Shubie's Marketplace has always been a family business. And now, Dougy, the third generation of Shubes, is working side-by-side with his parents, George and Carol, in the family-owned business.
Even though it has been 10 years since Shubie's Marketplace debuted at 16 Atlantic Ave. in Marblehead, Mass., the store continues to evolve. "We moved in, and we've been expanding and tweaking bit by bit," says Carol.
Five years ago, wine kiosks were added. Then three years ago, the Shubes installed the food bar, the biggest remodel to date. The 8-foot counter where customers can orders sandwiches – and more – has quickly become Shubie's "biggest profit center," says Carol.
Around the same time, Dougy spearheaded the addition of another on-trend category – craft beers. Craft beers have sold really well. In fact, they're up 14 percent, notes Dougy. Craft cocktails and specialty mixers are also gaining traction.
During its 67 years in business, Shubie's Marketplace has moved locations, changed product mix and added new concepts and improved tried-and-true ones.
When Shubie's started, it wasn't even called Shubie's. "In 1948, my dad bought a liquor store. (D.J. Colbert Inc.) It was strictly a liquor store," says George, the second generation of Shubes behind the family-owned retail business. The space was not even 500 square feet, he adds.
After graduating college in 1976, George joined his mother Sylvia, who ran the business after her husband Bill's death, working in the store. After years of being known as Shubie's, the store officially changed its name in 1986 when the Shubes moved across the street to a 2,220-square-foot building, more than quadrupling their square footage. Then in 1995, Shubie's took over the whole building.
"We were scared and nervous," says Carol about filling the space. She had an idea – try selling specialty foods – a natural complement to George's expanding selection of fine wines.
Carol "kept nagging me to get into specialty food. So I said, 'If you want to do it, do it,'" recalls George. "'Just no perishables.'"
After four decades of operating as a liquor store, Shubie's diversified and added a few SKUs of gourmet groceries. And despite George's protests, there were a few imported cheeses. At first, it was a selection of oils, vinegars, salsas and a selection of Stonewall Kitchen products on what Carol describes as "one little rack.
"I was asking our vendors, 'Can you split a case three ways?'"
The Big Move
When the lot of a former gas station, just steps away from its previous locations on Atlantic Avenue, went up for sale, the Shubes jumped at the chance. "We never thought we'd be able to buy a piece of property on the avenue," says Carol.
After 57 years of renting, the Shubes bought the lot and built a 10,000-square-foot store that has 7,000 square feet on the street level and a 3,000-square-foot mezzanine with a cooking school, offices and storage. Then in 2005, the new store was ready.
"That was really scary," says George. "It made the other move look like pocket change."
And, the Shubes relished in the fact that they not only had their own building, but also had their own parking lot.
"Parking is a rarity in Marblehead," says Dougy, who has worked in the family business for about 20 years.
"Dougy has been here since he was nine years old. He was a good cashier. A very fast person," says George.
New and Improved
The building has an entrance off the parking lot and two entrances off the avenue, including one that goes directly into the café.
With more space to fill than ever before, the Shubes added more prepared foods, more cheeses and a deli and charcuterie section. "We added more of everything," says Carol.
"The first two expansions were really easy," says George. "It took us 48 hours to transfer from one store to another. When we moved here, it was a whole new ballgame. We were closed for one week (while the store was being set up).
"To fill it, staff it was different," says George. "We had to get organized."
Not that the Shubes weren't organized before, but with more space, more staff and more products, the retailer had to add more behind-the-scenes infrastructure such as a POS system, procedures, training, and the like.
"The back of house is now so strong we don't do anything without our numbers. You got to look at the numbers," says Carol.
During the recent recession of 2007-2009, Shubie's was not immune; the Shubes held on and made some tough decisions, including cutting back on staff. "We had to work long and hard," says Carol.
Trial and Error
Over the years, the Shubes have not been afraid to change things up and add something new to the mix. As shoppers buying habits and needs change, Shubie's has tweaked its offerings and is continually asking, "What do our customers want, what can we sell," asks Carol.
At one time, Carol put in a basket section, and she's quick to add that the basket area didn't do well and was phased out. "We are constantly tweaking our blend, what we are selling," says Carol. If it doesn't work out, the item is closed out.
Carol can't seem to let go of is the idea of having a coffee and espresso bar. "We've tried it four times," she says. "I think the staff will shoot me if I try it again."
