Talking Wines with Mike Buckley of Gramercy Wine Cellar
In this week’s Merchant of the Week section, we showcase Mike Buckley of Gramercy Wine Cellar and ask him how he went from being an elementary school principal to managing a successful wine business. Mike also shares his recommendation on what summer drink we should all be watching out for!
Jason Lalk (Bindo): So Mike, you were an elementary school principal before. How did you go from that to running Gramercy Wine Cellar?
Mike: Well, I was sitting on my front porch one evening with my neighbor. At the time, he was a wine importer, and I was complaining about my job. I became a principal at 37 and I thought to myself, “I really don’t want to do this for 30 more years to retirement.” My neighbor said, “Have you ever thought about the wine & liquor business?” and I said, “No, but I’m willing to try anything, and it sounds like fun.” So he brought me to this store which was up for sale and instead of buying it, I met Beta and we became partners – and I sort of bought out his sister’s share. I didn’t know a whole lot about wine, and I didn’t know a whole lot about business, but I had some skills. I figured I could figure it out, especially if I had someone working with me. So we became partners and that was the best thing thats ever happened to me – business-wise.
Jason (Bindo): So it looks like you sell more than just wine at Gramercy Wine Cellar.
Mike: We’re probably 65% wine. We sort of position ourselves as a wine shop that sells liquor. We’re not discounters who give the stuff away. And I’m not trying to court the customer who’s looking to save 50 cents on a half gallon of Bacardi. That’s not the customer I’m going for. That’s a different model, that’s a different game, and there’s enough stores like that around that I didn’t want to get into that. I also don’t think its a real interesting way to spend the day, just trying to play with numbers, and squeeze an extra nickel out of a half gallon of Bacardi.
Jason (Bindo): Interesting, so you’ve been here for 11 years. I imagine plenty has changed in the past decade.
Mike: Well, I think that’s for all retail. It’s just been sort of a juggernaut. It’s just totally mixed up the whole thing. I mean, you have to have an online presence – if you can work technology into your business in as many ways as possible that makes sense, then that’s what you have to do. There are plenty of guys out there who are still using the old cash register with the tape and the calculator. How they manage inventory, I have no idea. How they have an online presence, I have no idea. But this sort of brings it all together for us.
Jason (Bindo): So what were you using before Bindo?
Mike: We had a POS system that cost us $6,000 and it lasted 3 years…and the hard drive fried.
Jason (Bindo): Oh no, and it was all locally stored?
Mike: Well, our tech guy told me he was backing it up and then when it fried, about half of it was backed up. I lost all of my customers that had been stored. And his solution was for me to buy another system. So, as I’m arguing with him, one of the guys from Bindo, Bill came in and did a quick demo. I said “What’s the upfront cost?” and he said “Nothing.” I said “How do I get the inventory in there?” and he said “I’ll help you put it in.” And I’m like, “Alright, giddy up!” It was really that simple.
Jason (Bindo): So with Bindo, how many customers do you have in here now?
Jason (Bindo): And thats just from people coming through and putting their names in as you go along?
Mike: We do a lot of delivery and we get a lot of phone numbers. When I get a phone order, I tell them that I’m going to store their name into our POS here and in the future when they call, all they have to do is give me their last name and we’ll just use whatever we stored. 99% of the time they’re like, “That’s so easy.”
Jason (Bindo): Have you been storing credit card information at all, and are people receptive to that?
Mike: Sure. They’re fine. I’m upfront about it. I never do it without talking to somebody first, and they’re totally fine with it.
Jason (Bindo): That’s great. So you’ve been with us since pretty close to day one. You’ve seen the evolution of the product itself: From even the iOS 6 version, to being able to check people out, to adding all the customer features, to building up the product catalog.
Mike: Some of the new features are things that I use and I’m really glad they’re there, and others are features that I could see how they’d be useful to other people, but I don’t necessarily use them. There is no one-size fits all.
Jason (Bindo): So what would you say your favorite feature of the app is?
Mike: My favorite feature of the app is that I can access it from home. I can sit at home and see what’s going on. I also have the ability to see the cameras from home so on my days off, I can toggle back and forth between the cameras and the actual register and I have a very clear picture of what’s happening when I’m not around.
Jason (Bindo): That’s great to hear. It seems like you’re really passionate about your business and you love talking to people about the different wines.
Mike: I do. I mean, everything in here is stuff that we’ve picked. It’s, without sounding snobby, it’s curated. We like to sell stuff that we like. We taste everything. Unless it’s the real high-end stuff: Then you don’t have to taste it, you know its gonna be good. Most of what’s here, we’ve tasted and we’ve chosen. It’s on the shelf because we like it. It makes recommending wine easy because it’s not a question of good or bad, it’s a question of is it going to meet your taste.
Jason (Bindo): Exactly. We’re bourbon drinkers over at the Bindo office. How about here at Gramercy Wine Cellar? What’s something that you guys think we should be looking at?
Mike: So this stuff, St. George Distillery, is out in Northern California. They were one of the first boutique distilleries. They don’t actually make this, but they blend it. It’s the only thing that they don’t make. What they do is that they go to Kentucky, and they buy barrels from 6 different distilleries in Kentucky. They bring it back to California, they blend those 6 together, and make what they call a “super-brewing.” So this is their super-brewing. And I think for what it costs, it’s really awesome. I tasted it 2 weeks ago and bought a couple cases, and now my supply has gone away! I basically bought it because I wanted to take it on this fishing trip, but people have been buying it.
Jason (Bindo): That’s awesome. What’s a good summer drink that people should be looking out for?
Mike: A good summer drink. Well, you know, rosé is always hot. Every year, I probably sell 10-15% more rosé than I did the summer before. People are starting to realize that its not sweet. I mean, there are certainly sweet ones out there. But, our exposure to rosé was always the cheap, sweet ones. But it’s nice, it usually has some fruit to it. So, yeah, you should always pay attention to rosé. I think, it was last year when the Aperol Spritz really hit. Thats always a great drink. I mean, you could do a million things with Prosecco and be totally fine.
Have a question for Mike? Please let us (and him) know in the comments!