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Spring 2009 Wine Sellers Taste Opportunity at the Mall

Gary McCoy says malls are a perfect fit for wine sellers who want to do big business. The foot traffic is high and holding cross promotions-say, a wine tasting at the jewelry store three stores down-can bring in more customers and boost sales. Mall employees can become valued customers. If the mall happens to be a destination center filled with cinemas, eateries and synergistic retail neighbors, the benefits to wine retailers are immense.

At least that’s McCoy’s experience as general manager of The Grape, a wine bar/retail store combo concept (as many are these days) that opened in January in the Northlake Mall, the only super-regional mall in the North Charlotte market. The setup gives franchisees two revenue streams, a retail store for to-go orders and a stay-here-and-relax wine bar.

“The foot traffic and sales are very positive for us, especially on weekends,” McCoy says. “Besides the foot traffic, we have a captive audience as far as the mall employees go. We serve food, and they come in for lunch or dinner. They come in when we have live entertainment, too. As soon as they’re off work, they can walk right down the way and stop in. It just makes good sense.” Headquartered in Atlanta, where the first location opened in 2000, The Grape ( isn’t the only company with an eye toward expanding in the mall market. A string of wine sellers have recently opened in malls, on a permanent or temporary basis, in inline spaces or on kiosks. Some are wineries or off-mall wine sellers who set up locations during certain holidays, especially the year-end winter holidays that bring peak foot traffic at most malls. (Not to mention that November and December are the peak holiday party months, with wine being a top hostess gift and one of the most common beverages served at any holiday event.) Others are year-round locations, often run by franchisees supported by a corporate parent with a tested business model based on a product considered if not recession-proof then recession-resistant.

Growth market

Wine consumption continues to grow globally, according to the trade publication International Wine and Spirit Record, which estimates that the US may surpass Italy as the world’s biggest wine consumer by 2012. More importantly, the Record says the global economic outlook will only have “limited” consequences for wine industry growth going forward. That’s great news considering that 2007 was a banner year for the wine industry. Wine Market Council President John Gillespie has called 2007 “the tipping point” for wine consumption. For the first time, more US consumers identified themselves as “core” wine consumers rather than “marginal.” Wine sales for 2008 were estimated to exceed 300 million cases, also a first. One franchisor looking to take advantage of the up trend is Tastings-A Wine Experience (, based in St. Petersburg, FL. With five locations so far and a sixth set to open soon, Tastings chose a Florida lifestyle center for its most-recent grand opening in the 1.1-million-square-foot Gulf Coast Town Center in Fort Myers. The location is doing well and generating positive word-of-mouth advertising from guests, says President Penny Maso.

“The lifestyle center was a perfect location because of the synergy of the restaurants and shops in that same location,” she explains. “The center is a destination place. It has everything in it, from clothing to jewelry stores to chicken-wing eateries to nicer establishments.”

The mall environment also helps today’s innovative wine sellers in their mission to demystify the wine-shopping experience, making the process more accessible to casual sippers and wine lovers alike. That mission shows in the overall atmosphere of the stores as well as the way these wine sellers organize their offerings for consumer shop-ability, as opposed to how a sommelier might expect wines to be presented. Because relaxed, comfortable shoppers who feel they “get” wine are much more likely to buy, these wine sellers focus on making the process as intuitive and straightforward as possible. Shoppers are responding, which means the list of companies in or getting into the mall market is growing.

Pop The Cork ( recently opened in the newly built Anaheim GardenWalk lifestyle center in Anaheim, within a wand’s wave of Disneyland. The Wine Gallery opened a few weeks before Christmas in the Dedham Mall in Dedham, MA, while WineStyles (, another franchise, recently opened in the Park West lifestyle center in Peoria, AZ. SandCastle Winery, based in Erwinna, PA ( opened a corporate kiosk in the Montgomery Mall in Montgomery, PA for two-and-a-half months this holiday season to boost bottle sales and build the winery’s visibility in the local market. While sales weren’t spectacular, they did meet the minimum expectations that Sand Castle had set, says Joseph Maxian, vice president of the winery. “We covered our expenses, introduced some people to our winery and made our minimum projections,” he says. “We didn’t end up in the negative.” Considering the pressures that were driving purchasing decisions last holiday season, he considers that a success, adding that Sand Castle will probably return to the mall next holiday season.

Partnering for sales

McCoy says there’s another key reason why The Grape and other wine sellers are flocking to mall locations: Neighboring retailers are eager to boost sales through co-marketing events and specials. The Grape recently hosted a special makeover promotion in partnership with a cosmetics store in Northlake. As shoppers received their makeovers, they sipped The Grape’s wines and nibbled appetizers. Presenting shoppers with a unique and enjoyable buying experience is where wine sellers really excel. Tastings is much more than “just a wine bar,” Maso says. We’re a wine-sharing experience. We make sure that everyone who walks through our doors is enjoying, savoring, sampling, relaxing and delighting in the wine and the atmosphere we provide.”

With delighted customers generating great word-of-mouth advertising that brings even more customers down the line, wine sellers are lifting their glasses for a toast. “To the mall!”

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Dan Rafter

Based in Chicago, Dan Rafter has written for the Chicago Tribune, Washington Post, Business 2.0, and other publications. He can be reached at danrafter@sbcglobal,net

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