them as their legal corporate moniker.

At this time, I was working in a marketing and copywriter capacity for a virtual agency with a handful of offices around the nation. When I was contacted by our Bay area rep about developing some online initiatives for a local chain of wine and spirits superstore, I was thrilled to learn that it was Beverages & More as I frequently shopped at their flagship store on my annual visits to San Francisco.

Our chief efforts included transitioning their direct mail campaign into an email-based format. This established a template that they are still utilizing with great success today. Some of the components included:

  • Expanding their customer rewards program by offering Internet-only specials. No walk-in shopper at a retail outlet was ever denied sale prices if they signed up for membership. This process was made effortless and instantaneous at the cash register and the mailing list grew by more than 400% in the first six months.

  • Promoting site-based content penned by BevMo’s in-house sommelier / cellar master–one of the early wine blogs on the ‘net.

  • Developing seasonal and event-based promotions. Aside from the obvious, standard holiday occasions, we pulled pages from the encyclopedia of Pop Culture, creating clever tie-ins with media events, odd and unusual historical references, armchair travel “junkets,” and pretty much anything whimsical upon which we could hang a promotional hat.

But perhaps our most significant initiative, as it remains BevMo’s signature promotion to-date, was the “5-Cent Wine Sale.” Essentially a “two bottles for-the-price-of-one” gambit, it allowed wineries to partner with BevMo in robust, brand-building and label-establishing campaigns. It was also a tremendous vehicle for closing out inventory and increasing the price-point on certain varietals during promotional intermissions.

Now truth-be-told, this concept was not my invention. I pirated it from another legendary California-based retailer. For decades, Aaron Brothers’ Art & Framing has been known for their “One-Cent-Frame” sales–buy one, get another at a comparable or lesser price for a penny. Traffic in their stores doubles during these events.

Much debate went into the nominal increment that shoppers would be charged for that second bottle of wine. One cent was too obvious a rip-off of Aaron Bros. A dime-bottle of wine somehow conjured up the image of “rot-gut” wine. But a nickel felt incidental…and just right. And as you might imagine, BevMo’s semi-monthly “5-Cent Sales” witness a significant spike in both walk-in retail trade and Internet sales.

Today, it’s hard to imagine a business of any stripe or size not having a presence on the Web, but at the dawn of the 21st Century, the full scope of opportunity in cyberspace was just starting to be realized. My involvement with BevMo probably didn’t exceed two months–it was a “set ‘em up and go” scenario. But every time I see one of their email blasts pop up in my inbox, I take a little pride in it.