Sunday, February 15, 2009

Sign O' The Times?

Valentine's Day is typically a virtual non-event for us, with sales being about the same as any other day in February. We've always figured that while there was likely a lot of wine consumed on Valentine's Day, most of that consuming was occurring in restaurants. Either that, or we're idiots who don't know how to market Valentine's Day, which is also a distinct possibility.

Then along came this year. We were inundated with customers, and easily had our busiest weekend of the year. Why? Sure, we had beautiful women pouring wine and sampling aphrodisiac truffles for customers. And since I'm married to one of those women, I'd be wise to pass along some credit. (Love ya, baby!)

But I think that this lovely recession that's been looting our lifestyles may have something to do with it. A restaurateur friend recently told us that business was down about 25-30% from last year. Ouch. I'm working on the theory that couples bought wine at retail this year because cooking dinner at home with your Valentine is a less expensive option than going out.

The teensy, shrinking hopeful part of me is hoping that maybe, unlike that cranky, ground-dwelling Punxsutawney Phil, the fine citizens of our town, having survived the cold, hard winter, are starting to sniff around outside their burrows. I'm hopeful that, unlike Phil, they will feel the warming sun on their faces and decide that spending is just around the corner.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Reflections on 2008

We don't get a lot of chances to blog during the holiday season, mostly because we're busy as Shiite. On the peak days leading up to Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Eve, we're seeing hundreds of customers daily. Even on days when the stores aren't teeming with customers, we're placing orders for the 1,500 items that we carry, receiving and getting them out onto the shelves. It's a crazy six weeks or so.

One of the things that's interesting about the holidays is that, in addition to our beloved regulars, who we see throughout the year, we see a lot of new customers - many of whom are in our stores for the first time. Since these Dog newbies aren't up to speed on what we do, nearly all of them have questions.

The most frequent question we get is [picture a customer holding up a bottle of wine] "Is this any good?" We must admit to always being surprised at this question, as it seems readily apparent to us that we wouldn't be selling something that we don't think is any good. But upon reflection, we realize that there isn't anyone actually tasting the products at the grocery stores, or even (sadly) at most liquor stores.

And this brings us back to what I like to think of as the two distinct Philosophies of Business, the predominant one being what I call the Spider Web Philosophy.

Spider Webbers see consumers simply as a huge collective beast that needs products and services. Webbers focus their business efforts on placing sales outlets in the best locations possible, just as spiders build their webs in places where they believe there will be lots of insect air traffic. The underlying premise is "I sell widgets. I'll put my widget store where lots o' people pass by, and they'll buy my widgets."

It's a fine philosophy, and it works well for a lot of merchants. Think of just about every chain store on the planet, and you see this theory at work.

But we are adherents to the minority philosphy, which I'll call the Build a Better Mousetrap School. We believe that the most desirable customers are those who will overlook mere convenience in a quest for something better. These folks want variety, information, a pleasant environment, and real service. They want to be challenged, and they want to grow. These are the customers we're targeting.

Do we have customers who reliably come in every week and buy the same thing? Sure, in many cases because we're simply the most convenient store for them. But we like to think that the reason that we've been successful is that we concentrate on doing things in order to make them better for you, rather than easier for us.

This is why we organize our wines according to flavor profiles rather than just by country of origin. It's why we offer so many specialty beers and spirits. It's why we take the time to write a card describing each of our hundreds of wines. Heck, we even organize our beer by flavor profile.

2008 was a challenging year in our business, but it was our best year ever. We know that more challenges await us in 2009, and we're ready for them. Thanks so much for your business.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

December 5th should be a National Holiday

Why should December 5th be remembered you ask! Yes, it is Joe’s birthday but it’s more important then that. I say it is more important then your anniversary, your husband or wife’s birthday, your mother’s birthday, maybe even more important then your own birthday…it is repeal day!

Repeal Day, repeal of what? On December 5th, 1933, Utah, the final state needed for a ¾ majority, ratified the 21st Amendment, repealing Prohibition. This act restored the rights of “Joe Six-Pack” to purchase and enjoy a drink!

Prohibition was put into effect by the ratification of the 18th Amendment on January 16, 1919. It prohibited the manufacturing, sale, transportation, or exportation of “intoxicating liquors” in the United States and all of its territories.

Congress proposed the 21st Amendment on February 20, 1933. The Amendment was ratified by the required ¾ states majority on December 5, 1933.

It would be nice if, some time in my life, this date was celebrated in this country but for now I am content in informing the customers of the Hair O’ the Dog of its importance. The nice thing about this holiday is it only entails stopping by your local bar or HAIR O’ THE DOG, picking up your favorite “intoxicating liquors” and having a drink, just because you can! By the way, while you’re there wish Joe a happy birthday!

Brian (the beer guy)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Getting the Fun Back...

Call this a mea culpa, if you must. We've come to the painful realization that while we were out there trying to grow the empire, the Dog had become a less fun place to be. Some customers complained that our in-store service was sporadically snooty, snobbish and off-putting. This is totally unacceptable to us.

