Customer service key for new shop owner

VERGENNES — A new owner recently took over Main Street fixture Vergennes Wine & Beverage, but he hopes that other than new paint, flooring and faces, its customers will notice little change from the way the store has been operated for the past dozen years.
Monkton’s Paul Kerin, a 24-year veteran of the beverage distribution business, bought the Stone Block store from longtime owner Andy McCabe on March 1.
Kerin, 48, hopes to duplicate what he saw as the business’s greatest strength: exceptional customer service by McCabe and his employees. Kerin said it didn’t matter whether McCabe’s patrons were buying a six-pack or hundreds of dollars of expensive wines — they were always treated right, and he plans to continue that tradition.
“They did a fantastic job with their customers,” he said. “They made them feel like they were kings.”
Kerin is a Montpelier native who moved to Monkton with his wife, Andrea, 15 years ago. He has marketed wine, beer and soft drinks all over Northern Vermont and into Canada, New York and New Hampshire for three different distributors, and believes that background is allowing him to start quickly at Vergennes Wine & Beverage.
The knowledge he gained working with countless shops also helped him decide that this one was the right one to buy.
“It fits in with my experience and my knowledge,” Kerin said. “Having sold product for 24 years, I was very comfortable … I saw a lot of businesses over the years, both good and bad.”
Kerin said he also plans to carry on other elements of McCabe’s business plan: knowledge of wine and the trade-off of modest mark-ups for sales volume. Kerin said the store has typically drawn customers from as far away as Burlington and Chittenden County who have trusted McCabe’s palate and pricing.
“It was the pricing and Andy’s knowledge that really attracted the people,” Kerin said. “And I think my knowledge is reasonable enough with the pricing to continue doing that.”
At the same time, Kerin said “everyone’s palate is different,” and he plans to be sensitive to customers’ preferences as well as offer wines he believes are good values.
“I’ve studied and tasted thousands and thousands of wines from around the world,” he said. “I’m going to offer the biggest variety to the customers, (and) I’m going to let the customers tell me what they want.”
Kerin also plans to expand the store’s beer selection at competitive prices and to accept orders for kegs, a new element for the store. In the long run, he may also consider expanding the definition of beverage to include specialty coffees and teas.
“If people want to come in for a beverage, I want to handle the multitude of possibilities,” he said.
In the short run, the store will get fresh interior paint and new maple flooring. Workers will install the latter on Monday, March 22, meaning an early close the day before and no business that day.  
Kerin’s wife, plus former McCabe employee Bill Joos, will help operate the store.
Spending more time with Andrea and their family was part of Kerin’s motive for buying Vergennes Wine & Beverage, as were his desires to spend less time traveling and to own a business.
“I’ve been looking for the last 10 years,” Kerin said. “After maybe 24 years on the road, I realized I was tired. I was burned out.”
And McCabe admitted he was also ready for a change, but for different reasons. McCabe has had two left hip replacements that made it increasingly difficult for him to operate the store in his preferred manner.
He said he enjoyed helping people carry out their orders and then shooting the breeze — that was the best part of his day, and that was lost when he could no longer do so.
“I physically couldn’t do that job any more, not the way I wanted to do it,” McCabe said. “It’s the visiting that makes it fun.”
As well as finding it increasingly “hard to be polite” while being in “chronic pain,” McCabe also didn’t enjoy being a sit-down boss, another reason for him to consider a sale.
“I don’t like being the guy who tells people to do something I can’t do,” he said.
McCabe, now a Middlebury resident, said he is considering his long-term options, while in the meantime “driving my kids about, soccer, and continuing to renovate my house.”
He asked to close with a “Raiders of the Lost Ark” quote.
“I’m making this up as I go along,” McCabe said.
Reporter Andy Kirkaldy is at [email protected].

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