Bill Henry admits that his venture into business ownership came about through a convincing sign.
It read “for lease,” and instantly inspired Henry to stop selling cars and start the business he’d dreamt of operating for nearly three years. The only thing was that he didn’t know what type of business to run.
“I ended up with the lease that day, so it was a shot in the dark,” Henry said.
As a beer connoisseur, most specifically microbrews, Henry thought it might be interesting to purvey some unique beers. Thus, he picked his product without much consideration otherwise.
“Beer has always been interesting to me,” Henry said. “I wanted to carry every single product the distributors offered, or at least as much as I could fit in 800 square feet.”
Still, it just takes a peek out of the store’s windows to realize that Biggs sits amidst stiff competition. Whether it’s Fred Meyer, Safeway, or the neighboring liquor store, there’s no lack of alcohol retailers. But instead of focusing on the drawbacks, Henry immediately turned to serving his customer needs – something he now specializes in.
Henry said his customer base grew slowly with the addition of sodas, tonics and cigarettes to his product mix. These items brought customers over from the liquor store and increased his walk-ins. Then he established a library of 417 microbrews from around the world – easily exceeding the offerings of the nearby chain retailers.
“Listening to our customers and serving their needs was the most important part of our success,” Henry said. “We went with what the customer base wanted, and slowly built it up from that angle.”
Bill said his personalized service is the result of listening. If there’s a certain IPA, some specific chilling instructions or a special order case, Biggs takes care of it. This doesn’t come easy though. Henry’s typical work week averages 70 hours, with a good portion spent keeping tabs on his competitors.
“There’s always competition,” Henry said. “You just have to price point your items and carry a wide variety. If something doesn’t sell you have to get rid of it and find what does.”
Henry said daily cigarette and domestic beer customers keep his store lively, but the cigar and microbrew sales make the money. He said these products only account for 25 percent of product sales, but their high profit margins gross the most revenue.
Unfortunately, when the economy went belly-up, his microbrew sales cut in half.
“There was a dramatic change in customer behavior,” Henry said. “But we increased our domestic offerings to broaden that segment for our customers.”
Make no mistake, Henry said there’s still a contingent of customers that love the microbrews. He said they’ll bring in boxes to purchase beers and routinely special order cases, which he provides at a small percentage over cost.
“I can talk about beer all day, and get people to experiment with different beers,” Henry said. “It’s like I used to place customers with the right car, now I place them with the right beer.”
Customers continue to come back for recommendations as well. As a whole, Henry’s service-focused retail strategy helped post a five percent increase in gross sales last year. Now he’s hoping this sales trend, along with a solidified customer base, will help him open the doors on a new concept.
“Anybody could have done this, but very few are willing to take the chance,” Henry said. “It’s going so well for us that by the end of the year we’re hoping to have a beer, wine and cigar bar in Hazel Dell.”