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Toward a 21st Century Package Store: Unpacking “Consumers First”

David Trone, co-owner of Maryland-based Total Wine & More, is leading a paradigm shift in his company’s package stores.

Informally referred to as the “21st century package store”, these changes aim to transform the package store industry to fit the needs of the modern consumer. The 21st century package store, according to Trone, hopes to meld the business model of alcohol purveyance with goals set forth by public health advocates, and local beer, wine, and spirit producers.

One major aspect of Trone’s ideal 21st century package store deals with loyalty programs and retailer coupons. It is legal for package stores to provide these services to their consumers in most of the US, but not in Massachusetts. Trone envisions these services as modern ways to connect consumers with the products they want, and introduce them to local brewers and distillers.

“[A] loyalty [program] lets us know who the customer is … and know what they like and what they don’t like.” Trone said.

If loyalty programs are enacted, Total Wine could build a taste profile for each consumer. This would give Total Wine employees vital information when recommending beverages to customers, and would help them to recommend similar, local products. Aiding in brand discovery would give consumers a level of expertise and service unique for the package store industry. In addition, it would help to boost the local economy by connecting consumers with emerging brands in their own back yards.

Retailer-backed coupons fall in a similar vein. As with loyalty programs, they are available to most US alcohol retailers, but not here in the Commonwealth. Total Wine wants to change this because they believe that brand discovery is greatly accelerated though the use of retailer-backed coupons. These coupons could offer discounts to local products, making consumers more likely to take a chance on them. Used in tandem with loyalty programs, coupons become a powerful tool in helping consumers access diverse choices.

“We want to make it experiential,” he said. “The person that you’re being helped by knows all about wine, beer, and spirits; they’re knowledgeable, they’re qualified, they’re educated. That makes it a great experience.”

Trone and Total Wine know that without a great team in-store, all their carefully crafted consumer programs mean nothing. That’s why they’ve created a set of employee incentives, operating under the simple idea that happy employees will translate into happy customers. In-store Total Wine team members enjoy full-time positions with health, dental, vision and life insurance, hoping to alleviate some of the typical worries retail workers face. In addition to the myriad of employee benefits, Total Wine also offers educational assistance, career developments, and—most interestingly—consumer education classes. There, Total Wine employees are given opportunities to learn in-depth about the products they sell. Providing employees with a breadth of knowledge about their field allows them to speak with authority on a variety of subject beneficial to the consumer, and is also key to the career development Total Wine values so highly.

While employee incentives, loyalty programs, and retailer backed coupons seem like common sense to many, Trone has other ideas to push Total Wine & More to the cutting edge of retail. He is trying to integrate technology into more aspects of the retail experience, hoping to use the tech to enable intelligent purchasing and recommendations. He also wants to use technology to facilitate industry events, such as wine tastings, in a decidedly 21st century way.

“We could do a tasting live to a hundred stores, live on the internet,” he said. “2000 people watching the tasting, tasting the wine, the beer, or the spirits in Boston, Miami, or Seattle, simultaneously while the producer is sitting in Bordeaux or Scotland. Then we can tweet back questions that we might have. It’s another way tech is working to bring live rock stars in.”

Events like these would also promote Total Wine’s reliance on local producers, and Trone envisions local industry nights as a staple event moving forward. These events could feature local brewers giving a beer workshop, a wine tasting featuring regional offerings, or even panel discussions with local industry leaders.

Ultimately Trone and Total Wine’s vision for the future of package stores boils down to a few key themes: consumers pay less, have more options, and connect to products that they like. The common connection? You.

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