I buy booze, not excuses

29 Jul

This weekend marks the first anniversary for my boyfriend, The Gin Savant, and me. So, being my usual considerate and wonderful girlfriend-self, I went in search of strange and interesting gins that he hadn’t tried yet. In making my rounds of the usual packies (and coming up woefully short), I realized I hadn’t been to a liquor emporium I shall call “Plonkapalooza” in probably six months.

Now–despite its convenient location on my daily commute, its former badass weekly tastings that taught me some level of appreciation of craft beer, and introducing me to two value-priced Rieslings that I consider personal house wines–Plonkapalooza has never, ever been one of my favorite stores. Their wine selection, for the most part, seemed to me to be two steps above Trader Joe-level mediocrity, overpriced, and really uninspiring. Sure, they had higher-end wines, but most of it was mass-produced stuff, not especially rare or boutiquey. And their graphic identity was pretty cheeseball, though I say that because I know a lot of graphic designers, so I notice that kind of thing.

But that didn’t keep the rest of the world from loving Plonka-p. Sure enough, back in the day, the media used to spring wood over them because they had [[redacted so you can’t identify the store, and I can’t get in trouble]] which was the genesis of my general antipathy toward that gimmick in general. [[I’ve actually since reconsidered my apathy in light of another store who does that gimmick right, but if Plonkapalooza goes out of business, I’ll reveal it]]

They also seemed really oblivious to good customer service–at least in regard to people who came in there regularly. Sure, there were a couple of guys who knew I was WSETing like they had done and greeted me with a knowing nod. Then there were the sales associates (older, male…) who asked me if I needed help; when I said “no,” they proceeded to ask me Kindergarten 101: if I liked red or white, convinced they could sell me on something. So then I would ask them to show me some Margaret River or some vin paille from the Jura.

And despite all that, I used to go in there once every week or so. Why? Because I was studying for a WSET and was spending a hell of a lot of time in wine stores looking at labels and the maps in my study guide to get more concrete knowledge about regions and what areas were where. Plus, I would get regular emails about what they were tasting and damn if they weren’t doing something interesting. But three years ago, the emails stopped for no real reason, and so did the events.

But I digress. I was in search of obscure gins, so I popped in to Plonka-p hoping they might surprise me. And they did. Just not the way I was hoping. The place looked like the last exit before the apocalypse–rows of empty shelves and racks that looked like a going out of business sale. But without the signs. There were three lonely gin bottles. Not brands, bottles.

So I asked the guy behind the counter what was up. I recognized him as one of the better clerks, who had been going for the WSET diploma at one time. He had always seemed cool. Instead, I got some barely concealed haterade for the Massachusetts sales tax on liquor (which hadn’t impacted the other stores in the area; yes, I had asked. And besides, this is Massachusetts–we’re Irish. We’re college kids. We’re drunks. We’re hedge fund managers, tech geeks, and doctors. Or some mix of the above); the lousy economy (again, not much of an impact on other stores in the area, which has a pretty high median income, and this is two years after the big 2008 meltdown when we’re supposedly in a recovery); how one of their locations was forbidden to be open on Sundays (rumor had it elsewhere that the newest location’s rent was dragging down the others) so they were losing out on foot traffic; oh, and that distributors were being mean to them. I found out later from one of their suppliers that the meanness might have been because Plonkapalooza was six months behind on invoices. But I digress.

In other words, this guy–just an employee– was blaming everything and everyone but his boss, his marketing director, or whoever.

I mentioned how the events and emails had stopped, right? The store fell off the map. Nobody had any reason to care to stop in. Nobody had any reason to make a special trip. I remember when some of their events had people eight or ten deep. The place would be packed. Instead, it was a ghost town these days. They expected their location to do all their advertising and their past glory to carry the day. Other stores had opened and improved upon what they used to do; these other stores actually went out of their way to develop relationships

1. If you see someone in your store consistently, find out their name, what they like to drink, why they come in.
2. If they come in every week, find out what they think about what you’re doing. Hold customer appreciation parties.
3. If you can’t keep the shelves filled, it’s time to scale back on your empire.
4. Market your damn self. It doesn’t take a lot of money. Have sales. Have weekly regular events. Give people a reason to come in just for the hell of it. Email marketing is still cheap to do. And if you haven’t figured out how to get on Twitter or Facebook, for Pete’s sake, ask the next 18-year-old with a fake ID who comes in how.

[[Update 1/2011: Plonkapalooza has started emailing me again. After three years. They’re trying to do special email-only sales, with a discount coupon good for 48 hours, based on something going on: e.g. “It’s snowing! 15% off anything with a white label or ‘Ice’ in the name!” Sadly, the whole thing smacks of desperation, and from what I’ve seen, it’s still not helping bring the people back.]]

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