6 Things Every Independent Package Store Owner Wants and How to Give It to Them


Depending upon where you are in the country, it’s no secret that independent liquor stores are fighting for their very survival. And yet, every day of the week, wine and spirits vendors darken their doors, intending to “present” the items on their quote sheets.

It can’t be easy being a package store owner these days. Wouldn’t it be great if ALL sellers of wine and spirits flipped the “selling” model on its ear and focused on what the package store owner wants instead of what they want?

In this spirit, we spoke to some of our package store owner fans, who now present the six things every package store owner wants (and how to give it to them).

1) A mutually-beneficial relationship

It could be due to the intense pressure to sell in a ridiculously overcrowded, competitive market, but our industry’s buyer-seller relationship is very one-sided. The seller pushes what THEY need to sell, not what the buyer truly wants.

From the buyer’s perspective, independent off-premise accounts, especially, need and want a different relationship. In this more win-win scenario, the seller gets what they want by helping the buyer get what they want.

Some wants and needs are common to all independent package store owners, but many are unique to each buyer/owner of an independent retail package store.

Imagine walking into a package store with nothing on your person but a notepad, a pen, and a list of three critical questions such as:

  1. What needs do you have that are currently going unmet by the average wine/spirits salesperson?
  2. What could I do to help you better serve your top customers?
  3. What are you doing now that works well, and how can I help you do more of it?

Ask any successful package store owner, and they will tell you that they are extremely dependent on vendor relationships. They each have a list of vendors whose relationships they value highly. Are YOU on that list?

2) Products no one else has

Although most wine and spirits sales reps are oblivious (or at least apathetic) to this, there exists a great deal of disconnect and tension between what sellers want to sell and what buyers want to buy.

Yes, there is some give-and-take. Every savvy package store owner is adroit at playing the go-along-to-get-along game and does their best to help their vendors when possible. But this is rarely as balanced (win-win) as it should be.

If vendors would take off their seller hat for just a moment and put themselves in the shoes of the package store owner (or simply ASK them), they would become more empathetic to their customers’ plight, which is characterized as follows:

  1. It’s impossible to compete in terms of price on the best-known brands. They must carry these brands, but the pressure on profit margins is enormous.
  2. They cannot match the purchasing power of the big chains.
  3. Cash flow is everything to the independent operator, and the single biggest enemy of cash flow is inventory. (more on this below).

The best revenue-generation weapon for independent operators is curating a selection of products that overdeliver for the price point AND provide a fat profit margin. Finding lesser-known brands is key to this.

The good news is that there are literally tens of thousands of such brands and SKUs. The bad news is that these items are rarely on the seller’s quota sheet for the month.

So what is the solution? How can the right balance be struck? The big idea here is to balance the seller’s need to sell certain items with the buyer’s desire for certain items. It’s not an all-or-nothing proposition. It’s a both-and endeavor.

3) Cash flow

As “location” is to real estate, “cash flow” is to the independent package store owner: cash flow, cash flow, cash flow. Read our lips: it’s all about the cash flow.

While there are some things a wine and spirits seller cannot do to help retailers with cash flow (such as credit terms, merchant account fees, or interest payments), there are several key areas where they can absolutely help:

  • Help keep inventories low
  • Provide products that sell/turn fast
  • Provide more frequent deliveries
  • Assist with shelf management, space management, and category management
  • Help stay on top of trends

At the very least, sellers should be sensitive to their customers’ need for positive cash flow and never ask them to do anything that would interfere with or inhibit it. Because many sellers rarely stop to consider this, it holds the potential to be a huge competitive advantage for those sellers willing to be more empathetic.

4) Help with marketing

Let’s be perfectly clear: we are not suggesting that you intentionally violate tied-house or aid-to-retailer laws here. There is nothing illegal or unethical about having conversations and sharing best practices.

As the seller, you are out and about every day. You see things. You see what others are doing, what’s working, and what’s not.

