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Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit – A new wine experience

We’re thrilled to have had the chance to connect with Bottlerocket founder, Tom Geniesse. Bottlerocket is a business that seeks to empower the wine consumer to make great choices for the next dinner, celebration, cooking night, or gift to their loved ones. In this interview, we get a glimpse of running a business with lots of regulation and what local and global challenges look like.

Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit - wine display

Could you provide an overview of Bottlerocket?

Bottlerocket is a retail wine and spirits store based in Manhattan. We opened in 2006. I came into this industry from an outsider’s perspective. I co-founded an e-learning company in Los Angeles.

I would shop for wine and thought the retail experience could have been better. Stores would be filled with bottles and no information or context. And if I was lucky, there was a guy there to help–but he didn’t know me or my tastes. I began thinking to myself, “somebody’s got to be able to do better than this”. And when I moved to New York, I thought maybe I should take a crack at coming up with a better model for the consumer. Bottlerocket is the result of that thinking.


Tom Geniesse, founder of Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit, and his wife

How do you categorize all the varieties you have?

We intentionally limit the number of bottles that we sell. In the science of decision-making, Giving consumers too many options can be overwhelming and stressful. We have an excellent selection, but it’s manageable. We have a very intentional and patented approach to the business. We have a long wall on one side of the store where all of our wine lives, alphabetically organized from Argentina at the top to Uruguay at the very bottom. And that’s because people need to have some Dewey Decimal System to rely on. So that’s helpful, but it doesn’t really tell people whether they’re going to like the wine or not, whether it’s going to go well with the food they’re cooking that night, or whether it’s going to be the ideal gift.

People want high quality information they can trust to support their decision. Some, including my wife, just want the basics: Is it red or white? Is it full or medium-bodied? Is it spicy or fruity? And so we include a bartender’s description, but we also go way deeper with a professional tasting note, thoughts on food and wine pairing, and “the story” of the wine so people really know what’s in each bottle.

“Our goal: to empower. It’s our job to give people the opportunity to make wise, good, sensible decisions when buying wine.”

Most people walk into a store and end up leaving saying, “I really don’t know anything about what this one is going to taste like or whether it’s going to be for me or not, but it has a pretty label.” That’s not a very satisfying experience.

The best experience is when you walk out thinking “this is the right one, I chose it, and it’s going to meet my needs”. And that is our goal: to empower. It’s our job to give people the opportunity to make wise, good, sensible decisions when buying wine.


Have you expanded into any other boroughs?

Each state actually reserves the right to regulate alcohol as it sees fit. New York State only allows one license per individual.

We opened a store in Westport, Connecticut, which we ran for about four years. It was not as successful as I would have liked. And it was very challenging to manage a store that was an hour and a half away from where I lived. Thankfully, we had a very eager buyer who wanted to buy the business. If the laws were changed, I would open 10 in Manhattan overnight.

What is the biggest challenge small business owners face today?

I think there are many questions we all probably have about the future of brick-and-mortar retail, because of technology and the change in people’s shopping habits that was accelerated by the pandemic. With online ordering, we can ask ourselves, “what is the purpose of a brick-and-mortar store in this era?”

I believe that physical stores have a ton of value. Many people want a relationship with their seller. They want to peruse and be able to ask questions. They want to put a hand on the bottle and think about it. Third party apps provide tremendous convenience, and we work with all of them, but I doubt anyone learns anything using one. They use an algorithm to push the most popular wines, which means the largest industrially produced with the largest marketing budget. Wines are like books, you may not like everyone equally, but much of the joy is in the adventure of trying a new one and the thrill of discovery.


Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit in Manhattan, New York

What short or long-term goals do you have for your company?

Continuing to build the business. We want to keep delighting our customers and delivering a fantastic experience. I think that’s at the heart of everything for me.

“If we do a good job, then we attract more returning customers. And then they talk about it and their friends end up coming.”

And you know, obviously, the more people we can delight the bigger the profit and business grows–but it’s a virtuous circle. If we do a good job, then we attract more returning customers. And then they talk about it and their friends end up coming. Staying on that arc is really my goal.


Customers inside the Bottlerocket Wine & Spirit store in Manhattan, New York

Who are your business role models? Why?

It’s a great question, but rather than name a few individuals that I admire, I would rather encourage the reader to look in the mirror and see a potentially successful entrepreneur. So many people have a great idea for a business but talk themselves out of giving it a go. Of course, not everyone wants the responsibility. And many lack access to critical resources such as capital. But I believe that anyone can start a new business. It’s a thrilling, challenging, fun experience. If you’ve been thinking about an idea for a new business, and the idea really makes you happy, go for it. We will all admire you!


Tom Geniesse is the owner of Bottlerocket located in Manhattan.

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