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Beer, Wine and Spirits Shopping

Wednesday, September 30, 2015  
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IABR Members Randy and Deanna Johnson at 2014 BWS Trade Show

Deanna Johnson and her husband, Randy, own two small liquor stores in Northwest Indiana. They take pride in putting a premium on customer service, keeping prices competitive, offering actual sales and free samples of new or unusual products.

But they know that operating just two stores — Fowler Liquors and Kentland Liquors — puts them at a slight disadvantage when competing with the big liquor stores. That’s all the more reason why they make it a practice to attend the 2014 Beer, Wine & Spirits Trade Show, sponsored this year by the Indiana Association of Beverage Retailers and the Indiana Restaurant and Lodging Association.

We followed Johnson, who manages both stores, around the trade show’s exhibit hall at the Indiana Convention Center to see what caught her eye, what she tasted and how she used the show to help their stores thrive.

They’re doing quite well already. Sales have tripled, she said, since they bought the stores in Fowler (Benton County) nine years ago and Kentland (Newton County) four years ago. They moved the Fowler store from a 600-square-foot location to a 1,700-square-foot store across town.

While beverage sales representatives come to their stores, Johnson said there are always some products she doesn’t get to see or try. “You get to see and taste some products and be the first to offer them in your store that you may not find everywhere,” said Johnson. She’s on the board of the IABR and calls the business the couple’s “passion.”

This is the best time of year for beer, wine and spirits shopping (and sampling).

She and her husband always explore the shows separately. He focuses mostly on beer, particularly craft beer, while she concentrates on liquor and wines. While she works full-time at the business, her husband works full-time for a utility company and in the stores on Saturdays.

With notebook in hand to jot down potential products to buy, Johnson worked through the vendors with ease, chatting and tasting samples and picking up written product materials and business cards.

With more than 100 vendors in the hall, she stopped and shopped while keeping in mind her customer base and their tastes. The couple serves a largely rural and middle-income community.  The combined population of the towns where the stores are located is just over 4,000.

Customers buy more beer, mostly domestic, than anything else, then liquor and, lastly, wine. While she carries a range of products, most are affordably priced. The most expensive wine is about $30 a bottle.

She tries 360 Vodka, an 80-proof with raspberry lemonade, and likes it. The vendor points out a patriotic red, white and blue bottle with stars and says the company wants to let customers know “we are a great American vodka.”

That appeals to Johnson because she tries to promote Indiana products first, then U.S. products second.

She really went for a very light Smirnoff watermelon mimosa, saying it didn’t have as much carbonation as other Smirnoff flavors. But she recognizes the product would appeal pretty exclusively to her female customers.

She also likes learning about new and different mixed drinks at trade shows, like one she tried with Deep Eddy Vodka. It was a mix of cranberry Deep Eddy, Amaretto and apple cider.

She also sips on Arborita’s strawberry margarita, Licor 43 Liqueur and RumChata and tries a mixed drink made with organic Prairie Gin — getting the vendor to tell her the exact recipe.

“The trade is also a great way to gather drink recipes that I can pass to our customers.”

For Johnson, the event was time well spent that will help her better cater to her customers, many of whom she says are dedicated to their locally owned stores.

“The knowledge you get in a one-day event is great,” she said. “It’s really a connections and networking event.”

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