Published on: September 8, 2004By Kevin CoupeIn addition to writing
MorningNewsBeat each day, Content Guy Kevin Coupe also contributes regular columns to a wide number of publications, including the now-defunct FMI
Advantage. As a regular
MorningNewsBeat feature, the folks at FMI have graciously agreed to let us reprint some of these columns…
One other note. This piece originally appeared in January 2004, and reflected on one retailer’s outstanding pre-holiday season efforts. It may be worth reading now from a different perspective…as retailers look to develop plans and strategies for the coming months…
The party's over, it's time to call it a day.
Except that, for Dorothy Lane Markets, the residual good will from a party it held almost two months ago continues to felt…reflected in increased sales.
It was on a chilly November evening that I found myself in Dayton, Ohio, home to three Dorothy Lane Markets that are generally conceded to be among the best supermarkets in the United States. I wasn't just there because I like the city and the supermarket chain, but because I wanted to attend Dorothy Lane's annual Holiday Food & Wine Show, being held at the company's Springboro store.
The last time in Dayton, one of the people who worked in the DLM wine shop had recommended a particularly nice bottle of Shiraz, and the grill had served up a terrific lamb burger with rosemary; supermarket food often being mediocre at best, this food was so good that I didn’t want to miss out on this annual event, to see a little Dorothy Lane magic in action.
What I found upon entering the store was a line of several hundred people, most of whom had made reservations and all of whom were willing to pay $60 apiece to attend the event. (Almost 400 would attend by the end of the evening.) The mix of people was eclectic; some clearly had just come from the office, some were dressed in jeans and sweatshirts, and others (mostly women) were decked out for what appeared to be a night at the opera.
There wasn't an opera in sight, however, though there was a jazz band on the mezzanine to keep things lively. And beyond that, there were a plethora of food stations, all of which were serving items whipped up in Dorothy Lane's kitchens. And spotted in between them were wine tasting bars, offering a broad range of vintages from a variety of sources - not to mention intelligent, engaging conversation about wines, foods and how they best go together.
(The store remains open during the event; some people who show up planning to pick up some bread and milk end up staying for the event, while others simply work their way through the crowds as they do their regular shopping. Nobody seems put off by the crowds; rather, there is a sense of celebration that seems infectious.)
Midway through the evening, I caught up with Todd Templin, director of wine sales for Dorothy Lane. Clad in bow tie and carrying a glass of red wine, he was the evening's host, and he'd been scurrying about making sure his guests were happy. But now things were calming down, and he had a few minutes to chat.
"This is our sixth annual event, what has evolved into our annual Holiday Food and Wine Show," Templin said. "We started it as an adventure, as a way of rewarding our customers and thank them for shopping in our wine shops throughout the year.
"There's an opportunity to taste 80 wines this evening, from an amazing array of countries," he said - pointing to tables that featured wines from Australia, California, France, Greece, Italy, New Zealand, the Pacific Northwest and Spain. "We taste out of Riedel stemware," he said, noting that patrons are allowed to take their wine glass home with them. And he loves the mix of people. "Wine should be casual," Templin said. "It shouldn't be pretentious."
Membership in Club DLM isn’t necessary to attend; the stores advertise the event aggressively, hoping to entice new as well as sold customers. The main goal, said Templin, is education. "We believe that education is the key, and that is why we have well-trained staff in all of our shops, staff that travels to the wine country regularly. We think it is key to pass that on to the customers." The Food & Wine Show expands this theory with a big bang - there are distributors from a number of companies on hand to help educate attendees about various vintages.
Enclosed in each of the 24-page programs handed out to attendees is a place where they can keep notes about the wines they taste…and an order form that allows them to order them by the bottle or in bulk.
"We've had repeat customers who come to this event, and while there are wines here that may not have sold in the past, they'll buy multiple cases" - because they've fallen in love with the taste, Templin said. "And through Thanksgiving, we'll see order forms coming back, and we'll actually see them (coming in) through into the New Year. It’s a very good thing for us in sales, post-event.
"I think that the consumer doesn’t know a lot of these little wines, so it is our responsibility to get that information into their hands."
As Templin moves off to greet some customers, I had a chance to do a little tasting of my own. There was a Clerico 2001 Dolcetto from Italy, and an Altos De Luzon 2000 Jumilla that were particularly good, as was a Penner-Ash 2001 Pinot Noir. In between, I nibbled on sushi from this table, oysters from that one…salmon cakes with remoulade sauce over here, and veal flank steak with cranberry shallot relish over there. (Not a bad job, eh?)
But as I nibbled and sipped, I had a chance to look around at the associates and customers who mingled and chatted so convivially. There was a connection here between shopper and shopkeeper, and the vehicle was the food and wine. A synergy among all three was being created and nurtured, based on a mutual interest in good food and a similar approach to life.
In an era of cost-savings and driving efficiencies, this connection shouldn’t be minimized. It can be critical to success, especially for the independent retailer looking for any and all advantages.
For Dorothy Lane, it may be a $60 bottle of wine and gourmet food. For others, it may be a great beer and the best barbecue or meat loaf in town. And the role of education and information certainly can be expanded to other categories.
It seems to me that great relationships between shoppers and shopkeepers can be forged this way. Done right, it can mean that the party never will be over.