Carrying on a family retail tradition that dates back to the 1800s, siblings David and Margaret Jabour have ushered Twin Liquors into the modern retail age while continuing to honor the relationships that have helped make it the success it is today. The family-owned retailer has been in operation for more than 80 years, but it wasn’t until the third generation took the reins of the company their grandfather founded in downtown Austin, Texas that the focus shifted to providing the wider Central Texas market with premium wines and spirits. Now operating nearly 100 locations throughout the Lone Star State, the Jabours remain committed to maintaining close ties with their loyal consumer base through an active marketing emphasis on quality, trustworthiness, and elevated industry standards. For this, David and Margaret Jabour have been named the winners of the 2018 Market Watch Leaders Alumni Award for “Best Marketing.”
In 1982, David and Margaret took charge of the family business, Jabour Package Store, rebranding it Twin Liquors—in honor of their father, Theodore Jabour, and his twin brother—and reframing the focus of their selection on premium goods, with particular aim at female consumers. “In the early ’80s, you couldn’t find a premium store that focused on the female consumer,” says Margaret Jabour, co-owner and executive vice president of Twin Liquors. “That focus marked a huge step for us, because that’s not how the industry was serviced then.” David’s experience serving as a senior vice president at Bank of America from 1985-2000 and Margaret’s lifelong interest in the fashion industry have shaped the direction of Twin Liquors, guiding the siblings’ strategy for providing their customers a sophisticated, informed approach to wine and spirits.
From its humble beginnings as a 700-square-foot shop in downtown Austin in 1937, Twin Liquors’ store count now stands at 91 following the June acquisition of Dallas-based retailer Sigel’s. The deal for the 8-unit Sigel’s chain marks the company’s first entry into Dallas, now its northernmost market. Twin Liquors operated out of its original location for most of its history before David and Margaret chose to open a second store in their neighborhood in 1993. The store count was up to 12 in the Austin metro area in 2000 and 22 the following year. In 2008 Twin Liquors expanded into new markets, including San Antonio. The Jabours, however, aren’t aiming for a statewide presence or specific store count. “Our goal is to provide the market with whatever it needs,” says David Jabour, co-owner and president, underscoring the company’s approach to expanding primarily through organic growth.
Twin Liquors’ premium positioning enables it to focus on higher-income neighborhoods and demographics. The chain has three basic formats for store size, allowing it to tailor each location specifically to the surrounding community. “Our primary wheelhouse is the ‘neighborhood store’ concept of around 3,500 square feet and roughly 1,500 wine SKUs,” says David. “We enjoy that concept because it’s where we can truly bond with the consumer.” In 2008, the company introduced its first “marketplace”—a concept with about 15,000 square feet of retail space that houses 6,000 wine SKUs, 2,500-3,000 spirits SKUs, and 1,200 beer SKUs. The marketplace locations have a classroom, a tasting bar, and a fine wine room that’s typically used for dinners that support nonprofits or other community activations. There are also “mini-marketplace” locations of about 6,000 square feet that feature a wider product selection than neighborhood stores with about 3,000 wine SKUs, and include a classroom for community education and events.
Keeping customer trust and satisfaction at the forefront has always been a guiding principle for Twin Liquors—even in the midst of major expansion—and its marketing is a direct reflection of that. “We try to impart a sense of warmth and hospitality, not just for our customers but for everybody we work with, from vendors to suppliers to our staff,” says Sandra Spalding, the company’s director of marketing and events. An 18-year veteran of Twin Liquors, Spalding notes that staff education has been a key objective for the company under David and Margaret’s tenure. Twin Liquors currently offers sponsored, in-house training through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET); about 80 employees have earned WSET Level 2 awards over the past two years and there are plans to expand on that number. In addition to formal training, the company regularly hosts events for its workers such as Lunch and Learns, featuring guests like Bulleit whiskey founder Tom Bulleit. “It’s a natural progression for our staff to get excited and interested in a product and then be able to tell a customer why something is unique,” Spalding says.
Education plays a major role in the company’s relationship with its customers and community as well. All Twin locations hold free, themed wine and spirits tastings on the weekends, with the neighborhood concept stores featuring smaller iterations than the larger-scale efforts in the marketplace locations, where a typical event could feature 20 wines from different regions of a highlighted country of origin. Additionally, Twin hosts more intimate, ticketed events like its annual catered party in January, which is held in honor of Scottish poet Robert Burns and includes a Scotch whisky tasting. Other recent customer events have included a Cinco de Mayo party with a mariachi band, a Cazadores Tequila-sponsored taco truck, and Tequila versus mezcal tastings, as well as Derby Day engagements with Maker’s Mark Bourbon demonstrating how to make Mint Juleps. “We have fun but we want to make it meaningful to both the consumer and supplier at the same time,” says Spalding. “We’re creating an experience for people to understand that they can come to us for expertise.”
