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Where Everybody Knows Their Name

Community grapevine drives success of in-store wine bar at K. Hollis Jewelers.

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Where Everybody Knows Their Name

WHEN KAREN AND ROB HOLLIS hosted a party at their business — K. Hollis Jewelers in Batavia, IL — last October to celebrate opening an in-store winebar, the response exceeded expectations. From his spot manning the bar, Rob couldn’t pour wine fast enough. On the floor, Karen felt like she was in a crowded bar — there were so many bodies — about 200, they estimate — she had to walk sideways. Looking back, she joked she’s surprised the fire department didn’t arrive to clear the store. What started as what Rob dubs “the grand experiment” became an overnight success.

THE IDEA

Offer a Gathering Space

The couple expanded their suburban Chicago store several years ago from 1,800 to 4,100 square feet. The Hollises, who are active in the nonprofit community, knew first-hand how hard it was to find free places to hold events in their relatively small town (pop. 25,000). Meanwhile, a retail store with a wine bar in a neighboring town had closed, leaving a gap for groups in need of a gathering space, or those who simply got used to stopping for a glass before dinner. The couple decided they wanted to fill the void, and with the expansion of their store, they had the space to make it happen.

THE EXECUTION

Tweaking the Liquor Laws

The couple was surprised to find a liquor license didn’t exist to fit their needs — after all, a jewelry story is neither a bar nor a restaurant. The city ultimately created a special category of liquor license that let the jewelers sell wine on-premise for consumption. Then, the couple — and staff — had to complete the state’s online beverage and sales training. After that effort, which was more complex and costly than expected, Rob and Karen decided if they were going to offer wine, they wanted to do it right, dedicating 500 square feet to a custom-made bar with high-top tables. They employed local workers and commissioned an artist to create the light fixture above. Karen handpicked a selection of wine that no one else in the area had.

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THE REWARDS

Booming New Business

The bar is open during store hours for regular shoppers, a Friday happy hour, and by reservation for groups. The couple set a goal of booking three events per month. There were four in November, and before Halloween, they were fielding calls for January. By the end of the year, they’d hosted book clubs, family parties, non-profit groups, and social gatherings. They also partnered with a new yoga studio for a Yoga and Wine Night and with the Geneva Film Festival committee for a night of film previews, wine and appetizers for its big night. “Each event brings in new people who are unfamiliar with our store and a wide range of different buying types,” Karen says. “We make it a point to meet everyone who attends an event, spend some time with them socially, and tell them `our story’ whenever the opportunity presents itself. We’ve noticed that introducing new customers to our store through social events enhanced with some delicious wine is a great way for them to get to know us … and a lot of fun for everyone.” Karen says sales are always good during events, and many people return for gifts, repairs and custom work. Tip jar money is sent to a different local charity quarterly — the grand opening alone raised $250. The bar is also attracting regular customers. It’s not uncommon for one member of a couple to relax at the bar while the other shops for jewelry. “Having the bar and a gathering place enhances the experience,” Rob said. “You can buy Pandora jewelry anywhere. It’s the experience that makes the store successful.”

Do It Yourself: Prepare for the Process

  • In addition to licensing, owners must also have insurance, training and — if serving food — follow health department guidelines.
  • Be prepared for unexpected expenses.
  • Be prepared for unexpected expenses. Wait for approval from local and state officials before purchasing and building bar features.
  • Ask yourself if a bar fits the experience your store is trying to create. Is the staff on board? Does a bar fit the store’s personality? Do you have enough space?
  • Reach out to the community with a marketing campaign.

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