A Retail Expert
Bebis joined Liquor Stores in May 2013. “I’ve been in the retail industry for years,” he says, noting his background includes serving as the Canadian president of Home Depot. Bebis also was the founder and CEO of Golf Town, a specialty golf chain.
An important part of Liquor Stores’ success, Bebis says, has been its access to prime real estate. “A retailer has to have good locations to be successful today, particularly in the adult beverage business,” he says.
“We also work very closely with our suppliers,” he says. “We have a great merchandising environment with all the good things that make retailing great.”
Its partners include Anheuser-Busch Companies LLC and Pernod Ricard. “They’re leaders in their industry,” Bebis says. “They’re consistent in their quality and they keep us in stock.”
He also praises Constellation Brands Inc. “They’ve done a great job of acquiring terrific brands,” he says, noting that close relationships are essential for both sides to thrive.
“That’s what it takes to be successful in retail,” he says. “You can’t have animosity with our suppliers. Instead, we’re working together to help improve their brands and our stores. Their business helps drive our business.”
Fortunately for Liquor Stores and its vendors, the liquor retail business is a more or less recession-resistant. “Our business has survived world wars and depressions,” Bebis notes. “People continue to drink alcohol so we’re in a relatively stable and growth industry.”
A Business Transformation
Liquor Stores has implemented a continuous improvement plan under Bebis’ leadership. Although the company was already a successful liquor retailer and distributor, it needed to grow. “We’re transforming the company … to a growing retail enterprise,” he says.
One part of the plan includes updating its locations. “We’ve got a lot of older and tired stores, so we’ve been remodeling our stores actively and getting great returns,” he says. Nearly 30 locations have been remodeled in the last three years.
Liquor Stores also created a training department. “We have online training as well,” Bebis says. “We train them on how to sell wine, beer and spirits.
“We also developed exclusive labels for our customers,” he says, noting that this has been done with the company’s wineries and distilleries. “It’s a win-win that’s been very successful.”
Another initiative has been the enhancement of Liquor Stores’ IT systems. “The company hadn’t invested in it,” Bebis admits. “We had no digital footprint and we didn’t have a web site.”
Since then, the company has developed a strong IT department. “They’ve done a great job of improving our platform,” he says. “We can develop more information systems for our buyers and managers.”
This has led to the development of the Celebration Club, its loyalty program. Currently, “We have 250,000 members,” Bebis says, adding that the company will soon implement a new ERP system.
The company invests in e-commerce, but most customers still like to prefer to buy from its stores. “The thing about an adult beverage is that it’s not easy to deliver,” he explains.
“They have to be wrapped because it’s perishable and it’s easy to break a lot of the bottles,” Bebis says. “You also have to have an adult sign for it when they arrive.”
Liquor Stores is coping with increased competition in its markets. “Over the years in our industry, it’s gone from little package stores to big-box retailers, where Costco is the largest retailer of adult beverages in North America,” Bebis explains.
“Alcohol is used by a lot of retailers to drive traffic to their stores,” he continues, adding that the company is seeing more competition via the Internet. “A lot of people buy wine online.”
Liquor Stores copes by offering a wide selection in its locations, which also vary in size. For example, “We have stores that carry around 3,000 SKUs in all,” he says.
It also has convenient locations that sell mainly beer and others that focus on wine. “We have all these different models that we can use, dependent on the market,” Bebis says.
Bebis manages Liquor Stores with the philosophy that the company is not just a retailer. “We’re a retail enterprise that sets ourselves apart where we focus on customers and staff and try to develop a great shopping experience,” he explains.
“That’s in the end what retail is about: taking care of your customers,” he says. “If we stay focused around the customers, we’ll make the right decision for our business and our shareholders.”
Bebis learned this lesson in his days at Home Depot under the tutelage of its founders, Bernie Marcus and Arthur Blank. But to maintain that culture, you have to have the right people.
“We look for smart people who believe in customer service and who understand the customer is the most important person in our business,” Bebis says. “We also look for people who like to grow.
“The short-term and long-term vision let the team execute the plan,” he says. “Because of that, I’ve had strong people that make me look really smart.”
Liquor Stores plans to stay smart as it grows in both the United States and Canada. “We think there’s lots of opportunity to grow to bring our selection and great looking stores to customers throughout the United States,” he says. “That’s our long-term vision.”