- May 1, 2017
From cars to real estate, Joe Elia has sold all kinds of things to make a living. But his passion is beer. To get his foot in the door of an industry he was determined to be a part of, Elia accepted a job as a clerk at KOP Beer Outlet. Just one year later, he was promoted to General Manager. Since then, he has managed to successfully marry his sales knowhow with his love of beer, turning this store into a beer haven that welcomes customers from near and far.
Heady Times (HT): How has the beer selection at KOP Beer Outlet changed since you’ve been GM?
Joe Elia (JE): When I first started, we only carried about 20 different crafts. Today we offer over 500 craft and specialty beers. That said, we are selective about what we bring in. First and foremost, we choose beers based on customer demand, then we look to those that are highly rated on sites like Beer Advocate. The remainder are chosen based on what my staff and I like – we are all pretty well versed in craft beer, with a good idea about what will sell well.
HT: What is the biggest obstacle you face when offering such a large selection of beer?
JE: Keeping our inventory fresh and interesting, while not going overboard. It’s all about the right beer, right quantity. I think it’s better for a customer to come in looking for something we don’t have, than to carry everything under the sun. We can always order the beer or suggest something similar, but we can’t stop a beer from going out of code.
HT: Is your staff as passionate and as knowledgeable about beer as you are?
JE: Yes! All the guys who work here have full time jobs outside of the store. They are here because it’s where they want to be. We often have staff tastings and discuss the beers together. We even use Cicerone flash cards to quiz each other – we’re a bunch of beer nerds. I also encourage the guys to try styles they don’t particularly care for. I think it’s imperative that they’re able to share with a customer the difference between this sour beer and that one, for example.
HT: How has your customer base changed over the years?
JE: Well, a lot more women shop for beer these days. But the biggest change I’ve noticed is that more people want to try different styles. Even diehard domestic drinkers are curious about what’s new. We encourage people to ‘drink fearlessly’, so this is a welcome change.
HT: How do you introduce customers to something they haven’t tried before?
JE: Thursdays are dedicated to beer tastings. We recently held a brown ale sampling that really opened people’s eyes. They were surprised that the same style could taste so different, depending on the brewing methods used. We also hold ‘mega tastings’ twice a year – like mini beer festivals. We sample beers from lots of different breweries and food from local restaurants. Another fun way we introduce our customers to new beers is through case swaps that we host every six weeks. After hours, 20-25 customers each purchase a case of beer and then swap bottles. At the end of the night, everyone goes home with a mixed case of great beer. During the swap I often sample a rare or expensive beer as a way of rewarding these loyal customers.
HT: How do you stay connected with your customers?
JE: Social media is a great way to stay connected. We strike up friendships with our customers in person, which we continue online. We post about new products, samplings, giveaways, beer reviews, events… the list goes on. It’s an effective way to quickly communicate. We also email a weekly newsletter to customers who have signed up in-store to receive it. Recipients are the first to hear about rare releases available in the store, inventory updates, sampling schedules and upcoming events. I look at social media and the newsletter as an extension of customer service.
HT: Speaking of which, how important is customer service to the success of this business?
JE: It’s of the utmost importance – nothing matters more to me. I’d be more apt to forgive an employee for stealing than for not treating a customer well. To me, great service is what sets one place apart from another. I believe our reputation for superior product selection is what brings people in the door and our customer service is what keeps them coming back.
HT: Tell us about your unique return policy.
JE: If a customer wants to return a case, I ask that first they try at least four beers from it. The reason being, beer can taste different depending on several factors, like what you eat with it or right before it, the temperature of the beer and whether it’s been poured into a glass or drunk directly from the bottle or can. These things can alter the taste a bit. So, I encourage people to take these factors into consideration before returning it.