We started this business with the intention that it would always be a fun, clean, inviting place where folks would be comfortable hanging around, whether they were wine savants, beer enthusiasts, or someone who is just starting to discover the breadth and beauty of adult beverages.

So we've made some changes. Joe and I are back from the Crusades of Commerce, and we're directly managing in the stores again. Leeanne, who has graciously bounced from store to store for us, has become an accomplished wine buyer, and is developing a growing cult following.. The staff - Brian, Wendy, Shawn, Martha and Matt - are top notch. Ignore the fact that I'm writing this at 5:30 in the morning when I say that we don't lose a minute of sleep when they are taking care of you in the stores.

Today we are announcing a new partnership with Laurie Forster, better known as The Wine Coach. Sorry, Laurie, I can't make that cool (R) registered trademark symbol on the blog. Laurie is joining the Dog team with a title to-be-determined. We've bandied Lifestyle and Event Specialist, but I'm not sure that fits on a business card. In any case, Laurie is going to be helping us to make this place more funnerer, more customer-friendly, and better.

We've worked with Laurie occasionally for the past few years, and we've always appreciated her goal of de-mystifying wine. Many, many people are still intimidated by the supposed vast amount of knowledge necessary to understand wine, and Laurie's done a great job of lobbing a huge lawn dart of reason into the big balloon of bombast about wine. (It may be early, but my metaphor gland is apparently functioning.) We welcome her assistance.

We're also bringing back more store events, from Darting for Discounts this Friday night to more in-store tastings. We're working to expand The Poop and the web site. Soon we will also be cross-marketing events with Coffee East as well. More on that later.

Thanks for your business.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Status Report: The Big Sale

We're nearing the end of Day One of The Big Sale. It's been great to see everyone come out and get some tremendous deals on wine and spirits, all of which we're selling for 99 cents over our wholesale cost today and tomorrow. We estimate that customers have already saved nearly $10,000 with today's deep discounts.

A lot of people are interested in the question of why we do it. Every time we have the sale, some folks think that we're circling the drain. Umm, no. We have the sale (a) because it's fun; (b) to reward our fantastic customers for their support throughout the year; and (c) to blow out seasonal wine inventory so that we can replace it with new stock.

We only announce The Big Sale by email, which is reason enough to subscribe to The Poop, our extremely awe-inspiring monthly newsletter. In addition to stunning beverage revelations, hilarious high-brow humor, poorly-altered photos, and the occasional totally fictitious feature, you'll get coupons, advance warning of special events, and a healthy dose of savoir-faire.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Drinking Age to Back to 18?

An item in this morning's news: A group of college presidents are advocating a national debate on the merits of lowering the drinking age to 18. You might think that we'd be all in favor of this, as it would add hundreds of new potential Top Dogs to the marketplace. You might also think that we'd recoil in horror at the idea, so as not to offend the Puritans. The smarter money says that we should just shut up and see how it pans out.

However, this is a complex issue that deserves some debate. Proponents of lowering the drinking age are correct when they argue that since the law starts assigning adult responsibilities to us at 18, it should also convey adult rights. That's a good point. If 20-year old corporals climbing out of foxholes in Afghanistan don't deserve a beer, who does?

Proponents also argue that in most of the rest of the world - where the drinking age is 18 or even lower - youth alcohol abuse is not as big a problem as it is here. Another good point. By demonizing alcohol, it's possible that our society makes it more desireable to those to whom it is forbidden, sort of like getting some chemical strange.

On the other hand, we've got kids. We know how reckless they can be at 18, and that they're less so at 21. As a society, we're probably doing them a favor by asking them to wait until they're 21 to drink alcohol. While fake IDs and older friends certainly lead to a significant amount of underage drinking on college campuses, lowering the drinking age to 18 means that this action shifts from colleges to high schools, and that's just not a good thing.

So what's our position? As with any political issue, we'd be idiots to take one. We're a business, and the customers of many political stripes who buy from us are the ones enabling us to send our own kids to college. However, we'd like to see some consistency in how our society defines adulthood. Does it occur at 18, or at 21?

If it's 18, then let those young adults buy alcohol. If it's 21, then let's not let them sign up to climb into foxholes in Afghanistan until they're old enough both to appreciate the risk they're taking, and to have a beer when they climb out.

And while we're having the debate, can someone please explain to me why we allow 18-year olds to buy tobacco?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Well, here it is....

my first Blog O' The Dog.
I'm a beer guy, as most of the readers of this blog probably already know.

I brew my own beer, I try EVERY new beer I can find (Some I love, most I like, and only 1 I hated), I read as many books and magazines as I can find about beer, I visit a brewery just about every time I travel....and I still can not understand how some people NEVER try new things!

To me, it would be like saying I love peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches on white bread and never trying anything else for lunch, ever! Sure, some people might try 1 or 2 other beers but that's only like having that PB&J on toast or with strawberry jam.

The point I'm trying to get across here is there are 34 different brewpubs and microbreweries in Maryland alone (check out the list here; That link will give you the address, email, website, reviews, and even a map to all 34.
Check out them out. You never know - you might like a grilled Reuben for lunch every now and then!

aka-the beer guy