Susan Kaufman and I have quite a bit in common. We both grew up in small Central Illinois towns. We both pursued journalism before finding our true passion in retail. And, well, we both love wine.
Small town retailers are making a big impact on their community, and Kaufman’s shop is no exception. She’s been able to create a comfortable, homey place where her community can escape, and the incredible wine selection for a town of just a few thousand gives her customers the chance to discover something new with every visit.
Although Market Alley Wines has only been open for a year, Kaufman, the third place winner of NRF’s This is Retail Contest, dished out the details of her journey in an interview with NRF’s STORES Media. She also shared a few thoughts with us about how her retail journey began, where she finds inspiration, and the hiring challenges of a specialty wine shop.
You’ve got a unique story on how your business got off the ground. What’s the short version?
Wine has always been a passion of mine and it grew in importance when I was fortunate enough to spend a summer in France. But I never thought there was a career, much less a job in it. But as I started thinking about starting my own business, my thoughts kept returning to wine. Then I was able to see the retail sales numbers for our community, and it was like a light bulb going off — there were enough wine buyers in our community to support a business, and no one had ever done it before in Monmouth. It was like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle falling into place.
From where do you draw inspiration?
There are so many great, local retailers that I drew inspiration on when opening my shop. But I think I was most inspired by Tanna Dang, the first place “This is Retail” winner from Eden in Love, who has helped chart the course of where we are headed. Tanna commits herself and her store to giving back to her community.
I am following in her path and am putting together a similar program. Each month, our shop will partner with a local service agency, cross-promote and then donate a percentage of sales to that organization. Although my initial percentages will be small, my hope is that other businesses with latch on to this idea and together, we can all make a huge difference in our community.
What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
“Don’t drink the profits!” It would be easy to do for someone who loves wine and owns a great wine store.
What is your biggest hiring challenge?
I have three part-time employees (up from only me)! Business has picked up considerably where I need at least two people and more on busy nights and holidays. I have a wonderful woman who works part-time for me … She has the strongest work ethic and is dedicated to customer service. She really makes me proud.
The challenging part, though, is finding someone who actually knows my product, wine. I have yet to find anyone who can bring hard work and knowledge to the job.
Read more about Susan Kaufman and how she transformed her business into the local watering hole for her community in the full STORES interview.