Already the largest independently owned wine, beer and spirits retailer in the United States, Total Wine & More has big plans for 2012. Vice President of Customer Experience Steve Faith says the company plans to enter three big new markets this year: Dallas; Seattle; and Spokane, Wash. Combined with the 78 stores the company already has in 11 states, Faith says Total Wine & More expects its new locations to carry it to the next level after it reached a pair of monumental milestones in 2011.

“We just had our 20th anniversary last year,” Faith says. “It was a momentous 20th anniversary because we hit $1 billion in sales.”

Total Wine & More has become a mecca for discriminating customers. However, it takes more than a wide selection to please the discerning beverage enthusiast, and Total Wine & More knows that top-notch customer service and education complete the experience. The company has reached the upper echelon of the beverage retailing industry through these means, and it says these will continue to serve as the foundation of its future success.

A Good Education

With thousands of wine varieties available in its stores, Total Wine & More believes it’s important to demystify the wine experience for its customers. To that end, the company puts a great deal of time and effort into educating its employees. Faith says the centerpiece of these efforts is the company’s Total Wine Professional (TWP) program. Employees are put through a series of seven tests that evaluate their knowledge of different wine-producing regions and varietals, eventually bringing them up to a level of knowledge equal to a sommelier at a fine restaurant.

“Certainly someone has to have a passion for the product and some level of interest, but as long as someone has passion and some basic level of knowledge, then we are able to start them in the TWP program,” Faith says.

Having so many of its employees well-versed in the subtle nuances of wine makes Total Wine & More an excellent resource for anyone looking for the perfect bottle of wine. “When we talk to our customers, we try to understand their likes [and] taste profiles so we can make good recommendations of wines they already like and alternative recommendations so they can expand their knowledge and the types of wines that they drink,” Faith says.

Total Wine & More also expands its customers’ knowledge in other ways, such as its consumer classrooms. Found in more than 40 Total Wine & More locations, these classrooms are where customers can go to hear classes on wine, beer and spirits from Total Wine & More employees and outside experts.

Reaching Out

Recently, Total Wine & More’s expertise has expanded outside of the in-store realm and onto the Internet. Senior Vice President and CCO John Jordan explains that the company launched its new website earlier this year, which allows customers to browse its product selection before visiting the store and review products they’ve already sampled. He says the company also has made a big push into social media in recent months.

“We recently launched regional [Facebook] sites for Seattle, Southern California, South Florida and northern Virginia,” Jordan says, adding that these pages enable the company to focus on local events such as in-store visits from winemakers. “Based on what we know, half our customers are using Facebook, so it’s really letting our customers decide how they prefer to communicate with us and enabling that through whatever means is best for our customers.”

Always Improving

Total Wine & More isn’t content to rest on the status quo, Jordan says. For example, the company continues to expand its selection of beer and other spirits. “Wine is our business, it’s a majority share of our sales,” he says. “But the wave of craft brewing has become an important component of the business, so we are definitely pushing that assortment to meet customer demand. Over the last three years we have really specialized and added onto our selection in craft beer.”

The company also continues to refine the customer experience in its stores. Jordan says the company is introducing computer kiosks related to food and wine pairings. To help customers make more informed wine selections, in-store TV screens will provide content on producers.

“Technology improvements at a store operations level will really enhance our efficiencies and really the customer service experience from that end, making buying, selecting and purchasing – all of those things that are important in retail – a lot more efficient,” Faith says.

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