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I am considering opening a specialty beer store. My city doesn't have one, the grocery stores are getting better about carrying craft beers, but I wouldn't call the selection extensive. So I thought I would look into whether this is a viable business. I am a software developer by trade and have little retail experience. So I have a few questions for all of you fine beer loving folk.

  1. Is there a specialty beer store in your area? If so, do you know if it is successful.
  2. If not, is this something you would like to see in your area?
  3. How would one go about procuring a large enough selection of beers? There are a few spots like this around the country, and many of them boast a selection of hundreds if not over a thousand of individual beers. I assume distributors don't carry that kind of selection.
  4. Any knowledge of how to start and run a business like this would be most appreciated.

In the best care scenario, I would have a wide variety of bottled brews and several on tap. This way I could do growlers and beer tastings.

Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.

UPDATE

So I have done some research on the net, talked to some friends and went to a few bottle shops in the Seattle area. All the owners I talked to said that business is going well for them, so that gives me hope there is increasing demand for this sort of business. It also seems that I need to go through distributors for supply. I was told the markup on beer is fine, but I did notice some of the shops were much more expensive than others. So at this point I am going to start working on a business plan. Thanks for the all the helpful responses.

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I thought about doing this too. I have some info and whatnot. I'll answer this in a bit. Didn't want to leave you hanging. If I may ask, where do you live? –  hookedonwinter Jun 21 '10 at 0:04
    
Spokane Washington. –  StormerOfLezbos Jun 23 '10 at 4:57

4 Answers 4

I'm working on starting a brewery. One idea for a secondary revenue source was an attached bottle shop. Just beer, nothing else. Within that, just good beer. I even entertained the idea of "nothing that comes in a 6-pack".

I've since given up on this plan, not because I don't think it would work, but because for me it would be illegal. Due to some seriously antiquated laws, one can pretty much have no part in a brewery AND a retail liquor outlet. I can't clean the bathrooms in both, let alone own them both. So, I'm going with the brewery instead of the bottle shop. There are some great legal resources on this sort of stuff at legalbrewing.com and legallibations.com.

When I was thinking about it, though, I started to look into it a bit. One of the biggest concerns I heard - and I have no numbers to back this up - is that the markup on beer is very low, especially when compared to wine. This was the reason given to me as to why there are so many wine stores that have good beer, but not straight up bottle shops.

As far as your questions:

  1. There aren't any 100% beer only shops in my area, but there are a lot of places that have amazing beer selections. I'm actually going to interview the buyer at one this week. It's a super small store with an ever-changing selection. I wrote a post on one a while back too. Check it out - Total Bev, a review. Both places, and many more, appear to be successful, but none of them are purely beer. Note: I live in Denver. We have a drinking culture here, and specifically a beer drinking culture.

  2. Like I said before, I almost opened one. So yes, I'd love to see a beer only store here.

  3. I don't know what each distribution house carries in this area, but based off the stores I've seen, they carry enough to satisfy most craft beer lovers' tastes. Past that though, I had a few ideas. One was to travel to different states and buy beer. Tax law is crazy here, so make sure to do your research. Crossing state lines with beer can by tricky. Check out this article. Another idea here was to have partners in various locations send beer. Sort of like a mini distribution network. I never got into the logistics of it, but this beer would obviously cost the consumer much, much more. Of course they would also have access to beer they wouldn't otherwise, so there's that. I'm pretty sure if Duck Duck Geuze were available to me down the street, I'd spend more than the $29 or so it's labeled at in CA.

  4. There are lots of resources out there. This being a relatively unique idea, you'd have to apply them to your situation. But check out your local small business group, the SBA website, local wine shops, the library, and google. There should be examples of liquor store and wine shop business plans online.

I had some unique ideas that I'm willing to share if you decide you're serious about this. Leave some method of contacting you personally in the comments and we can chat.

I hope this helps! IF you have more questions on anything I said, or more questions at all, feel free to ask!

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Thanks for the info PJ. I too contemplated the brewery route, but I have only been home brewing for about a year. So I thought a specialty beer shop would be more realistic. I could do wine as well, but I don't know (or care for that matter) as much about wine as I do beer. You can contact me at tmagney@gmail.com. –  StormerOfLezbos Jun 23 '10 at 5:03
    
I have been homebreweing for close to five years and have begun to think of a brewery as a life change. I'd be interested in any other resources you've found related to the resources needed to start a brewery. –  user1224 Apr 10 '11 at 17:08
    
I've got a blog on it -- startingabrewery.wordpress.com. There are a ton more resources out there, too. Talk to brewers. They know lots. –  hookedonwinter Apr 10 '11 at 18:48

Out here in Lynchburg, VA we've just had two open up. They've only been open a matter of weeks so it's hard to tell how well they will do. One is an extension of a pizza place that has a very large beer selection in the restaurant already, and the other is our LHBS.

Our LHBS was started a little over a year ago with the intent of selling beers that aren't carried by the grocery store, but due to some ABC regulations they had to "prove" the business for a year. He just recently started selling beer, so we'll see how it goes. His idea is that brewing and drinking good beer reciprocate well and would make a good combination.

UPDATE: I've been to the one that's owned by the pizza place. A few things to note:

  • They are very visible, right on a main street in the city, about a block away from a small artsy college and wealthier part of town
  • The entire store was buy by the bottle, with a slight discount given if you bought six of the same beer
  • They had a handful of beers cold (about one fridge full), basically a popular mix of the shelved beers
  • They didn't have a warehouse of beer or anything, about 6-8 bookshelves worth or beer. It looked like they only carried between 6 and 12 of each type at a time, but I'm not sure, they could've had some more in back. They were definitely sold out of a few, so they couldn't have had a huge stock. I would venture to guess they had no more than 50-60 different beers, definitely not hundreds.
  • They were charging between $1.70 and $2.50 a bottle, depending on the beer, with a few up in the $8-$10 range
  • They were actually a lot busier than I had expected. Someone was leaving with a six-pack when I came in, and I had to wait in line behind two more people buying six packs to check out.
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I'm curious about this too. The possibility of setting up a network is intriguing, but presents a logistical nightmare. As for the thread topic, the retail places I'm aware of that do a pure beer trade I'm speculating, are predicated on two basic principles. 1) Inexpensive, out of the way location 2) Large amounts of space. These things allow for huge volume sales which a sole beer store would require without the aid of its high profit cuz wine. But these big emporium style shops have to become destination spots in order to merit the trek out to where they're located. Anyway, I agree with sentiment carried here: how does one create a specialty store devoted solely to beer in an accessible place? I've worked at a Beer and Wine specialty store, and though it had a pretty great beer selection, the money, I was always sure, was coming from the wine and stupid people who thought they were getting a deal on $10 bottle of wine that was bought for 3 dollars. Can you imagine what'd happen if you tried to sell any $6 6 pack for $18? Let me know if you guys are getting in touch with each other about some exchange of beer. I'm in one of the best brewing states in the union.

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  1. We have a couple here and they do fantastically well. One has over 1500 different beers in bottles.

  2. The stores here just go through the normal distribution chain and manage to find great exotic beers. Maybe because this is OR there's more to choose from than distributors elsewhere.

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