Event planning is becoming a big business for some wine, spirits, and beer retailers, many of whom are tapping into occasions like holiday parties, business functions, and weddings to leverage sales and increase exposure. “It’s one of the only areas where we’ve gotten steady growth,” says Tiffany Lough, general manager of Liquor Mart in Boulder, Colorado. “This has been a great year for event planning. It creates a window to let us showcase our knowledge. Event customers are coming back for general suggestions because now they have a go-to.”
Liquor Mart’s go-to person is Kevin Downs, the wine manager and event planner. Downs, a sommelier, helps plan hundreds of events each year, including weddings, business parties, and University of Colorado affairs. “Now Christmas is in full gear and my schedule is absolutely insane,” Downs says. “I’ve got events almost every day—sometimes managing three, four, or five events in one day. It’s a really busy part of our store and it’s something we really enjoy doing.”
While Christmas parties are typically more spirits-driven, sparkling wines are also big this time of year. Liquor Mart is selling a lot of La Marca Prosecco ($13 a 750-ml.), for example, as well as Veuve Clicquot Brut Champagne ($48) and Taittinger Brut Réserve Champagne ($45). Liquor Mart also offers free delivery in Boulder County. “Beer, white wine, and mixers are delivered cold,” Downs says. “Our guys are a well-oiled machine. They get there, set everything up, and everything works out really well.”
In Bellevue, Kentucky, The Party Source has a deep inventory, stocking almost anything a customer needs to plan a major event. “If you’re having a party for 500 people, you’re walking out the door with what you need,” says the store’s wine buyer and manager Steve Tartaglia, who notes that The Party Source has an express delivery van for Kentucky orders. “We help people plan holiday parties, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, and weddings.”
Although The Party Source can’t deliver into nearby Ohio, it attracts many customers—including Fortune 500 companies—from Cincinnati. To help customers determine what supplies they may need, the store’s website has a party-planning algorithm. Customers can fill out an online questionnaire that calculates how much wine, beer, and spirits are required for crowds of different sizes.
Some retailers also offer bartending services for events. Fisher’s Liquor Barn in Grand Junction, Colorado typically has about six bartenders available to work at events for an hourly rate, with a three-hour minimum. “We are really busy here,” says Scott Garoutte, the store’s bartending and events supervisor. “Holidays, weddings, company parties, grand openings, and special events in general are really big for us. We’re already getting calls for next year.”
For weddings, Fisher’s sells a lot of Bota Box ($18 a 3-liter box) and Black Box ($19) wines. And for spirits, 1.75-liter bottlings of such whiskies as Jack Daniel’s ($45), Jim Beam ($29), Crown Royal ($49), and Pendleton ($35) are popular at events.
Industry retailers are taking steps to foster ongoing event business growth. Sales are up about 10% for Liquor Mart in 2018 and Lough is looking to continue that momentum, especially with weddings. “We work really hard at it, going to bridal events, sitting at the table, and marketing ourselves,” Lough says. “Caterers can’t supply liquor, so we partner very closely to become the preferred vendor.”