It was about two years ago that Amy Church took over Carl’s Cuisine The Kitchen Store, located in Salem, OR. A year later, Church re-named the store Willamette Valley Kitchen Co. and re-branded the store to bring in her own personal connection to the business. Now, she is expanding her customer base, reach, product offerings and services yet again with the development of a wine club, something else she has added to bring her own flair to the store.
“I love wine and learning about new regions and varietals, so it was partially selfish on my part to create the Smart Wine Club,” said said. “Our store has always had a state license to sell wine by the bottle, but up until now we’ve focused on specialty cooking wines only. However, I’m constantly working to expanding our customer base. In starting this club, I’m hoping to reach out to those wine lovers in our community who may not be cooking at home.”
Church also told GOURMET INSIDER that the new wine club that the store is offering also fills a need in the local community. She said that as more people are drinking at home and belong to more expensive wine clubs, there has been a struggle for them to find a value-oriented wine club that would allow them to open a bottle of wine for everyday enjoyment. This club, which carries the slogan “Drink Smart,” was designed fill that need.
“I wanted to create a sense of community here at the store by creating a place for everyday wine drinkers who are looking for reasonably priced wines and seeking education also,” said Church.
However, undertaking this new segment of the business was not without challenges. Church explained that one of her major challenges was the need to be able to securely store customer payment information and spent a lot of time researching programs in order to find one that worked for her needs. Additionally, she said, while she is interested in wines, she had to get to know an entirely new product sector. But, in the end, the club brings more people into the store.
“A wine tasting party does take a little bit of planning, but then it brings a number of people into the store one more time than they would otherwise have visited, so that’s always a good thing. Moving forward, I plan to offer some of our club wines as the paired wine with our evening cooking school dinner classes as a way to highlight the great bottles I am offering in the club,” she said.
Church also noted that the wine club has enabled her to expand other gourmet housewares selections, like wine accessories and barware, to complement each other.
For other retailers looking to possibly start a wine club as an extension of their brand, Church offers some advice that she learned along the way.
“Different states have different regulations, of course, so figuring out what you need to do before you can legally even start selling wine is very important. After that, I would say the number one tip is to establish great relationships with a few wine distributors who you can really trust, because they can end up helping you with quite a bit of the workload,” she said.