Not too long ago, Shubie's was selling top housewares brands such as Le Creuset, Viking and Vitamix. "We did OK with them," says Carol, "but (these days) those big housewares purchases are going somewhere else." Shubie's still has a booming housewares selection, but one that is focused on kitchen tools, cutting boards and the like. "We see gadgets growing"; items that sell for $20 or less are "no-brainer purchases," says Carol, adding that customers are likely to buy the item on the spot and not shop around for a lower price.
Gift is a growing area of the business. Oftentimes customers are coming in for a "quick gift," she explains. The store has a selection of witty greeting cards and a selection of candles, including the Lafco New York candles that are hand-poured into blown glass and come gift boxed. Recently Shubie's added the tabletop and gift line from Mariposa, which is based in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Mass. In general the store has an ever-expanding selection of local and regional products, and recently added Fire Cider, a raw apple cider vinegar from Western Massachusetts.
On the specialty food side, Shubie's is seeing increased demand for free-from products, which are showcased in-line with their conventional counterparts. "For us, people come here for something special," says Carol.
To keep up with the demand, the store has been adding more gluten-free, vegan and paleo items. Dougy, who attended Natural Products Expo West to shop for new products and attend some of the educational sessions, says, "Vegan is going mainstream."
Despite having a legacy as a wine store, "More people come in for food. People have to eat," says George. He's quick to credit Carol as the store's creative force and trend forecaster.
Earlier this year Shubie's hired Kate Hammond, who was formerly the chef-owner of the popular restaurant Grapevine in nearby Salem, Mass., to replace the store's retiring executive chef. Hammond and her team prepare 35-40 items fresh daily including comfort foods, healthy sides and vegan entrées.
World of Wine
When it comes to wine, George is passionate about it and totally self-taught. He loves learning and sharing that knowledge. When they were at the original 500-square-foot store, George would host wine tastings in their home. "I'd pick a theme three days before" and study up on the wine and the region. "They all loved it," he says of the wine classes.
As a specialty retailer, Shubie's oftentimes pioneers new and yet-to-be-discovered products including wines. About 25 years ago, George brought in 28 cases of Chateau Pesquie rosé. "My staff thought I had stripped my gears bringing in 28 cases," he says. However, the wine unknown at the time flew out the door, thanks to George's enthusiasm for it. "We got it in May and by July 4, it was all gone," he says. "People were asking about it (that wine) for 10 years."
A Community Store
Over the years Shubie's has evolved into a community store. It has in-store seating in the front of the check-out stands and additional seating near the food bar. And there's the store's ample parking lot.
"The store ... has become a gathering spot," says George.
"The addition of Facebook has made that possible," adds Dougy.
Dougy, who attend the Boston University School of Hospitality for "one very long year," is known as the store's Cheese Whiz. "Everything I learned about cheese I learned from my mom," says Dougy. He's also the one behind the store's active social media – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter – and makes a point to post as Shubie's, not as himself. The result is a consistent image that continues through all channels.
For a brief period, Shubie's tried outsourcing its social media to a marketing firm. "They talked a big game, but they were terrible at it," says Dougy. The voice was not right for Shubie's, so the decision was made to bring social media back in house.
"Social media is highly important," says Dougy. "It does take time."
Shubie's is active on social media daily and uses the various channels to promote cooking classes, free in-store events, daily specials, new products and more. The store also uses email, in-store flyers and signage to keep customers informed.
A Class Act
Upstairs there's a classroom that accommodates 20 people. The space upstairs, which serves as a cooking school, is also rented out for private events. In the summer months, Shubie's holds two weeklong children's cooking camps, but adult classes are on hiatus.
"It is not easy to get people in Marblehead inside during the summer. They'd rather be outside enjoying the summer weather," explains Dougy.
Shubie's hosts in-store events and samplings year-round. They're a great way to get current customers to learn about new products and to buy them. To celebrate its 67th birthday, the store hosted a wine tasting and sampling event. Attendees were able to sample 25 wines, cheeses from Vermont Creamery, olive oils and vinegars. Local vendors, including Nella Pasta of Jamaica Plains, Fille de Ferme Preserves of Marblehead, Atlantic Saltworks of Gloucester, Onesto Foods of West Newbury, and The Happy Chocolatier of Acton, were on hand sampling their products. It's not unusual for these free events to bring 70-100 people an hour to the store. "Events are huge for us," says George. "People love them. Social media is driving the traffic. We don't do a ton of advertising."
The Shubes have tossed around the idea of opening a second location and have considered adding breakfast to its menu. At press time, Shubie's was in the midst of updating its website. "Everything we do has to be quality," says Dougy. "We have to be who we say we are."
After all, the family name is at stake.