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It seems that each year, Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas come earlier and earlier in the world of retail. It’s true that the holidays provide us with additional opportunities to feature products, bring in new products and create an air of festivity in the store, all of which, we hope, will lead to additional sales. It’s a formula that works for the most part, so if after Thanksgiving used to be the time to announce Christmas promotions and products, why not get started (at least with your planning) in October?
This new timeline pushes the wine retailer to deal with multiple holidays nearly at the same time. Wait too long to take out the Christmas tree and twinkly lights, and you may just lose out to the store down the street that’s already full of Christmas cheer. What is one to do, except to try to keep up and get in the Christmas spirit as soon as October rolls around by starting to plan out your Christmas season.
Making your retail shop Christmas-ready is of course more than just a matter of decoration, although we’ll get back to that later. It’s time to start thinking about ordering the stock you’ll need to “make the season bright” and ensure that customers come into your store for their Christmas needs, not the store down the street. Keep the location of your shop in mind. If you’re in a wine-growing region, you’ll want to lay in a varied and high-quality stock of wines from local wineries.
Of course, you’ll want to stock up on champagne and other sparkling wines. The price range you choose has to do with the type of clientele you have. If you’re in a high-rent neighborhood, you’ll want to make sure you have a good selection of the very high-end champagnes, like Krug, Bollinger, Charles Heidsick, Dom Pérignon, including their “têtes de cuvée” and others like the ever-popular Crystal. At the holidays, these champagnes may offer a gift edition, including two crystal glasses, a champagne bucket, or other elegant accessories. These make great gifts for the champagne-lover and look festive on the shelf. Be sure to make sparkling wines easily accessible, placed not far from the registers. Keep a few in your cold case for those last-minute dinner party needs.
If you have access to smaller producers, Christmas is a great time to put those out and see how they do, with a comment card explaining a bit about the domaine. Many small producers make fabulous champagnes at a fraction of the price of the big names. You may be able to get a Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc at a price defying all competition and introduce your friends and family to the grower champagnes that are so numerous (and often so good) in the Champagne region (there are over 5000 grower champagnes!).
For those with more modest budgets, or who are looking for something a little different to serve, also include a good selection of non-champagne sparkling wines. Mix things up a bit with a dry cava, a Vouvray Pétillant or a Crémant de Bourgogne (also made with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), or a bottle of sekt from Austria. Again, you’ll want your cold case to have plenty of choice for all budgets to “grab and go.” And of course, there will always be buyers for Prosecco, which is much in vogue recently (although it is often less qualitative than some of the earlier suggestions).
Christmas is also a time when people splurge on high-end still wines, as gifts or to bring to Christmas dinner. 3rd, 4th, and 5th Growth Bordeaux and fine Cru Bourgeois go well with hearty winter fare and can be surprisingly affordable. Your customers may want to indulge in fine tempranillo from Spain, a wonderful Barolo, or a fine Washington State cabernet. Bring out a selection of recommended wines for special occasions and place them near each other, with suggestions for foods that pair well with them. Do the same with lower-priced versions that are still quite good but more affordable.
At this time of year, your customers want to be sure they’re buying wisely for their own parties and for gifts. Add as much informational signage as you can, and make sure you take on enough knowledgeable staff that customers feel they are well-advised. In-store tastings are very popular at Christmas: decide on a different theme each Thursday or Friday and get a knowledgeable staff member to run it. Put out a “sandwich chalkboard” on the sidewalk to announce the tasting. You can also offer cubes of cheese, charcuterie, fig jam, or other delicacies to give them an idea of how they can pair the wines they’re tasting. Nothing is more festive than an in-store wine tasting when it’s cold outside and you’ve been walking around shopping for hours. And if the tasting is fun, those customers will tell others and you’ll have more people the next time.
Remember also that wine accessories make wonderful gifts, and your customer may not have thought of adding an accessory along with their wine purchase. Create a point-of-sale display with the “must-haves” for any wine lover: a double-lever “sommelier” with a Teflon-coated screw; a “drop-stop” to avoid wine droplets falling on your friend’s best tablecloth; a “Vacu-Vin” with stoppers so they can pump the air out of a half-bottle that’s leftover. These are inexpensive and great for impulse-buying at checkout. Festive wine bag carriers should also be situated near the checkout. Wrap bottles in tissue paper, so they look pretty in the bag. In fact, put on your chalkboard street sign that one day a week you’ll be giving out a free presentation bag with the purchase of every wine $40 and over (the bags only cost a few cents each after all).
Finally, back to decoration. Try to make yours stand out. All stores will have twinkling lights and a Christmas tree. Hang your Christmas tree from the ceiling! Go to a place that sells trees and get some of the leftover branches of greenery that are usually lying on the ground; take sprigs of fir trees, branches of holly with bright redbuds, and attach these to your signage and have them coming out of cartons filled with wine. The smell will be wonderful and it’s something to distinguish your store and show the care you put into your displays. Tie lovely plaid or velvet bows on the necks of some of your featured wines. Make your store a warm and inviting place to stop, learn about new wines, find last-minute gifts, and you’ll have a profitable Christmas season!
Article written by: Lauriann Greene, Sommelier-conseil