Showroom Bar: Would You Serve Alcohol?

You might serve alcohol at your holiday open house or other events, but would you sell or offer it to customers on a Tuesday morning? One showroom in Miami is doing just that.

Alison Martin
12/06/2017
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Zuo-Mod-bar-cart
Might as well put your showroom's bar carts (like this one from Zuo Mod) to good use, right?

What goes great with a velvet sofa? A glass of wine, obviously.

That seems to be City Furniture's strategy. This October, the company began serving craft beer and wine at its Tarmarac, FL location, and now its new near-downtown Miami location will also be doing the same. City Furniture's Vice President of Operations and Marketing, Andrew Koenig, told the Miami Herald this week that the showroom's new boozy offerings were part of the company's plan to bring customers into its stores.

Certainly an interesting idea. Would you serve alcohol in your lighting or home furnishings showroom? Before you decide, here's what to consider.

What's at stake

If there's one thing ecommerce will never be able to match, it's the feeling of walking through a showroom with a glass of wine in hand. Offering alcohol will definitely create an experience for your customers. With a drink in hand. they may slow down and plan to spend a little more time in your showroom, which could lead to better sales and repeat business.

It could turn your showroom into somewhat of a hot spot, especially if you're located near other bars and restaurants. As Kathleen Lawler, General Manager at HD Buttercup in Los Angeles told us on our Retail Road Trip, customers frequently come to hang out just to see what's new in the showroom because the space is so unique (HD Buttercup does not serve alcohol). It's hard to compete with a 130,000+ square-foot showroom that has the capital to switch out vignettes several times per week, but by offering alcohol, customers might get into the habit of stopping by your showroom, picking out their "dream purchases" and coming back when they're ready.

This would also give customers the chance to get to know you, your products and your brand on a more personal level. It could pave the way for a future purchase — or even multiple purchases. 

On the other hand, you will have added costs, and you may have to jump through a lot of hoops and legalities in order to serve alcohol in your store. Much of this will depend on your state and local laws regarding liquor sales and services.

Of course, there's the upfront cost of supplying the alcohol itself. Even if you only stock beer and wine, you will have to buy and store it in your showroom, and while you don't need to buy the most expensive brand, you probably don't want to stock your fridge with Pabst Blue Ribbon either. City Furniture owns 17 showrooms, one outlet store and 12 licensed Ashley HomeStore showrooms, so the company probably has a budget for alcohol, but for smaller businesses, the upfront cost could be difficult to deal with.

Licenses could also contribute to the cost. In Chicago, for example, showrooms would probably be able to apply for a Consumption on Premises-Incidental Activity license. This type of license is for businesses in which the sale of alcohol is secondary or incidental to the actual purpose of business, and it requires a $4,400 fee and a number of inspections and applications. Your laws may differ, so check with your local chamber of commerce or a business lawyer for more information.

You may also need additional insurance to protect your business from customer injury. Just like with wet floors or poorly shoveled or iced walkways, you may be liable for any injury that occurs on your property, and the last thing you want is for a customer who has been drinking to get hurt. Again, this will vary depending on your state and local laws.

Get into the spirits

So is it all worth it? That depends on a lot of factors, and there are ways to mitigate some of the risks described above while employing some of the benefits.

First off, you may worry that some people will take advantage of your free alcohol policy, but you may find that those who come in looking for a free drink might stay for the furniture or lighting. Koenig told the Herald he didn't mind if people only came in for the drink before going out for the night. 

"The minute you’re in the store, you’re thinking about furniture whether you realize it or not," he told the Herald.

If you're still concerned, you may limit your drinks to one per customer while in your store or you might only offer alcohol to those who set up an appointment with you. You can also charge customers a small fee for a drink. City Furniture currently charges customers for alcohol, but Koenig plans to offer it free of charge in the future.

These rules may discourage people from taking advantage of your alcohol policy, and it will help lessen the likelihood of customers getting drunk or injured.

Your staff will need to be diligent about not over-serving customers and spotting customers who may have already had a drink or two before coming to the store. There are alcohol serving classes that they can take, and you can always discuss your new alcohol policies in meetings with your staff.

 

City Furniture's new alcohol policy has the potential to turn the company's showrooms into must-visit destinations. It might be enough for customers who usually shop online to make a day of furniture and lighting shopping, bringing them into stores where they can get to know your knowledgable staff members and build relationships that will transfer to repeat business.

So would you serve alcohol in your showroom? Tells us why or why not in the comments!

 

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