AKRON, Ohio — Growing consumer interest in wine prompted upscale retailer West Point Market to expand its wine section by more than 600 labels.
The wine section now has 4,000 selections, up from 3,400 last summer.
The addition comes in response to more customer requests for wine, according to Rick Vernon, West Point Market's chief executive officer.
“Wine has become more mainstream,” Vernon said.
He attributes this, in part, to media coverage about the health benefits of wine, and food and wine pairing options.
“Our customers are much more knowledgeable about wine, and the foods it can be paired with,” he said.
Pricing is another reason. Due to increased availability of high-quality, low-cost wine, wine lovers can get a good California cabernet for $20.
Despite their spending power, West Point's upper-income consumers don't want to pay a lot for a good wine.
“Wine consumers will no longer tolerate spending $80 for a bottle of wine that's just marginal,” he said. “They want a good value.”
West Point accommodated the additional labels with extra space gained from the closure of a section of its store known as Mrs. Ticklemore's, a British-themed tearoom that accommodated up to 40 people.
West Point remodeled the Mrs. Ticklemore's space, dedicating part of it to china and linens, and part to wine.
To differentiate its wine offerings from the competition, West Point partners with small wine producers to get boutique wines its competitors don't carry.
“We carry many exclusive wines,” Vernon said.
It also forms “pre-sell” agreements with distributors, guaranteeing it will sell “x” amount of cases. In return, the distributor sells West Point the wine at a reduced price.
West Point aggressively markets its wine offerings by leveraging its 10,000-person wine database.
It mines the data and sends exclusive emails to select customers based on their wine preferences.
For instance, it just received a shipment of Bodegas El Nido Clio wine, so it sent emails to customers whose purchase behavior showed they would be interested in buying it.
West Point's shoppers are highly responsive to such communications, said Vernon.
“Wine is a hobby to a lot of our shoppers,” he said. “Many even have wine cellars.”
To enhance the wine shopping experience, West Point employs wine stewards who help shoppers pick out the right wine for their meals.
“They talk to them about food pairings or any other wine topics,” he said.
The wine department is arranged by country, region, varietal and price. There's also themed displays, including “12 Under $12,” “The Staff's Favorite Picks” and the “90-Point Club.”
Tastings are conducted monthly. “Wines of Australia” was the theme of a tasting conducted last Friday. About 20 reds and whites in the $10-$40 range were sampled with cheese and other appetizers. The event ran from 7 to 9 p.m. and cost $35 per person.