Same shit, different pile: A wholly objective look at The Beer Store’s makeover


Yesterday, the Beer Store issued a press release announcing the launch of a new “pilot series” of stores with the idea of inviting Ontarians to “meet beer.”

At a glance then, it would seem that the Beer Store had recognized that their sales model needed revision–one of the criticisms of the Beer Store is that their system of a conveyor belt and wall of labels didn’t lend itself well to introducing consumers to new products, so a re-visioning that literally invited consumers to meet beer must surely mean the Beer Store is listening to our criticisms! Right?!

Let’s see what they changed, shall we?

“The unmatched selection, cold beer and efficient service that beer drinkers expect from The Beer Store are now being enhanced with a new look, brand and colour scheme, as well as helpful store design features that we hope will improve the beer shopping experience for our valued customers,” said The Beer Store president, Ted Moroz. “We’ll be piloting these stores throughout the 2013 beer selling season and we invite you to ‘Meet Beer’ by coming in to check out the new features, tell us what you think, and pick up your favourite beer.”

So, there are some obvious things that jump out about this statement, first and foremost the notion that there is a “beer selling season.” You think I only drink in the summer?! I do this shit all year, son! BRRAAP BRRAAP.

Sorry…I was listening to a lot of hip hop at the gym.

Parliament location.

What was I saying? Oh, yes, also, it’s also quite hilarious that Ted opted to lead with extolling the Beer Store’s “unmatched selection, cold beer and efficient service.” These are in fact exactly what the Beer Store’s strengths are; however, I’d like to point out that the “unmatched selection” is because IT’S FUCKING LEGISLATED THAT YOU ARE ONE OF ONLY TWO PLACES IN THE PROVINCE WHERE YOU CAN BUY A SELECTION OF BEER AT ALL!

Sorry, was I yelling?

Anyway, let’s move on. Ted and The Beer Store want to improve the beer shopping experience for us. So what about these design changes? Well, they include:

  • Fresh ‘Beer Store’ name and branding, including a new logo, signage and merchandise
  • Brand new interior design to the stores;
  • New interactive digital touch displays to make it easier for people to explore the wide product selection before purchasing;
  • A more streamlined, dedicated bottle return recycling experience;
  • Increased refrigerated beer offerings, including seasonal beer can selections.

So, the first two are clearly just cosmetic changes. New interior design is nice, but among my many issues with The Beer Store model, feng shui doesn’t rank very highly. A new logo and a paint job then clearly won’t change the way we buy beer.

Parliament location.

As for the recycling experience, partially due to laziness and partially due to the fact that I never go to the Beer Store, my empties already just get donated to one of the city’s many amazing roving curbside bottle collectors, so I don’t care about the “streamlined return experience.” I’m sure it’s really great, but it won’t effect the way we buy beer.

But what about the other two? Will a new interactive screen and increased refrigerated beer improve the beer buying experience?

I’m thinking not so much.

Bathurst location.

Firstly, the way the Beer Store works currently is that brands pay a premium for the valuable space on the “Ice Cold Express. ” That is, if you want to sell your beer in the cold part of The Beer Store (the store where you already paid just to sell your beer) you have to, you guessed it, pay more.

So unless smaller brewers are willing or able to pay for the luxury of space in the Ice Cold Express (they aren’t), the amount of room available within the Ice Cold Express is irrelevant. That is, you can probably assume that, while there is more space among the cold beer in these new stores, that beer will still largely be beer made and distributed by the beer makers that own The Beer Store, i.e. AB InBev, Molson-Coors, and Sapporo with perhaps some offerings from the larger craft brands that can afford to buy the space–so the bigger fridge probably won’t change the way we buy beer.  

So it seems like this makeover boils down to a “new interactive touch display.” I don’t know about you, but it seems to me like the only part of this makeover that may actually change the way buy beer is the fact that The Beer Store seems to have replaced the old wall of labels with an iPad.

They are big iPads though…


And so, in summary, unless The Beer Store’s new iPad is going to recommend interesting craft beers (it won’t), there’s not a lot here that’s going to change the way most people buy beer. 

But there is perhaps one positive takeaway from The Beer Store’s recent makeover efforts. Namely, in testing out the newly designed stores (which in Toronto are at College and Bathurst, Parliament and Winchester, Danforth and Greenwood, and Hopedale Mall in Oakville), it seems they’re welcoming customer feedback. They seem genuinely interested to hear what the public has to say and they’d like to hear our thoughts on how the store works. So, might I recommend, next time you’re in The Beer Store to pick up your favourite beer from the Ice Cold Express, that you let the person working there know about some changes you wish they’d actually make?

Perhaps you can suggest that the foreign-owned place where almost 80% of Ontarians buy beer shouldn’t be allowed by legislation to charge Ontario brewers just to sell their beer there. Just a suggestion.

In the interest of journalistic integrity, it should be noted that I haven’t actually visited any of the new and improved Beer Stores–nor will I. So there is an outside chance that this recent makeover does in fact change the way people buy beer, and I’d be willing to entertain any arguments in favour of this “makeover” if you’ve got one to share.

Also, I “borrowed” all these photographs from a article about the Beer Store’s makeover.

12 thoughts on “Same shit, different pile: A wholly objective look at The Beer Store’s makeover

  1. Ben, with the changes, it seems like they are trying even harder to have people look over local beers. Notice anything wierd with the brand listings for Amsterdam, Great Lakes, Lake of Bays or Muskoka?

    Tip: Many of their beers aren’t listed under the Breweries name, they are listed as individual beers. I could understand if there were only one or two of them – it could have been a mistake – but when 8 local beers (plus a couple mis-named Moosehead brands) aren’t named/listed correctly, and none of the Coors/InBev/Sapporo brands are – it makes you think it is intentional.

  2. I love the part in the press release about “beer college”. Would likely find their syllabus amusing…

  3. Hey Cliff, thanks for calling our attention to that big chalkboard. It truly is a thing of wonder. How useful is an alphabetical list of all the beers available in the province? Not very, I’d say. Especially when there’s an asterisk and footnote that says “Not all brands available at this store.” Uh, how about giving over that valuable bit of wall space to a list of products I’m actually able to purchase? They somehow managed to do that at the unlamented old Brewers Retail.

    And why not separate the list by style or brewery or alcohol level or even price point? Even the current un-“enhanced” Beer Store separates the premium and discount beers from the main list. But no, it’s one long alphabetical list of brews that aren’t even available. What a joke.

    1. The list does appear vaguely useless, given that it doesn’t seem to list what’s actually offered at TBS, but I get the feeling that people are supposed to use the touch screens to find their beer and so the “chalkboard” list is largely for show.

      However, given the mentality of your typical in-and-out Beer Store patron, it seems highly unlikely they’ll fiddle with a touch screen to discover some new brands.

    1. Can you elaborate, Anonymous commenter who will never see my reply so why am I even writing this? Ah well, that killed two minutes of my life.

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