By contrast, a retail owner is stuck within the four walls of their establishment for an ungodly number of hours each day. You can be their eyes and ears.

Here are some “conversation starters” to get the value-laden dialogues going:

  • Tell me about your email marketing efforts. How do you acquire new subscribers? How often do you send emails? [Side note: If you are not already a subscriber to every one of your customers’ email lists, that’s a big “miss.”] Here’s what I see _______ doing that works well, or here is an example of a package store owner doing this well.
  • Tell me about what you are doing (or not) with SMS marketing. Here is a list of retailers who are killing it with SMS. I’ve also researched some of the top SMS providers and their website addresses.
  • What are you doing from an SEO standpoint? Is your website optimized to garner a big chunk of organic traffic? Could you use some ideas on this? I’d like to point you to a great YouTube channel that will teach you how to do this without breaking the bank.
  • What do you know about inbound marketing? I suggest you read this articleas a starting point and let the ideas flow.

Get the idea here? In 2024 (and beyond), it’s simply not enough for a sales pro to be good at sales and knowledgeable about the products in their portfolio. They must also be able to assist their best customers in ways that are valuable to them.

5) Data, trend information (not skewed to suit your needs)

The industry is awash in data and trend information (much of it free), yet so little makes its way to the package store owners’ desks.

If you’ve read this whole article, you are starting to see a trend: rich rewards await the sellers who a) understand what package store owners want and b) give it to them.

Anyone who’s ever run a retail store can tell you it’s hard work and time-consuming. It’s hard to find time to use the bathroom, let alone research and stay on top of industry trends.

Sellers who truly care about their independent package store customers should put together a single-page summary of all the trends they learned about within the last 30 days, including future trends.

Most retailers would welcome a simple bullet list with links to relevant articles. Wine and spirits sales reps have access to data that is not publicly available, so weaving some of that into what is already publicly available would be very helpful.

Yes, the retailer could do his/her research, but they just don’t have time.

As mentioned above in the heading of this section, don’t try to skew or manipulate the data to make a point that only benefits you. “The number one selling Chardonnay among left-handed hairless cat owners who drive Subarus” isn’t going to fool anyone.

6) Revenue-generating ideas 💡

If cash flow is king, then revenue is certainly queen or, at the very least, “co-king.”

There isn’t an independent package store owner alive who wouldn’t welcome all ideas that will drive revenue.

Many sellers struggle to see past retailers’ overly simplified buy-low-sell-high game plan. This is a given. However,t what separates successful retailers from average ones is their far more sophisticated strategies.

Here is where sellers can be the eyes and ears of their retail customers. As mentioned above, ideas are “free,”

Salespeople who consistently exceed their sales goals never stop brainstorming ideas to help their customers generate more revenue.

  • Ideas for improving customer loyalty
  • Ideas for growing their social media following
  • Ideas for growing their email list
  • Ideas for improving their website (eCommerce) sales
  • Ideas for leveraging seasonality and special events & holidays
  • Ideas for creating and hosting events
  • Ideas for better in-store merchandising
  • Ideas for creating special offers
  • Ideas for shining a bright light on “new arrivals” and trending categories

The list is endless. If there is one thing package store owners want from their vendor community, it is ideas for growing revenue, and the sellers who consistently provide these ideas will pick up the lion’s share of their customers’ purchases in direct proportion to it.

Serve, don’t sell

It is commonly misunderstood that a salesperson’s job is to “sell.” Ironically, the best salespeople find that their sales increase automatically if they prioritize serving their customers.

In his must-read book “To Sell is Human,” Daniel Pink argues that empathy is one of the most critical selling skills a salesperson can practice.

While it won’t be easy, we are encouraging wine and spirits sellers everywhere to balance their needs and desires with those of their customers. Rich rewards await those who do!

Now is the time to pivot to being a service-minded, empathetic partner to your independent package store owners. They need you now more than ever.