By Jim Boyce | Wine shop chain CHEERS just marked its sixth birthday so I asked CEO Claudia Masueger a question for each year of business.
In 2010, your warehouse burned down, all your wine was lost and, while waiting for new stock to arrive, you decided to shift from B2B to retail. My question: how did that fire start? Was it a gluehwein experiment gone wrong?
Of course not! That’s a mean question. The fire was due to an electrical problem.
The interesting part is ten different wine importers had their stock in that warehouse and we were the only ones with insurance. Being Swiss, I took out that insurance, even though my team members had major doubts. They said I was the typical foreigner throwing away money and that insurance never comes through. I had to find an agent on my own to even get insurance. After that, my Chinese partners trusted me more.
What’s been the hardest part of running CHEERS?
Finding decent locations, especially in Beijing, as so many small shop areas are being bricked up. Basically the plan seems to be to push businesses into shopping malls. But shopping malls are suffering because many clothing and accessories stores are losing business to online retail. And while there are big locations in the malls, the spaces we want are 40 to 60 square meters and hard to find because lots of other people want them, too.
How has the CHEERS portfolio changed over the past six years?
We started with lots of entry-level value-driven wines and then added more and more mid-priced wines as our customers became regulars and became more sophisticated. We definitely see a growing desire for mid-range and higher-quality wines.
We also have to do a lot of pre-selection because our portfolio is limited to 150 products, that’s the most our stores can handle. When we update our listings, we usually change about 40 percent of the portfolio.
How about wine styles?
In the early days, people only talked about red wine. In our stores, we had no such assumption. We see no right wine or wrong wine because we are dealing with real customers and what they truly like.
If you give people Bordeaux as a first wine, they often don’t like it or they want to add Coke. Customers need to start slow, with easy drinking, perhaps New World wines. With something maybe a little bit sweet.
Our Jumper series wines are incredible. [These feature grapes associated with a particular place, like Californian Zinfandel or Argentine Malbec.] They have won a lot of medals and are all priced around rmb100. For me, the Malbec is best, while [wine educator] Angqian likes the Pinot Noir. We also find Moscato is popular because it is an easy way to start.
What are six of the best events held by CHEERS?
The 2015 and 2016 anniversary parties at our Gulou stores. Many people came—more than a thousand—and it was great to see the community have such a good time.
The wedding party for our commercial director David Schaumann. I pretended to be the justice of the peace and pronounced them Mr and Mrs Cheers. We had clip-on bowties for the men, lots of flowers and food, and everyone had fun.
The endless parties at our Sanlitun South shop, especially during the first three years, whether for Beaujolais Nouveau or an alpenhorn and gluehwein event at Christmas.
The opening of CHEERS in Zhuhai was amazing. We spent all afternoon handing out fliers. By the end of the day, the place was full and almost everyone became a regular customer. People told me it was the first time they had found good-value wine without going to Hong Kong.
And our very first shop, in Xizimen. We opened at 10:59 on April ninth of 2011—we were told that was a very auspicious time and date—with about 30 people.
Oh, and we once had a marathon that involved many CHEERS stores. We started with 100 people but only 25 arrived at the final store. Most people started to drink along the way and never got to the finish.
What are your six favorite wines at the moment?