Confessions of a retailer: Hi-Lo Liquor Market

16th March, 2020 by Owen Bellwood

Talmadge Lowe, co‐owner and founder of Hi‐Lo Liquor Market, discusses reinventing local liquor sales at his stores in Culver City and Long Beach, California.

Talmadge Lowe (left) and Chris Harris (right) founded California’s Hi-Lo Liquor Market

Where did your interest in spirits come from?

In the late 1990s, I worked in a couple of great restaurants in New York and began to learn about the vast spectrum of spirits and wines, and cocktails actually. I learned a great deal about quality ingredients, balance and classic cocktails from the old‐school owner of one of those restaurants.

How would you describe Hi-Lo Liquor Market?

Chris [Harris, co‐founder] and I sometimes call it our modern‐but‐classic take on the beloved neighbourhood corner store. Our liquor market is light, bright and welcoming, not dark and dingy. The old liquor store model has been completely re‐concepted from floor to ceiling and wall to wall. Hi‐Lo has a team of great people and one of the best collections you’ll ever find, some of which you might not find anywhere else.

What makes your stores stand out?

We strive for a great customer experience. We are a neighbourhood store and we want our customers to come hang out with us and feel welcome. In both of our locations, we have a wine and beer bar where we host events and regular tastings. Our stores are places to hang with the neighbours.

How would you describe your range?

Generous, thoughtful and local. We have something for every price and flavour point. Our team is focused on introducing new producers, especially local ones. How do you select your stock?

We all have a deep interest in the craft culture and products, and we share our findings and interests with our customers. We keep our fingers on the pulse of what’s happening, and look for the most delicious of the new, the unusual and the local. We develop relationships across the board and that makes a difference in finding gems.

What is your favourite spirit currently in stock?

Right now I’m really loving Lost Republic Singe Barrel Rye. It’s got huge flavour and is fantastic in an Old Fashioned.

What sort of events do you host?

We have a free spirits tasting every Wednesday night, Thursdays are our wine tastings, and Friday nights we have beer tastings. We also have special events and a lot of birthdays and office parties at our onsite bar, The Counter. We’re launching our own wine course and lessons soon.

How do you keep ahead of changing trends in the drinks industry?

We are just open‐minded, early adopters of new products. We listen to our customers; we do our best to find a fit for every style and every price point without too much duplication.

Do you have any standout memories of your time at the store?

At our grand opening for the first store, the neighbourhood turned out and it was like a family reunion. The mayor and several city council members that have supported us really solidly came by. There was such enthusiasm and excitement, and a gratitude for what we were doing. It really energised us to keep doing what we do.

What challenges do you face in the shop?

On a day‐to‐day level, the biggest challenge is keeping staff educated and in the know. We want all our staff, including part‐time folks, to have deep knowledge and appreciation for our products, as well as a true expertise in hospitality. We’re always working on developing assets to do this better.

Where do you see the business going in five years’ time?

For us it’s growth, growth, growth. We have expanded to two locations in three years but are teeing up for more. We also see the future of taking the customer’s retail experience online in a fun and interactive way.

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