Friday, February 21, 2014

Bursting at the seams with selection in Connecticut

As the weeks and months continue to pass we are regularly reminded of how lucky we are to be in the great state of Conecticut when it comes to wine, beer, and spirits. It seems that every week we are being presented with another great craft beer, a unique wine or another small batch spirit. The problem of finding space for all of it is really the challenge we face. The days of carrying 10 or 12 types of Vodka, a handful of Bourbons and few types of Rum and other spirits from the national suppliers is a thing of the past... At least it is in Connecticut.

Our proximity to New York puts us in a very good place to have opportunities that most of america doesn't get. The two coasts and a couple of major transport hubs around the country are the lucky ones as products from all over the world land and become available for distribution.

Traveling around the country with an eye on selection quickly shows how little diversity exists in southern states and the markets in middle america. All of the national brands like Gallo and Smirnoff and Bud are available but while the list is recognizable all over the country, the diversity is chopped in so many markets. We have a pretty good internet presence and we are regularly recieve e-mails looking for help locating unique products. Frustrated consumers are trying to locate things that we just take for granted, simple things like Ballantine Ale?! The question: "Why can't I get it in my state?" when the person is just a couple hundred miles away, in a neighboring state is common. It is sad that so many of these things that we sell every day to our customers are a frustrating and toilsome search for people in other states.

In a recent NY Times Eric Asimov took a crack at a similar subject when he answered the critics of his weekly column who regularly ask us and other retailers how to find the wines that he is writing about (article here). In the article he takes a slightly different approach but offers an explanation of what it is that he is trying to accomplish. He interviews Neal Rosenthal (a wonderful small importer) who offers this advice to people trying to find these products via the internet search engines... "What can a consumer do when the internet tools don’t work? Plenty. It begins with finding and establishing a relationship with a good wine shop. And when not every bottle is available, it helps to be open to similar alternatives." Good idea to be sure but what happens when it is a state runs industry like New Hampshire who controls not only what is sold in its stores but won't even let us send products to a resident of their state for their consumers to enjoy? New Hampshire isn't alone, Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Kentucky, Massachusetts, and at least 6 others, suffer similar fates.

It is frustrating to having to explain to yet another customer who has read the most current article and is looking for a specific wine that is mentions by him that the item that he is writing about is not available in our state or that the vintage has long past but it does give us an opportunity in this state to open a dialogue about other things that are available it its category. In many other states even that is not an option.

The good (and bad) news is that in our market there is a wonderful amount of diversity and more and more unique items from small producers coming available every month. While it is tough to find shelve and/or cooler space for all of the things that are out there, with a little research and a day or two of lead time we can find most of what our customers are looking for. We are fortunate that this market isn't ruled by a couple of big name suppliers that dictate a narrow line of products to our consumer base. Connecticut and its residents are well educated and interested in the smaller production and harder to find items. We are fortunate to have a system set up that promotes smaller distributors and stores that can get their hands on so many industry leading trends years before other markets know they exist.

 Yes we have to deal with the high cost of living along with snow and traffic but we also get some pretty good fringe benefits from living here.


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