In 1986, Warren Scheidt made a career decision that paved the way for his success in the business and greatly impacted the retailing landscape in southern Indiana. “I decided that either I needed to get bigger in farming and get away from the liquor stores, or I needed to get out of farming and go full force into liquor stores,” he recalls. “I committed full-time to the liquor stores, and we’ve grown ever since.”
Scheidt’s 12-unit Cork Liquors chain has grown to become one of southern Indiana’s largest beverage alcohol retail chains. The company boasts stores ranging in size from 2,000 to 13,000 square feet in Columbus, Shelbyville and Greensburg, Indiana. Scheidt says sales are growing, despite increasing competition in the market. Scheidt owns the stores with his brother, Don Scheidt, while son Travis Scheidt serves as general manager and daughter Allison Lykins is the business manager. The company employs about 80 people.
The Scheidt brothers and their parents, Virgil and Bettie, launched Cork Liquors with the purchase of a Columbus permit in 1982. Bettie managed the store during the day while her husband and sons tended to the farm. In the evenings, the three Scheidt men shared responsibility for the shop. “For a long time, none of us received a paycheck,” Warren Scheidt says. By 2006, the family had acquired all seven liquor store permits issued for Columbus, a thriving commercial city located about 45 miles south of Indianapolis.
In 2007, Scheidt and his brother bought out their parents and later that year expanded the concept into Shelbyville, which is approximately 20 miles south of Indianapolis. There are currently four Cork Liquors stores in Shelbyville, including the chain’s newest location, which opened in October. In 2012, the company expanded into rural Greensburg, south of Shelbyville, with one store. “We’ve always tried to build nice stores,” Scheidt says. “We believe that location is the cornerstone of a successful retail operation.”
In addition to overseeing the liquor stores, Scheidt is the current president of the American Beverage Licensees (ABL) trade association, after serving on its board for 10 years. He has also been actively involved with the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers for more than three decades.
Overall, beer accounts for 45 percent of Cork Liquors’ sales, followed by spirits at 31 percent, wine at 18 percent, and tobacco, including cigars, and other miscellaneous merchandise at 6 percent. “When it comes to product selection, customer demographics and category trends, every store is slightly different,” Scheidt says. “We work on having the products in-store that serve that area.” If an item isn’t in stock at a particular location, it can typically be found at another store or the company’s warehouse.
Cork Liquors carries a total of 1,500 beer SKUs, priced from 99 cents for a 12-ounce can of Boxer lager to $39.99 for a 750-ml. bottle of Cascade Manhattan NW wild ale. Scheidt says that craft beer drives growth, with offerings from local producers like Indiana’s 3 Floyds, Sun King, Upland and 18th Street performing particularly well. But major domestic beers still account for the majority of the chain’s malt beverage sales, led by Bud Light in eight-packs of 16-ounce cans ($6.29).
Spirits are also a growth area for Cork Liquors. The chain stocks about 2,400 spirits SKUs, priced from $6.49 for a 750-ml. bottle of Kentucky Gentleman to $317.99 for Johnnie Walker Blue Label blended Scotch whisky. Whiskies comprise the largest selection among spirits, with prices reaching up to $200 for a 750-ml. bottle of Crown Royal X.R. Canadian whisky. Scheidt notes that due to his stores’ proximity to Kentucky, Bourbon is a strong seller. “With about 500 SKUs, I think we have the largest Bourbon selection in southern Indiana,” he says. Tequila and vodka are also robust categories at Cork Liquors, and recent featured items have included Patrón Silver Tequila ($38.99 a 750-ml. bottle) and Skol vodka ($10.99 a 1.75–liter bottle). “Today’s social media buzz is a huge factor in the growth of spirits,” Scheidt says. “It’s not uncommon for a customer to ask about a new product before a rep has even spoken to me about it.”
Wine sales at Cork Liquors are also on the rise. Some 2,200 wine SKUs are available, priced from $5.49 a 750-ml. bottle of Barefoot Chardonnay to $299.99 for Armand de Brignac Brut Champagne. “Wine sales have increased with the growth of our communities,” Scheidt says. “Younger consumers are getting more excited about wine than in the past.” Cabernet Sauvignon is the chain’s top-selling varietal, with Moscatos and rosés also performing well. While wines retailing between $15.99 and $25.99 are most popular overall, value wines like Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi ($6.48 a 750-ml. bottle) sell well.
Cork Liquors has emerged as a leader in southern Indiana, but Scheidt says the Hoosier State is fiercely competitive. He points to Walmart, Sam’s Club, Kroger, and “every gas station and convenience store” as his competition. “Cold beer is the only thing I can sell that they can’t, and they want that,” he says, noting continued efforts by Indiana grocery stores and c-stores to sell refrigerated beer. Like other liquor stores in the state, Cork purchases products in large quantities for a discount, and it warehouses bulk wine and spirits inventory. “In this state, you make your money as much on how you buy as on how you sell,” Scheidt says. The boom in craft beer has enabled Cork Liquors and its peers to compete more effectively with big box and grocery chains, as the larger operators don’t offer as much variety. “Craft beer allows us to sell at better margins,” Scheidt explains. “When all you can offer is alcoholic beverages, you don’t have the luxury of selling below cost.”
To accommodate demand for cold beer, Cork Liquors units feature 10 to 36 cooler doors. In fact, some of the chain’s newest locations boast refrigeration units that are both beer caves and coolers, complete with sliding electric doors. “Our customers enjoy going in and finding what they’re after,” Scheidt says. “It saves a lot of labor, and I can double my retail sales,” in comparison to a conventional cooler, he adds.
Other merchandising strategies at Cork include wine and beer displays dedicated to Indiana-made products. “Indiana has more than 70 wineries, and sales of our local wines are increasing,” Scheidt says. Some of the stores are located near an interstate highway, which attracts out-of-state visitors looking for Indiana beers. For spirits, meanwhile, the stores merchandise recipe carts, with special discounts on all the ingredients needed for featured cocktails.
Cork offers in-store tastings on a regular basis. “With all the new beer, wine and spirits products out there, we want supplier reps to sample with our guests,” Scheidt says. “And our customers like to speak directly to the producers.” Cork also hosts private events for community organizations, such as a recent wine tasting for a local entrepreneur group. To communicate its product selection, including newly arrived items, the chain turns to digital methods, relying largely on its website, Corkliquors.com, and social media, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
With 12 stores servicing southern Indiana, Scheidt takes pride in what he has built. “We’ve been a family business for over 34 years,” he remarks. “We like to go into communities where we can make a difference.” Scheidt says he has no desire to enter the Indianapolis market, but he doesn’t rule out additional locations in southern Indiana down the road. “We’ll keep our eyes open and continue to look for the right opportunity to grow,” he says.