Renovated Queenston Lewiston Duty Free store expands focus on whisky and white spirits

Queenston Lewiston is now devoting more prime back wall space to white spirits after the renovation, says Chris Foster.

Queenston Lewiston Duty Free, located on the Canadian side of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge in the Niagara region, renovated its store this summer, designing the layout to devote more space to its best-selling products.

“The renovation is now completed and the store looks excellent,” Chris Foster tells TMI. “We reorganized the liquor department, and increased the size of our spirits category.

We shifted around product categories like confectionery, souvenirs, and accessories. We also upgraded and updated our fragrance and cosmetics department. T.S.M. Custom Millwork has done a great job managing this project for us.”

One important aspect of the renovation in the 16,000 sq feet of retail space was to give prime real estate to white spirits, in an area previously featuring souvenirs and accessories.

“We felt as though our souvenirs in the back wall didn’t make a lot of sense and weren’t displayed properly. You want to be able to give the commodities that are producing the numbers more space and more premium space. We deem back wall space as a premium location in our store,” says Foster.

“We base our positioning and merchandizing on the numbers. White spirits needed additional space and segregation. We don’t customize everything in the store. We pick and choose the brands that deserve customization. These are usually large anchor brands, brands that are well promoted by the suppliers. We do have a number of custom units, however. We also use a lot of generic units, so those custom units stand out.

“Brands like Grey Goose, Absolut, Johnnie Walker, and Crown Royal; these get key custom space.”

The renovation significantly brightened up the store and changed traffic patterns, say Foster.

“We brightened up the area where souvenirs had been. The renovation also changed traffic flow quite a bit. With white spirits now towards the front, it pushes customers into areas of the store where they hadn’t been before.”

The Queenston Lewiston DF renovation took place in four stages beginning in April, so the renovation had minimal impact on the customers. Construction was mostly completed by the end of August.

One of the biggest plusses from the renovation is that it allowed the store to put all of its whiskies together in one place, says Foster. Scotch whisky is one of the best-selling categories in the store.

“Our Scotch, American, and Irish whiskies were disconnected from our Canadian whiskeys. Now we can group all of them together. Our customers looking for specific whiskies now have them all in one place.”

This is the first major renovation at Queenston Lewiston since the new store was opened seven years ago, but the operators have been constantly updating each year, says Foster.

“Since we took possession of our new store, we tried to do something small each year to keep up to date and make sure the look is nice. We are always monitoring the things that need extra care. After we started looking at this particular renovation we noticed there were a couple of key areas that we needed to focus on for the next few years,” he says.

“We want to always be at the cutting edge. We don’t want to be that store that is trying to catch up with other locations. We tend to set the bar for most stores.”

Two years ago in 2017 Queenston Lewiston added a Starbucks, which has been a big hit, says Foster.

“Customers seem to love the Starbucks. It fits well with our store, the image. I think our store has more of an airport feel than most border stores do. I think Starbucks lends itself well to that look and feel.”

Foster says Queenston Lewiston is coming off a positive summer, but the business on the northern border is not without its challenges.

“We had a couple of flat months in the summer, but we had a really good August.  Some of the U.S. Customs officers here on the northern border have been pushed down to the Mexican border, so we’ve had some backups most of the summer at the border.”