FAIRFIELD, Ohio -- Jungle Jim's International Market here is reporting positive sales results from its newly expanded wine department, thanks in large part to the addition of a "gigantic house of wine."
Sales have increased about 20% since the department was bumped up in size from about 20,000 to 30,000 square feet. It was also enhanced with a three-story, 35-foot-high wine cellar -- the focal point of the section. The temperature-controlled facility is capable of holding about 3,000 cases of fine wine, Champagne, port and sherry. About 2,000 cases are currently carried, according to David Schmerr, the retailer's wine and beer director.
The collection is valued at about $2 million, and includes price points ranging from $25 for a specialty wine like Norma Jeane merlot, produced in honor of Marilyn Monroe, to a $1,500 bottle of Chateau Petrus.
The cellar has made it easier for Jungle Jim's to store its wine collection. Before the cellar officially opened last May, fine wines were placed on pallets in a temperature-controlled back room. This setup made it hard to find and reach certain requested vintages.
"Our collection wasn't very accessible before," Schmerr said.
Now, fine wines are merchandised on special racks, and easily accessed by a forklift. This has decreased the time it takes to locate certain wines from hours to just minutes.
"We can access the wine with a guide-by-wire forklift, allowing storage in every inch of this gigantic house of wine," Jungle Jim's wrote on its Web site.
The cellar isn't officially open to the public, although some of the retailer's best wine customers are periodically invited in for tastings. During such events, samplings are conducted on wooden barrels that have been transformed into tables.
Customers who are invited into the cellar are treated to a room that's full of character. The facade is made from brick that dates back to the early 1800s, and was once used in an old stove factory in neighboring Hamilton, according to the Jungle Jim's Web site. Likewise, the cellar's front doors were rescued from a defunct produce company located in downtown Cincinnati.
"The doors make it look like you're walking back into the '30s or '40s," Schmerr said.
Adding to the atmosphere is the fact that the inside of the cellar can be viewed from glass windows in a second-floor meeting room overlooking the facility.
The rest of the wine department has personality as well. The walls, for instance, are decorated with pictures and paintings of vineyards from around the world.
"Customers get a feeling that they're in a very special place," Schmerr said.
Outside on the regular sales floor, the physical arrangement of the wine department has been modified. Lighting has been improved, aisles are wider and wines are better organized, he added. Also, certain fine wines are now located in the back of the department, rather than the front, to encourage browsing.
The adjacent beer section has had a facelift as well. Among other enhancements, it now features a walk-in refrigerator that can hold more than 1,000 cases of beer.
"The walk-in case enables customers to come in, stock up on a few cases of beer and then go directly to our express checkout lane," Schmerr said. "It's very convenient."