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Inventory, expertise edge for Ben’s stores

John Seelmeyer

There’s hardly a grocery or convenience store in the region that doesn’t sell packaged liquor, beer and wine in a competitive free-for-all.

Nothing could make Jamy Keshmiri happier.

Keshmiri, the owner of Ben’s Fine Wines and Spirits since the start of this month, confidently believes his company’s four stores in Reno and Carson City can outperform their competitors large and small.

He’s not going to change much at the company, which was launched 39 years ago by Ben Akert.

Ben’s Fine Wines and Spirits, after all, is a strong local brand.

And it’s a strong brand that operates in an environment that provides some protection to specialty retailers.

State law, Keshmiri explained last week, requires that all liquor must be handled by wholesale distributors.

That prohibits the biggest retailers from going direct to distillers or vintners to cut deals on their own, and it provides some price protection to specialty liquor retailers.

That price protection in turn gives Ben’s Fine Wines and Spirits room to do what specialty stores traditionally do best offer big selection.

The company’s store in the Moana West Shopping Center at West Moana and Lakeside, for instance, typically carries between 3,000 and 5,000 bottles of wine in a 12,000-square-foot store.

Out-of-the-ordinary brands of beer and spirits are found in all the company’s stores.

The big inventories, Keshmiri acknowledged, sometimes are a headache as they require detailed management of relationships with numerous vendors.

And some brands are obscure for a reason they don’t sell very well.

Taking that risk is the trade-off for providing a wide inventory.

Inventory alone won’t do the job.

The company’s staff of 40 some of them veterans of years on the sales floor share their expertise.

“This is what we do for a living.We don’t sell radishes,” Keshmiri said.

“You can’t just buy alcohol and put it on the shelf.”

The education of customers is particularly important as Ben’s and others in the wine business seek to move customers up the price ladder encouraging the customer who typically buys a $5 bottle to step up to an $8 bottle.

“The future of the spirits business is in wine,” Keshmiri said.

U.S.

residents, who drink a little over two gallons a year, range 34th in the world in percapita wine consumption.

Still, The Wine Institute based in San Francisco estimates the retail value of wine sold in the United States rose by 7 percent last year over 2002’s figures.

While he doesn’t want to fiddle much with the successful operation he purchased from Larry Marcom and Sandra Hutchins, Keshmiri sees opportunities to tweak the company’s operations in subtle ways.

The Ben’s store at the Moana West Shopping Center at West Moana and Lakeside, for instance, is in the center of an upscale neighborhood an opportunity to subtly shift the store’s emphasis toward wine.

The same slight change in emphasis is likely at the company’s store in Carson City.

The store at Keystone and 4th Street, meanwhile, will emphasize beer and party supplies.

“I’m going to work each store on an individual basis,” Keshmiri said.

Although he’s only 31, Keshmiri is no stranger to the liquor business.

He’s held a liquor license since he was 21.

With his brother, he has owned the Wild Orchid Gentlemen’s Club in Reno since 1997.

And he’s been in business since he started selling golf balls as a 6-year-old.

“The principals of the business are the same,” he said of his days as a young entrepreneur.

“Just the numbers are different.”