For Chuck Ferrar, founder of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits in Annapolis, MD, part of the responsibility of operating a wine and liquor store has included an active involvement in supporting the alcohol retail industry, at the local, state and national levels.
Just this July, he
took a spot as head of the biggest national organization, the American Beverage Licensees
In the public realm he
has helped broaden sampling rules, open the door to online sales and beat back what might have been an onerous rise in state alcohol taxes during the past, highly contentious legislative session in the state capital.
So much for doing good by the industry that has been good to him.
Then there's the doing well part.
As an agile operator, Ferrar has often been the first in his trading area to exploit those hard-won gains, garnering an edge over stodgier competitors and building Bay Ridge into a formidable competitor.
That trades off the usual billboard effect, but Ferrar
doesn't see much of a cost in doing so.
"If they want Miller Lite they'll find it," he
At the time of Beverage Dynamics' visit toward mid-July, a major event was looming in the Maryland beer world: the long-awaited arrival of New Belgium's Fat Tire beer.
and son-in-law, David Marberger (who these days runs the store's day-to-day operations) had thoroughly prepared: they were planning a 6 a.m. tasting the first day the beer became available.
said he'd made sure his
store would be the first to have the coveted Colorado craft brew available in the state.
Now at 14,000 square feet, in two decades the operation has grown 15-fold in sales to where it does upwards of $10 million annually, Ferrar
It turns its inventory 11 times per year, including 15 times for beer and six times for wine.
happy to see customers of all social and economic strata sharing his
checkout lines, with sophisticated wine buyers standing right behind residents of a low-rise housing project across the street who're there to snag a 22-ounce bottle of Heineken
"We serve everyone" in the community, he
Asked to name the core reason for his
success over the past 21 years, Ferrar
declares: "The personality of the store made the difference."
The Early Years
Though Bay Ridge
is a community institution by now, at 21 years it's a relatively young player on the retail scene, launched by an entrepreneur who had never been in the business and, at the time he
got going, barely drank the stuff.
Ferrar, who grew up in Prince George's County, MD, was working at Sysco in food-service distribution in Houston when he had a heart attack at age 48.
That prompted a rethinking of his
After the corporate rat race, a move into retail, where he could be his own boss, seemed like it might be restorative.
"I needed a break from the corporate structure," he
has only praise for Sysco
as a company, "I was just not cut out to be in that kind of corporate structure," he
now 69 years old.
returned home to Maryland, where an aunt who'd been in the liquor retail business helped finance his
Certainly, the project didn't stem out of any deep personal enthusiasm for the fruits of the vine: "I was almost a non-drinker at the time," Ferrar
aunt as his
"silent partner, my golden angel," he
bought a foundering 4,000-square-foot operation housed in the shell of a former 14,000-square-foot former supermarket.
share of the down payment by selling his
"My wife and I put everything we had into this," Ferrar
did garner one edge from a stint earlier in his
career at supermarket equipment supplier Hobart
, which gave him a knack for store design and merchandising innovation.
The early years were arduous.
In the first five years, he
didn't take a single day off.
Marberger's key role in the store's operations allows Ferrar
the flexibility to come and go as he
On the Saturday afternoon that Beverage Dynamics
visited, though, both were present and taking a hands-on role in all the store's activities.
Though the pair have their share of disagreements over the direction of the business, Ferrar
views the youthful ardor of his
42-year-old son-in-law as vital to the store's future success.
"Complacency is death - but my son-in-law is young, hungry and ambitious," he
In initially finding its footing, the store couldn't take one route of aggressive newcomers, offering greater value than its established rivals, because of laws prohibiting quantity buying.
There were nine other package stores within a mile-and-a-half radius, and they all paid the same price for their inventory.
"I was never a discount operation," Ferrar
"We're a (former) supermarket, but even with our high ceilings and space, we've not ever given the impression of being a big-box store.
decided to accentuate customer service.
As the store design evolved, it moved - presciently, as events proved - in the direction of making itself increasingly inviting to female shoppers, buttressing its appeal among a demographic that Ferrar believes now accounts for 60% of his customer base, one that's the dominant purchaser in every store section except Scotch whisky.
That means wide aisles, the absence of clutter, bright lighting and "no thanks" to the girly posters constantly proffered by beer and liquor marketers.
A pair of women work the wine floor, but otherwise the sales staff is male.
The store is situated in a well-lit shopping center and Ferrar makes it a point to hire off-duty police officers to park their marked cars prominently at the front entrance.
That they've never had to be called into action only confirms to Ferrar
that they represent a sound investment in deterring problems and assuring tranquility at his
The store has an interesting orientation in that it seeks to carve out a reputation as a specialty retailer targeting even the most discriminating buyers on the spirits side, but does not make a comparable effort to pursue such customers on the wine side.
Though it has an extensive wine stock, it doesn't cater to the fine wine aficionado seeking out first-growth Bordeaux.
That's an outgrowth of the store's beginnings, when established retailer Mills Fine Wine
located at the Annapolis dock specialized in offering fine wines to boaters loading up their yachts for winter in the Caribbean.
Later, the general manager of that store opened a rival operation, Wine Cellars of Annapolis, and Ferrar
content to let the pair scrap for that 3% of the market.
"My philosophy is I'd rather fight for the other 97% of the market," he
There is no fine wine room; Ferrar
and Marberger prefer to keep their customers in a single, central location.
"Wine's still a mystery to most shoppers," Ferrar
Specializing in Spirits
The store boasts an extensive bourbon selection and about 125 single-malt Scotches - a style that is a personal enthusiasm of Ferrar's
since the day, 19 years ago, that he
broke a bottle of The Macallan and found himself intrigued by the overtones of sherry in the smell.
If it weren't for that happy accident, "I never would have tasted the Scotch," he
The store does have one quirk in its spirits selection: "Annapolis is a huge rum town," thanks to all the nautical activity there, Ferrar
"A drinking town with a sailing problem," he
Though customer service is paramount in the store, Ferrar
insisted there are no particular secrets on the hiring side.
"When we interview, we look for people that we like," who have some relevant experience, he
been patient on some key hires: his
current general manager he
first encountered years ago as a waiter who moved on to a rival wine shop before eventually becoming available to Bay Ridge
"We deal with personalities - and honesty - and we can train them," Ferrar
feels the industry does a good job making information available on brands and styles, and employees go to tastings and visit wineries, though Bay Ridge
doesn't go in for formal classroom training for its staff.
If, as Woody Allen once put it, 90% of life is just showing up, that alone would assure Ferrar
of a fair amount of influence.
But that's been compounded by his
natural political instincts as well as the goodwill he's
accumulated among other liquor store operators for the time he's
put in on their behalf.
He's been president of the Anne Arundel County Licensed Beverage Association five times, president of the Maryland State Licensed Beverage Association, and the Wholesalers Retailers Association of Maryland, and just was inducted to a two-year term as president of the 20,000-member American Beverage Licensees, a major national organization based in nearby Bethesda.
, the work he's
done to broaden opportunities for wine and