2012 Retailer of the Year: Binny's Beverage Depot

Binny’s has retained its customer-first philosophy, even while growing to be one of the nation’s largest wine-and-spirits retailers.



Despite its stature as the largest independent retailer of wine, beer and liquor in the Midwest, Binny’s Beverage Depot still considers itself a modest David, compared with the Goliaths of the giant price clubs and grocery stores.

“We may be the biggest, but we still function and operate as the smallest,” says Michael Binstein, CEO of Binny’s Beverage Depot. “We are a Goliath with the heart of a David.”

Founded in 1948 by Harold Binstein, Michael’s father, the company grew from a single liquor store to 12 outlets before Harold died in 1995. Still independently owned, Binny’s now has 29 stores open and two more on the way, $300 million a year in sales and an inventory that exceeds 50,000 offerings.

In addition to this dynamic growth—all the more remarkable amid the challenging economic environment of the past few years—Binny’s is noted for its creative retailing concepts. Its superstores offer gourmet groceries and cheeses, a walk-in humidor, a wine cellar and storage services.

An emphasis on customer service has also helped keep the chain top-of-mind for customers. Recent events included a social media “tweet-up” in its South Loop tasting room in Chicago— which features an in-house, fullservice bar—and an Oktoberfest-themed “stein-hoisting contest” at its store in Champaign, Illinois.

No wonder that even notoriously cranky Yelp reviewers flag the helpful service and compare the well-stocked stores to Disneyland, or, “a toy store for grown-ups.”

“The difference between Home Depot and Binny’s Beverage Depot is it’s homey, personal, intimate,” Binstein says. “It’s often likely that we know your first name, what you’re looking for. We may be communicating with you by phone and email when you’re not in the store.”

Beyond creating a comfortable setting, Binstein claims two additional secrets to retail success: “Bricks and brains. And you have to have both.”

The “bricks” refer to the physical stores, “as many outlets as possible,” he says, “as big as you can build and with geographic diversity.”

Meanwhile, the “brains” refer to his team: “the best and brightest minds in retail, from buyers to financial people to those trained to interact with the 7 million customers we get a year.”

Before entering the liquor business 17 years ago, Michael Binstein was an investigative reporter in Washington, D.C. The only member of his family currently involved with Binny’s, he sees similarities between his former and current professions.

“You need to be a good listener,” he says. “The most important thing you can do in this business is to listen to your customer.”

Binstein expects Binny’s to continue to expand, though he stresses the importance of maintaining a nimble stance.

“We may be big, and may have more stores, more volume, ore buying power,” he says. “But every day, what you see is a scrappy, feisty, hungry, lean-and-mean corporation that never rests on its laurels.”

For its dynamic growth, creative retailing strategies and emphasis on customer service, Wine Enthusiast selects Binny’s Beverage Depot as our 2012 Retailer of the Year.

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