Twin Liquors’ educational outreach also goes beyond specific products and categories and into the lifestyle realm. The team has targeted the growing consumer interest in home entertaining with its marketing efforts. Each year, the company sends out a holiday gift guide that takes its design cues from the fashion industry. It includes cocktail recipes meant to carry past the holiday entertaining season—such as the Old Forester Manhattan, Fords Classic Martini, and Tito’s Mule—with cocktail combo packs of the ingredients, as well as combo gift baskets of wines and spirits and collectible wine verticals such as the Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve (Lot 1) with eight vintages from 1990-2000 ($1,350 a 750-ml.) and Opus One vintages from 1994-2013 ($4,975). As with most of Twin Liquors’ direct customer communications, the holiday guide also offers an educational component, with illustrations of optimal serving temperatures for different styles of wine, as well as recommendations on new products and classics for gifting. “There’s a lifestyle component of this industry, so we’re educating on that lifestyle,” says David. “What we like to do is add value to the process with education, mystique of what’s in the bottle, and qualitative components of what makes a product distinct.”
Along with traditional advertising in select weekly and monthly publications that cater to readers of legal drinking age, Twin Liquors participates in social media, with Facebook as the primary outlet, followed by Twitter, Instagram, and others. The retailer’s YouTube channel offers short mixology demonstrations and at-home entertaining tutorials. Social media directs visitors back to the Twin Liquors website, which helps promotes the company’s events—including a popular recent bottle signing with actor Dan Aykroyd.
Twin Liquors likes to keep its marketing team streamlined. Until two years ago, the company handled all its own marketing and communications, but has since hired a public relations agency and a digital agency. Although the in-house marketing staff consists of Spalding and Michael Salome, Margaret’s son, the company is constantly getting input from its entire staff—and sometimes even from enthusiastic customers. Outside its Austin headquarters, Twin Liquors has four regional managers. Each store is staffed by only a few sales associates, depending on a location’s size, to encourage building a bond with shoppers. “There’s a lot of collaboration in our marketing,” David says. “We can try an idea very nimbly to see if it’s something the consumer will go for. We run a pretty efficient model and don’t like a lot of layers of management.”
Under David and Margaret’s leadership, Twin Liquors has been building a reputation for high-quality wines and craft spirits and beer at competitive prices. Overall sales are about 75% spirits, 20% wine, and 5% beer. Twin Liquors also sells mixers and some cocktail components, but doesn’t offer food products.
Although the company doesn’t disclose sales information, it notes that the yearly increase in store numbers points to its ongoing health. “We’re not motivated by established sales goals for top-line revenue or new stores,” David says. “That doesn’t mean we’re not fiscally minded, but rather we look at what’s efficient, correct, and appropriate.” When considering a new store opening, David explains that the company looks at proximity to its Austin base. “One of our goals is to make sure our corporate culture is alive and well at the farthest point,” he says.
With a focus on quality wines, Twin Liquors is seeing a number of styles taking off, especially within the popular $12-$15 pricing segment. This June, in an effort to support local wineries, the company co-hosted an event with Texas Monthly magazine in which a selection of Texas rosés was tasted alongside rosés from other parts of the world. Some popular Texas rosés in Twin Liquors’ stores include Grower Project Texas Rosé ($19 a 750-ml.) and McPherson Texas Les Copains Rosé ($15). Sparklers of all sorts have also shot ahead, including Poema Cava ($11), McPherson Texas Sparkling ($19), and Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne ($40). Value-priced sparkling wines have grown in prominence—and are even helping boost sales of Champagne as consumers become comfortable and ultimately trade up to different styles.
Twin Liquors also likes to showcase local spirits producers, and it carries Texas products in every spirits category. Vodka leads in terms of sales, with local brands like Tito’s ($18 a 750-ml.), Deep Eddy ($18), and Dripping Springs ($17) performing well, but whisk(e)y is quickly catching up, with Canadian and American whiskies leading the charge. Texas whiskey is also a growing segment—especially Garrison Brothers Bourbon ($83) and Ben Milam Bourbon ($45). Craft gins such as The Botanist ($39) and Fords ($22) have quietly gained momentum at Twin Liquors stores, playing into the increasing importance of craft products.
Although Twin Liquors has grown remarkably under the leadership of its third generation, the company’s core mission remains the same. “When you can touch your customers on a personal level, that’s the mark of true success,” Margaret says. “Our customers feel the care we’ve cultivated over the years.” Women are still an important demographic for Twin Liquors, and the company supports women-led businesses like Austin Woman Magazine through co-hosting events and supplying wines at sponsored dinners. Engaging with nonprofits has also been a major focus for Twin Liquors, which works with more than 500 nonprofits each year.
Since its founding following Prohibition’s repeal, Twin Liquors has successfully adapted to the changing retail landscape in its home state. This spring, the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission’s ban on publicly traded companies selling spirits in Texas was struck down, potentially allowing Walmart and other public corporations to enter the retail spirits business if the ruling isn’t overturned on appeal. Twin Liquors is also eying growth for its delivery service, which is currently oriented primarily on large purchases rather than smaller orders.
Though competition may change in the years ahead, Twin Liquors is confident its values and customer loyalty will keep the business thriving. “Retail continues to evolve, but hopefully it doesn’t evolve to the point where you can’t connect with customers in the same meaningful way,” David says. “We plan to keep driving positive consumer experiences, which will always be very powerful.”