What Total Wine & More Can Teach All of Us about the Power of a Great Idea
An Adult, Alcohol Superstore May - or May Not - Be Your Cup of Tea. But Here’s Why Even If You Don’t Drink, You Need to Seek Out One of Their Stores to See Just How Well an Unorthodox Approach to Marketing Can Succeed in Creating a Better Customer Experience.
I had my first Total Wine & More experience late on a rainy evening at the end of a long workday followed by a middle aged, married life escape - a shopping/fast food dinner trip to a neighboring larger town about 20 miles from us. We had to go to Covington, Louisiana as we had an exchange to make at a big box retailer there, and after a long day, a “fancy” dinner out at Chick-fil-A or Five Guys seemed like a well-deserved treat for my wife and I.
We were wrapping up our last planned stop when I suggested we make one more stop at the Total Wine & More store that had recently opened in nearby Mandeville. I didn't even know precisely where the store was located, and in fact, the shopping center where I assumed it would be was wrong. So, with the swipe of my Maps App, I saw Total Wine was less than a mile away. Now, it was late, and my wife gave me the husbandly advice that maybe we should do this on another trip over, as she was tired and ready to go home (plus, we had our dog in her kennel and she might well be reaching her bladder limits!).
I said that I had seen some raving posts about Total Wine on my Facebook feed, and I really wanted to check it out. And as a management professor and consultant, I did feel a sense of duty to do so. I mean, what would an “alcohol superstore” look and feel like exactly? Maybe I could get a class discussion going on the subject of the new store, since I figured more than a few of my students might have checked out the newly opened store, of course, just for their love of learning, and not because of the booze!
So, as we turned into the shopping center, we saw the Total Wine & More store located far in the back of the center that had indeed been a few other grocery and big box stores during the life of this retail site. No, Total Wine wasn’t located where I had presumed it would be - in the newer, “hipper” shopping center down the road that housed the Whole Foods, the trendy clothing stores, and was soon getting a Target. Rather, Total Wine was in the rear of an older shopping center that had been hit rather hard by the “Retail Apocalypse,” but the new store occupied by far the largest available space in the currently half-occupied shopping center.
It was well past nightfall when we finally walked into the Total Wine & More store, and judging by the parking lot, we had certainly missed whatever the “after work rush” might have occurred at 5:30 or even 6:30. Now, approaching 8 p.m., the store was not busy at all. This gave me the chance to truly soak in just what a retail marvel the Total Wine & More concept is! The video tour below is indeed informative, but it cannot replicate the experience of seeing one of their stores in person!
Here’s what impressed me the most about the store from my perspective as a management consultant: Everything! Upon entering the Mandeville location, the first thing you notice is that the store has a good look and feel. It has high ceilings, wide aisles, and does not feel crowded with product, even though that is really the whole point of the store! You see this clearly when you begin traversing the store. There’s not just an aisle of white and another aisle of wine - there are aisles and aisles of each! Every subcategory of white wines and red wines has its own section, with clear signage to let you know that you are looking at Pinot’s, Chardonnay’s, or Merlot’s. And for every type of wine, there’s a huge selection - dozens and dozens of different wines to choose from, and this is important, as there are wines available at far different price points. If you want to spend $10, $15, or $20 dollars on a bottle of wine, you will have multiple options to do so. However, if you want to buy a $5 bottle of wine, or alternatively, to spend close to or over a hundred dollars on a single bottle, you can do so as well - and yes, with multiple options both for both the low price point and high end products as well!
And for liquor type after liquor type, from vodkas to whiskeys to bourbons and scotches, Total Wine & More replicates the same panoply of offerings! You can buy the expensive stuff or you can buy the cheap stuff - with multiples of options at every price point at the extremes and everywhere in between. Have a really special occasion or just money to burn? For you, there are the really, really expensive brands of hard liquor that are featured in locked glass displays! The same approach was taken in the aisles devoted to beers, where one could seemingly find almost any brew from any brewery anywhere in the country or the world! And when you take it all in, you realize that the size and scope of the store makes Total Wine & More dwarf any other large liquor store or even a big liquor department in any grocery store you have seen before, probably by a factor of 4, 5…10 times more in terms of selection and square footage (See Figure 1: The Stats on the Typical Total Wine & More Store).
