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Beer and Wine: answering customer demand

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013_Gray_YCM MAr 2013_Beer & WineIf there’s one Ontario c-store retailer who understands customer demand for beer and wine in convenience stores in the province, it’s Tony Gallo, part owner of New York News Convenience Store. He says his Niagara Falls location brings in both American and Canadian tourists, but they often leave empty-handed.

“Especially in the summer time, we probably get hundreds of people every day coming in and asking for beer and wine,” says Gallo. “When they come here, they’re looking through the coolers, and they want to know why we don’t have beer and wine. We have to just let them know it’s not there, and send them elsewhere.”

Communicating for customers

Gallo has been at his site since the spring of 2012, and got involved with the Ontario Convenience Stores Association (OCSA) when he realized he needed to do something to ensure the voice of his customer base was getting heard. He was recently nominated to the OCSA board of directors.

“As a potential OCSA board member, I’m just fighting for consumer rights, because they’re the ones who are telling us they want this,” explains Gallo, adding that this fight brought him and his OCSA counterparts to Queen’s Park in Toronto at the end of October to meet with MPPs.

“We basically went over with them all of the benefits with it – the jobs, the revenue, and especially the customers,” says Gallo. “There’s probably close to 70% of the public that wants this, and they’re asking for it, and we’re just trying to pass on the message to government that we think it’s time to get on with it and have beer and wine retailing in convenience stores.”

It’s already working

There are more than 200 agency stores in rural convenience stores across the province selling beer and wine to their customers. An expanded agency model is among options being considered should beer and wine come to Ontario c-stores, but Dave Bryans, OCSA CEO, says not just any store will be granted this retailing right.

“We would keep everybody eligible through criteria they have to morph to, and that would be certification training, staff training, and licensing. It won’t eliminate anybody; they’ll eliminate themselves if they’re not ready,” explains Bryans.

“Many retailers have to realize, though, that even under the agency model today, if you were to sell alcohol to one minor, you would lose your right forever.”

This is just the beginning

Bryans says that while the Liberal government isn’t considering any changes to alcohol retailing in the province, retailers need to stick with it and join forces to ensure this issue stays on the public and government radar.

“We need a very disciplined movement of age testing, we need a commitment from all retailers to reach out to their customers when we need them to, and we need organized messaging that all of us can carry during an election call in this province, asking where every politician stands on alcohol, and then we have to communicate that to our customers.”

Gallo, for one, is willing to answer this call, because he knows just what beer and wine could do for his tourism-focused site.

“I witness this firsthand every day – people are frustrated when they come here because we have to send them away and they have to go somewhere else,” notes Gallo. “It would probably increase the revenue by about 300% in this particular store, and that’s being conservative.”