Best Cellars, a retailer based in Montvale, NJ, has won Wine Enthusiast’s 2009 Wine Star Retailer of the Year award. This award is one of 11 annual Wine Star Awards that recognizes excellence in the wine and spirits industry. All recipients will be honored at the gala dinner and awards ceremony at the New York Public Library on January 25, 2010. Here’s the backstory on Best Cellars and its founder Joshua Wesson.
Thirteen years ago, Joshua Wesson had a brainstorm: based on his many years of experience in the wine and food industry, the former sommelier and leading authority on the pairing of wine and food realized that most of the consumers he met were put off by the rituals surrounding wine. People wanted to know what a wine would taste like before buying it and how to better understand the overwhelming number of wine regions, grapes and labels. He realized they wanted to shop for wine in a comfortable atmosphere. Thus was Best Cellars launched as a value-driven retail concept—its mission to seek out and sell affordable wines that exceed customers’ expectations.
Over the years, as Best Cellars proved its success, it grew to six stores, in which wines are organized and presented by taste and style: Big, Luscious, Fizzy, Fresh, Soft, Juicy, Smooth and Sweet. This approach makes finding the right bottle a relatively easy, intuitive exercise.
In early 2007, Joshua Wesson was introduced to senior executives at supermarket giant the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company (A&P), which was seeking new ways to leverage the value of the company’s licensed stand-alone and aisle (in-market) stores. The idea that A&P’s sales could be enhanced by using Best Cellars’ merchandising techniques made instant sense to both companies. Merger discussions proceeded and A&P acquired Best Cellars in November of 2007. It is now known as Best Cellars at A&P. Joshua Wesson is senior director, wine, beer and spirits, of the A&P Corporation.
Today, A&P operates 14 aisle stores and 25 stand-alone stores in Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Virginia and the District of Columbia, of which 10 are Best Cellars or Best Cellars at A&P formats (remodeled A&P liquor stores). Most stores, whether stand-alone or aisle, carry about 1,000 wines, from bag-in-a-box products to magnums of Champagne, 200-300 beer selections and 500 spirits offerings. In keeping with Best Cellars’ philosophy, most selections are in the $5-$15 range.
In supermarket environments, wine, beer and spirits are cross-promoted with food items and merchandized throughout the store. In November of 2009, a warehouse test version of Best Cellars at A&P was opened in Ledgewood, NJ. Also this fall, most stand-alone stores began offering free, seasonally themed miniclasses, called “Tasty Tuesdays” (themes include Turkey Day Tipples, Pinot for Peanuts and Bottles for Burgers). In 2010, three to six more old-format stores will be converted.
“The Retailer of the Year award is both a great and humbling honor to receive,” says Wesson. “Great, because it shines a bright light on the achievements of an extraordinary team of wine, beer and spirits professionals who took the promise of Best Cellars at A&P and helped make it a reality. And humbling, because there’s always another year to make our business better and our customers even happier.”
Rebecca Philbert, A&P senior vice president of merchandising and supply & logistics, says that “winning the Wine Star award is a special accomplishment, not only for the department, but for the entire company. It’s gratifying to see our efforts so graciously acknowledged.”
Its focus on demystifying wine for a broad range of consumers, its obsession with finding great values, its dedication to offering broad selection, and its educational initiatives have earned Best Cellars at A&P the Wine Enthusiast Retailer of the Year Award.