When Jose Barrios II opened his first liquor store in Miami some 16 years ago, he didn’t know much about the wine and spirits business. But he had a clear idea of how to stand out from the pack. “I wanted to create a unique, customer-driven liquor store with the best service and selection around,” Barrios II recalls. Today, Vintage Liquor & Wine Bar—which operates three stores in Miami-Dade County—retains those values. “Our mission is to establish a relationship with our clientele so that, at the end of the day, it’s all about the customer and the wine,” he adds.
By all accounts, Vintage Liquor has accomplished that mission. The chain, managed by Barrios II and his son, Jose Barrios III, had revenue of more than $9 million last year. In 2016, Barrios II expects a 5-percent increase in sales at the stores, which range from 2,500 to 3,800 square feet and employ about 25 workers. For their commitment to customer service and deep product selection, Jose Barrios II and Jose Barrios III have been named 2016 Market Watch Leaders.
“The retail business is in my blood,” Barrios II says. His father owned a supermarket, and he often helped out there as a child. By 1980, the two had teamed up on their own grocery store. In 2000, Barrios II purchased Vintage Liquor in the affluent Pinecrest section of Miami from an acquaintance, even though he wasn’t looking to enter the beverage alcohol business. The transition was fairly easy. “When you have a grocery store with over 100 employees, a liquor store isn’t really so difficult,” Barrios II explains. “The challenge was learning what sells and what doesn’t sell.”
Barrios II soon outfitted the 3,800-square-foot Pinecrest store with a temperature-controlled fine wine cellar featuring more than 600 labels, private wine lockers and an extensive single malt Scotch selection in a nod to the location’s well-heeled clientele. “We took the store to another level,” he says.
In 2010, Barrios II added a second Vintage Liquor location in Midtown Miami, an area undergoing significant development and becoming popular with young professionals and tourists. That shop features what he describes as “Miami-Dade County’s only full bar in a liquor store,” where customers can drink a cocktail while they shop, as well as an outdoor patio and a whiskey wall that showcases some 300 American offerings. The third store opened three years ago in Brickell, an up-and-coming Miami neighborhood with a mix of upscale shoppers and young professionals. Barrios II oversees all three units and handles purchasing, while his son manages the Midtown shop. The family supermarket was sold in 2013.
Like other businesses in south Florida, Vintage Liquor experienced a change in customer buying habits during the recession. But Barrios II simply worked harder to retain his loyal clientele. “They stayed with us because we remained very customer-driven,” he says. “Instead of buying a $40 bottle of Scotch, maybe they bought a $25 bottle. But we were able to ride out the storm.” Even the opening of a Total Wine & More store five years ago near the Pinecrest Vintage Liquor hasn’t adversely affected the business. “We’re going stronger,” Barrios II says of the added competition.
While the sales mix varies by store, 45 percent of Vintage Liquor’s overall alcohol sales come from wine, and Barrios II takes pride in that. “Not too many liquor stores in Miami-Dade County can say that,” he says, citing the market’s tilt toward spirits. Dubbing itself “a candy store for wine lovers,” Vintage Liquor has strong wine sales due to its wine consultants and knowledgeable sales staff. Spirits comprise 50 percent of sales, and beer makes up 5 percent. The company also offers miscellaneous items, such as cheese, snacks, cigars and wine accessories. “Our main focus is wine and spirits, but we also sell a few impulse items,” Barrios II explains.
Vintage Liquor stocks approximately 1,400 wine SKUs, priced from $5 a 750-ml. bottle of Sutter Home White Zinfandel to $3,200 for the 2011 Château Pétrus. Customer buying preferences differ by location. “Our Pinecrest shoppers lean toward California wines,” Barrios II says. “At the Brickell store, customers go more for Spanish and Argentine wines, and Midtown is a mix of everything.” Rosé is selling well across the chain these days, and private-label wines are also in the works. “We’re about a year away from that,” Barrios II adds.
Some 1,200 to 1,300 spirits SKUs are offered at Vintage Liquor, priced from $8 a 750-ml. bottle of Gordon’s vodka to $32,000 for The Macallan 62-year-old single malt Scotch whisky in a Lalique decanter. “Our specialties are single malts and Bourbons,” Barrios II says. “We try to carry every product we can, including all of the small-batch brands.” Barrios III adds that the company has significantly expanded its selection of Bourbon and single malt Scotch over the past five years. “We now stock about 300 American whiskies, and the segment is growing,” he says. Rum, Tequila and gin are also doing well. “Craft gin is really growing at all of our stores,” Barrios III says. “Our customers are looking to get creative with their cocktails, and gin is more flavorful than vodka.”
The on-site bar at Vintage Liquor’s Midtown location keeps up with mixology trends. “It’s a one-of-a-kind liquor store,” Barrios II says, noting that the bar is often crowded with local residents on Friday evenings. “It’s a community gathering place.”
While beer comprises a small portion of Vintage Liquor’s sales, it’s not an afterthought. The Midtown store does a brisk business with craft brews, generally priced from $8 a six-pack of 12-ounce bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale ale up to $40 for a four-pack of Dogfish Head Higher Math golden ale. The chain stocks about 250 beer SKUs in total.
In the last few years, the company has moved into online sales via its website, Vintageliquor.com. “It’s in the beginning stage for us, but it’s growing,” Barrios II says. Monthly online sales average $15,000, while typical orders can range from a single bottle to a case of wine.
Vintage Liquor’s knowledgeable employees have helped put a face to the business. “Our customers know they can count on Vintage Liquor salespeople for expert advice,” Barrios II notes. “Our professional wine experts are available to help customers with all of their needs. I’m proud of that.”
Vintage Liquor holds frequent in-store tastings to help educate customers about wine, spirits and beer. Monthly distributor-led wine tastings take place at the Pinecrest and Midtown stores for $10 a person and include a keepsake Riedel glass. The events typically attract between 60 and 80 customers. Each store offers a spirits tasting on weekends, as well as periodic beer samples. Those events are free of charge and are led by distributors. Once a year, the Midtown store hosts a fundraiser for Liga Contra el Cancer—which means “League Against Cancer”—a Miami-based nonprofit organization that provides free medical care to needy cancer patients.
To promote its product selection, new offerings and in-store events, Vintage Liquor advertises in local newspapers. But digital messaging—including e-newsletters and social media—has become increasingly important. “We send out email blasts once or twice a week to about 3,000 people, and we’re very active with social media, including Instagram and Facebook,” Barrios III says. “It definitely helps bring customers to the stores.” Barrios II maintains that old-fashioned, one-on-one messaging remains effective. “I believe in word of mouth,” he says. “When customers come in and are treated right, they’ll tell their friends.”
Despite all that father and son have accomplished with Vintage Liquor, they have no plans to rest on their laurels. While the long-term plan is for Barrios III to eventually manage all three stores, the pair sees opportunity to tweak the existing business. A new 5,000-square-foot venue is planned to replace the Brickell location late next year.
For now, Barrios II is enjoying the wine and spirits business. And the retailer remains just as committed to satisfying his customers today as he did when he started 16 years ago. “I take great pride when people say the name Vintage Liquor,” Barrios II says. “I want to keep that name synonymous with excellent customer service.”