Another liquor store giant on its way

Total Wine & More to open first Vancouver location next month

By Cami Joner, Columbian retail & real estate reporter



Mega liquor store chain Total Wine & More will open its first Vancouver store next month in the former Big Lots space, a move that intensifies the heat among booze-selling competitors nearly 11 months after the end of state-run liquor sales.

The chain's size — including a total of 90 stores in 15 states — along with its list of loyal suppliers built over more than two decades in business, allows Total Wine & More to offer pricing that falls below its competitors' prices, said Edward Cooper, a spokesman for the Potomac, Md.-based chain.

"We have the ability to work with our wholesalers and buy at better prices," he said.

Total Wine and More

• What: Vancouver’s first 20,000-square-foot store site as part of a 90-store chain that sells wine, beer and liquor in 15 states.

• Where: 4816 N.E. Thurston Way, Vancouver.

• Opening date: May 16.

• Store employees: 40 to 50.

• Employees companywide: 3,000.

• Projected 2013 sales: $1.5 billion.

• History: Total Wine & More was founded in 1991 by brothers David and Robert Trone, who launched the company with two wine stores in Delaware. It remains privately held.

• What’s next: The company this year plans to open two additional Washington stores in Lynnwood and Olympia.

The company plans to fill up the entire former Big Lots store at 4816 N.E. Thurston Way, which will make the new liquor store about 9,000 square feet larger than the California-based BevMo chain's first Vancouver store, which opened this month. Cooper said Total Wine & More will carry more than 3,000 distilled spirits products, 2,500 craft beers and 8,000 wines, including a large selection from Washington vineyards.

The Vancouver Total Wine & More store will be that company's fourth in Washington, according to Cooper, who said Total Wine & More has already opened stores in Bellevue, Tukwila and Spokane. He said it can cost up to $1 million to develop each store.

Lower prices vowed

Costco Warehouse stores are the company's No. 1 competitor, said Cooper, adding that his company researched Washington's top-selling products prior to entering the market. The company plans to have 13 stores in place within the next five years.

According to Cooper, Total Wine & More will offer lower prices than were charged before state privatization on Washington's top 50 spirits brands. He said customers buying those liquors will pay less money — even after point-of-sale taxes are added — than were charged in the state-run stores.

"You're going to walk out of there and the price is going to be lower than it was at the state store," Cooper said. It's a claim that few Washington private spirit sellers have made since the June 1 start of legalized liquor sales in grocery and variety stores larger than 10,000 square feet.

Voters passed the measure on the hopes that deregulation would lead to competitive booze prices. However, extra fees in the measure — a 17 percent retailers' fee and a 10 percent distribution fee on top of the price of each bottle at the register — compensated the state for its revenue loss.

The fees also led to price shock among the state's booze consumers, driving some Clark County shoppers across the state border to Oregon's lower-priced, state-operated stores. That created a dilemma for the winning bidders of seven liquor stores formerly run by the state.

All but three of these small store entrepreneurs have been wiped out in the newly competitive booze market, according to Byron Roselli, a commercial real estate broker Eric Fuller & Associates Inc. in Vancouver. Roselli is doubtful about the future of booze sales in Clark County.

"I still think the sales here will be gutted because of the 17 percent fee," he said. "Booze (prices) in Oregon are 30 percent less than in Washington."

And Oregon booze prices are likely to remain lower, despite a recent movement by the state's lawmakers to raise the liquor surcharge by 25 cents per bottle. Such a change is not expected to raise Oregon's liquor prices above Washington's.

Cooper said Total Wine & More expects to reverse the cross-border trend by drawing Oregon shoppers to its Vancouver store with a selection of more than 2,500 local craft beers and nearly 2,000 regional wines.

"We're coming to Vancouver because of the demographic," he said.

Others say the presence of stores like Total Wine & More and BevMo will definitely put pressure on Clark County's single-store liquor retailers because the larger chains compete on selection, as well as price. That's why the small liquor proprietors are more likely to survive by having unique items, such as rare bottles of wine, on hand, said Joseph Cote, a marketing professor at Washington State University Vancouver.

"In the wine market, there's a certain segment (of consumers) that drink one $40 bottle a day," he said.

Wine superstore

Total Wine & More aims to draw everyone from wine connoisseurs to teetotalers to its superstore wine selection, Cooper said The store also will carry bar ware, snacks and beverage-focused accessories.

Called a "next generation" store by company officials, the Vancouver store's layout will include customer-focused technology, such as flat screens playing informational videos about local vineyards. It also will include a classroom area for employee training and public events. Some bottle labels will be equipped with quick response codes that can display product information to be read by smartphone and tablet devices.

The company, which operates in 15 states, plans this year to open two additional Washington stores in Lynnwood and Olympia.