Building a “Bottoms Up” Business from the Bottom Up
Think it’d be easy to run a liquor store? What if it were one of the only two left in the county, would you think, GOLD Mine!? After all, it’s no secret that mountain folks like their liquid libations.
But the reality of running a successful liquor store, is that it’s the business of hard work. So raise a glass to Deann Skala owner of Leadville Discount Liquors: Cheers!Leadville Liquors owner Deann Skala.
It all started for Skala nearly 17 years ago when she bought the liquor store back in August, 1996. Quick trivia question: what was the name of the store before Leadville Liquors? ANSWER.
Skala wasted no time in getting to work on improvements.
“The first thing we did was pave the parking lot and put in a walkway in 1997,” recalled Skala during a recent interview with Leadville Today. “The (former) back door is now the front door.”
There were major upgrades to the interior as well. Today when you walk into Leadville Liquors, the inventory & selection, display cases and electronic sales system are a far cry from the really small old pack house with the plywood shelves.
Since then, it seems that Leadville Liquors has been constantly improving and expanding, making it the largest discount liquor store in the area.Big Selection, Competitive Prices.
“I’m pretty much the cheapest guy around,” stated Skala. “And I try to keep my prices that way. We’re all hard-working, blue collar people and we deserve to have a break.”
In many ways, Skala’s business model is one that has worked well in Lake County. It’s certainly a thriving venture and not just because of its product! Skala’s hard work, determined growth, opportunity-seizing methods, and dogged determination make up a good play book for anyone considering to start a business in Lake County.
Today the Leadville Liquors building is four times the store’s original size, most of that being storage and refrigeration space. Because, in the liquor business, in order to stay competitive, you need to have the storage space to stock up on the good deals distributors can offer, passing the savings along to the consumer, motivating them to buy local.Storage is king! Expansion = increased profits!
Ever the competitive business woman, Skala knows that there’s options. “I get down to Apple Jack (Liquors in Denver) prices,” she states, knowing that some locals still pick up their moonshine down in the big city. “I can’t always beat their sales, but I meet their regular prices.” Good news in anticipation of this weekend’s Super Bowl game!
Some would say it was the big renovation in 2002 that took Leadville Liquors to that next level. The subsequent expansion involved buying the property to the east of the liquor store. Quick trivia question: What was the name of the 3.2 bar that stood behind Leadville Liquors for years? ANSWER.
By 2002, that old familiar hangout had long been closed and the building had been turned into a rental house. When the property came on the market, Skala seized the opportunity and bought the lots and the old, barnlike structure.
Since her intention was expansion, Skala had no need for the structure and promptly sold it, with the new owners relocating the building “out on the flat-tops, across from Halfmoon Road.” (Just a little information for those who still might hold some sentimental attachments to the old joint).
Quick trivia question: was the liquor store always a drive thru? ANSWER
Of course there are always the unforeseen events that test a business owner’s mettle as well. In 2005, the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) underwent a major construction project to widen Highway 24. That’s when the sidewalks and middle turn lane were added to that stretch of locally known Poplar Street. Skala was faced with another upgrade project, but not one she necessarily planned or budgeted for. But when your business is located adjacent to a major highway project, you roll with it and mitigate any negative impacts.One bourbon, one scotch and lots of beer!
Unfortunately, by the time CDOT got done with their original plan, Leadville Liquors was left with a pile of “sand and cigarettes” next to the drive-up window. In addition, the reconfiguring of the highway at that juncture left people thinking that the drive thru window was a thoroughfare to wherever they were going.
Eventually Skala had to pull a building permit and spend thousands of dollars building a more welcoming entry way into her liquor store. Today the burm located east of the store provides a lovely burst of color in the summer, and pays tribute to Leadville’s mining heritage with an original ore cart perched in the center.Today Leadville Liquors stands as one of the biggest discount liquor stores in the area.
“You don’t run a small business in a small town without living in it,” Skala states matter of factly when asked about some of her keys to success. When first starting out, it was Skala keeping the doors open during the day, and a couple of people working the night shift; now she employs 10 people. But Skala understands that as a business owner, the buck stops with her, when someone calls in sick or simply doesn’t show up for work, she often pulls the extra shift.
Community relations and involvement is another key factor to business sustainability, she believes. If you didn’t know, Skala was the creator of the annual wine tasting in Leadville. Not only did it provide Leadvillites with a fun winter event, showcasing the liquor store’s offerings and teaching folks about wine, but it also raised money for local organizations.
And while Skala officially passed on the “wine-tasting baton” a number of years ago, the event continues to be one of Leadville’s premiere winter events. See the Miner’s Masquerade Ball and Wine Tasting for this year’s event INFO.
“My goal was to give something to the hard-working blue collar Leadville people: More choices and lower prices,” concluded Skala. Mission accomplished!