Figure 1: The Stats on the Typical Total Wine & More Store
Source: https://www.totalwine.com/about-us/our-company (Used with permission)
From my consulting/consumer perspective, what came to my mind was that a simple shopping trip to a Total Wine & More store was more akin to a Disney-like experience! It was mammoth. It was well-designed and thought out. It gave off the appearance of being carefully curated, with every option available for anyone looking for a certain type/brand/price of wine, beer, or any other spirit - and even for non-alcoholic beverages! And yet, everywhere you turned there was intense personalization - both by design and in practice. As one would roam the wine aisles, you would encounter wines labeled as “Debbie’s favorite” or “Donald’s favorite,” as employees of the local store briefly explained why they liked that particular vintage. Even more importantly, in our 30 minutes or so in the store, we were approached three different times by employees wanting to know if they could help us find a particular something or other.
Figure 2: Total Wine & More’s Leadership
Pictured: David (left) & Robert (right) Trone, Co-owners of Total Wine & More
Source: https://www.totalwine.com/about-us/our-leadership (Used with permission)
One thing was absolutely for certain about Total Wine from my consulting mindset. This was the fact that there had to be not just a great deal of thought, but a real spirit behind what one sees and feels during a shopping experience at Total Wine & More. And doing just a bit of research on the company proved that to be the case! Total Wine is still very much a family business, even as it has expanded its footprint to well over 200 stores in 27 states presently! The company is managed by two brothers, David and Robert Trone (See Figure 2: Total Wine & More’s Leadership), and they demonstrate a commitment to provide not just exceptional customer service and selection, but to do so through providing their employees with opportunities to truly learn about the wines and spirits they sell. The company does compete based on price and selection through their buying power. However, they seem very committed to making what can be a confusing and intimidating shopping experience into a positive one for their customers! This starts with a well-trained workforce - with a company commitment to keep their employees educated on wines and spirits, as the firm states on its website:
“It's our Team Members who make the Total Wine & More shopping experience so special. Total Wine & More employs more than 4,000 dedicated men and women, including 600 wine service team members and 50 of our most knowledgeable wine experts, the Total Wine Professionals. All of our wine team members participate in extensive training programs, weekly team wine tastings and monthly wine-producer seminars. Many travel to winemaking regions to meet our producers and learn about their wines firsthand.”
Their management also uses the term the “Total Wine Experience” to describe what they want shopping in their stores to be like for their customers, regardless of how much or how little one may know wines and/or other spirits.
“The goal is to ensure each customer has an exceptional wine-buying experience. Do you need an expert recommendation for a wine? Or do you know what you want, and just need directions to the right aisle? Whether you are new to the world of wine or a great wine enthusiast, we want all our customers to be confident and comfortable exploring our stores and selecting the wines they prefer. That's the Total Wine Experience.”
So what can and should other retailers and indeed, managers of other customer-facing service establishments, take away from my simple - though expensive - first tour of our newly opened Total Wine & More store? As a management consultant and professor, I think that the simple, yet vitally important message is that today, consumer expectations of everything have been heightened to levels that would have been impossible and unbelievable just a few short years ago. Whether in the world of physical retailing or even online retail, we have come to expect experiences far above what would have been “passable” or even wildly satisfying just a few short years ago. And so what I found in my own “Total Wine Experience” was a level of retailing that I really had not seen outside of perhaps the world of “Destination Retail” - from the signature F.A.O. Schwarz toy stores of the past (memorialized in the film, “Big”)...
And in today’s intensely competitive and constantly changing retail environment, whether you are talking about a physical and/or an online store, one needs to ask a simple question: How can we make our customers’ experiences not just better, but perhaps even mind-blowing? Can we make our customers feel like they have had a shopping experience that dare we say rises to the level of a Disney-like encounter?
To me, Total Wine & More stands as a fascinating example of how one can elevate what should be rather mundane shopping into a true shopping experience! As such, I would urge anyone who is involved in retailing today to look at just how Total Wine makes its stores stand out to its customers and look to see how one could adapt their approach to whatever you happen to be selling. Take a field trip to your closest Total Wine & More store - and better yet, take your employees with you! I truly believe that you will come away with ideas on how you can elevate your own game and delight your customers with better selection, better service, and most importantly, with a superb shopping experience that will make them want to become loyal customers of whatever it happens that you might be selling! It might just be the best free management advice one could ever ask for!
About David Wyld
David Wyld is a Professor of Strategic Management at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, Louisiana. He is a management consultant, researcher/writer, publisher, executive educator, and experienced expert witness. You can view all of his work at https://authory.com/DavidWyld.
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