Spec’s Wine, Spirits and Finer FoodsDate: 06/01/10 | Source: Specialty Food Magazine | Author: Nicole Potenza Denis
Categories: Industry Operations; Retailers
This Houston retailer lives the adage “everything’s bigger in Texas” with the world’s largest liquor store that offers a first-rate specialty grocery and cheese selection.
By Nicole Potenza Denis
When Carroll B. ‘Spec’ Jackson started the first Spec’s in 1962 in downtown Houston, 96 percent of the inventory was liquor. Today, though the original store is gone, Spec’s has more than 72 locations in southeast Texas including Austin, San Antonio and Corpus Christi. The flagship is a Houston icon that includes 21,000 specialty food SKUs accounting for 11 percent of sales.
Spec Jackson used to glide through the aisles on roller skates, helping customers with a smile. His philosophy was to treat every customer the same, whether they were buying a half pint or a truckload of liquor. Today, although there’s no more skating, Spec’s retail values live on through his daughter and son-in-law—Lindy and John Rydman—who came to work in the business in 1972 and never left. What they thought was a pit stop in their careers (they were both music majors who intended to pursue their passions) turned out to be a permanent stint that created retail history in Houston. The Rydmans became known for being the first to implement a deli in their liquor store. They continued to expand, adding specialty foods in the early 1980s, and growing the chain.
The couple took over the business in 1996 after the death of Lindy’s parents. Eight years ago, to celebrate its 40th anniversary as a family-owned operation, the Rydmans expanded their so-called “mothership” store on Houston’s Smith Street. Today, the 80,000-square-foot food and beverage warehouse store spans more than three city blocks and is reportedly the largest single wine and liquor store in the world. It is staffed by 200 employees.
Points of Distinction…
The Houston store boasts a 15,000- square-foot wine and liquor section that houses more than 10,000 kinds of wines, plus spirits and liqueurs—and a 95-foot, 35-door beer cooler. But what distinguishes Spec’s from so many other liquor warehouses—besides its mammoth size—is its specialty foods. It has an 8,000-square-foot full-service deli; specialty grocery items such as crackers, condiments, fresh caviar, smoked fish, jams, jellies, pasta, pasta sauces, oils, vinegars and whole-bean coffees roasted on premise; and a world-class cheese selection that offers more than 1,000 domestic and international varieties. The store also has a walk-in cigar humidor offering more than 900 cigars.
On a community front, Spec’s participates in a program that upcycles used corks and synthetic wine closures into eco-friendly products such as playground material and corkboards. The Spec’s Charitable Foundation, established in 1996, supports educational programs and funds scholarships.
Freshly made sandwiches are popular such as the Big John, featuring a half pound of Angus roast beef. Athenos hummus and Carrs and Medford crackers lead in top packaged items. In beer and spirits, Shiner Beer and Ivanobitch Vodka are top sellers. To maintain the Spec’s tradition of low-cost, high-quality affordable merchandise, the owners try to buy direct to keep prices down and do not impose ‘crazy markups’ on products, says John Rydman. “We look for things to make us better in our selections, not just the 90th pickled green bean. New products have to be better all around, with taste and packaging—they have to stand out,” he adds.
How They Keep Innovating…
The Rydmans are building up their bakery in the Smith Street location with breads purchased directly from France. They will also begin importing mineral water from Bordeaux.—N.P.D.
Year Opened: 1962
Type of Business: Wine, spirits and specialty foods chain
Outstanding Features: Pioneer in warehouse store concept, 15,000-square-foot wine and liquor section, 95-foot beer cooler, extensive deli and cheese selection, Spec’s Charitable Foundation
Contact: John Rydman; 713.526. 8787, specsonline.com