Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority
Thanks to the Saskatchewan Liquor and Gaming Authority (SLGA), the citizens of Saskatchewan have access to the beverages that prohibition outlawed almost a century ago. As the crown corporation responsible for distributing, controlling and regulating alcohol in the province, SLGA has 79 liquor stores and 188 rural franchises. Now going one step further, the organization has brought to the market two specialty wine store franchises (in Saskatoon and Regina), giving wine lovers another shopping option.
According to Christine Tell, the Minister responsible for SLGA, the decision to open both stores was a strategic move to drive the industry and a response to customer satisfaction surveys that highlighted the desire for improved wine selection in the province.
“SLGA thought it would be a good idea to bring in two specific stores to address concerns we heard from customers related to selection,” Tell says. “We wanted to improve the selection issue by bringing in more products, and we also wanted to develop the wine market in the province by providing exposure to more mid-range and higher-end wine.”
The wine store franchises are independently owned and operated, and were awarded through an open Request for Proposal process. Evaluated based on factors such as industry knowledge, business experience, financial plan and site proposal, Meyers Norris Penny—a third-party consultant—selected the winning proposals: Regina’s Willow Park Wines & Spirits and Saskatoon’s Cava Secreta.
An education process
For a region that doesn’t have its own local wine production—with the exception of fruit wines—you can see why SLGA is hoping to expand the wine culture in Saskatchewan by introducing exciting new products and opportunities for consumers to learn more about wine.
“Within the specialty wine stores, and within our own SLGA stores, there is always something new to learn,” explains Tell. “For instance, in addition to retailing products, SLGA staff can help the consumer choose a bottle of wine that is best suited for a particular occasion. Your dinner party may call for a 20-dollar bottle versus a nine-dollar bottle, for example. “
Tell says the market is responding well so far. For those that requested a larger selection, the wine stores are meeting their needs—which includes buying specialty wines by the bottle, not the case—and for those that are new to the scene, they seem to appreciate the new offerings. As for building more wine franchises, SLGA wants to gauge the success of the first two. “We’re not looking to expand right now,” says Tell. “We might bring in more stores in the future, depending on how successful these ones are. We are in the process of reviewing what we have today.”
At this point, both franchises will likely see tremendous success, especially since SLGA isn’t alienating any part of the market. “We don’t really have a target demographic in terms of household income or age bracket,” says Tell, adding that as long as people are of legal age, they are welcome. “We are looking for people interested in good wines and learning more about the whole range of products.” SLGA can also rest in the fact that each franchise has its own set of knowledge and expertise in identifying key markets. In fact, SLGA is looking to these companies to take leadership in marketing.
The future prognosis? “We are very optimistic,” beams Tell. “We have a great economy in the province right now, a very vibrant market. With new businesses and workers coming into the province, our economy has shown continuous growth, and it translates very well in sales.”
“SLGA is very positive about our whole marketplace, not just from the specialty wine stores,” she continues. “We are growing all of our stores in product selection. We are increasing the countries from which we import, and are bringing in higher-end spirits. Five years ago, we didn’t sell too many bottles of ultra premium product. Now there is regular demand.”
For many Saskatchewan residents, the introduction of the specialty wine stores has been a step in the right direction. Tell says the two wine stores have also been a nice complement to Saskatchewan’s long-standing mix of public and private liquor retailers. Locals are certainly encouraged to debate the topic over a nice glass of wine. Cheers!