Rob Hall says fate led him to New Canaan Wine Merchants.
Chatting with friends at a local restaurant last summer, Hall mentioned a career change he had in mind, and came to learn that a lease on the Pine Street full-service liquor store was not to be renewed.
Since graduating from Susquehanna University in 1996 with a bachelor’s degree in communications and psychology, Hall had worked in corporate sales and marketing—mostly in the food and beverage industry with large branded companies such as Dole Foods, Colgate, Palmolive and Pepperidge Farms.
I was in corporate life for 20 years and got a little tired of it,” Hall said on a recent morning from the newly configured sales floor of New Canaan Wine Merchants. “You know, reporting to someone else, working for someone else and I wanted to make that change to where I can support myself, my family and the community and at the same time be my own boss.”
Since taking over in November, Hall—a 1992 Wilton High School graduate who resides in Wilton with his wife and their two kids—has been working 80 hours per week, putting his own mark on the offerings at New Canaan Wine Merchants as he realizes a dream of owning his own business for the first time.
Asked why he chose this specific business and New Canaan in particular, Hall noted that it’s “an established business and the timing worked out right.”
“New Canaan is a local town, that supports local and small business,” he said. “They are about sports, community about their kids and that’s the kind of community and town I want to thrive in.”
He’s already forging connections in the community, joining the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce and working to support area charities and organizations such as the New Canaan Squash Club and Fairfield’s Caroline House, which serves low-income immigrant women.
Among other changes at New Canaan Wine Merchants (see below), Hall said he is renewing the shop’s focus on warmth and customer service.
“Our number priority is to cater to the customers,” he said. “You’ll see me here 90 percent of the time. I am passionate about the business and I want to be here.”
Asked for her thoughts on Hall’s ownership of the store, Chamber Executive Director Tucker Murphy said she is “thrilled to see the passing of the baton from one local businessman to another.”
“We’re also excited to have met Rob at the [Chamber] New Member Breakfast, and as he pointed out, they sell more than wine,” she said.
In fact, Hall said, he moved beer to the front of the store “because the number one question we were getting was, ‘Do you sell beer?’ And we are a full service liquor store here.”
Hall also said he’s analyzed prices and made some changes “to be competitive with both the local market and the bigger competitors in Norwalk.” (In New Canaan, he joints a market that long has been served by Elm Street favorites Franco’s Wine Merchants and Stewarts Spirits.)
In addition, Hall said he has readjusted fixtures around the store and “moved product around so you’ll see mixers, beverages and sodas—those types of things around the cash registers which is more of impulse purchases.”
So far, so good. November was “a fabulous first month here,” Hall said, with better sales than the prior year, the same in January.
He’s also boosting the store’s presence on social media through Facebook and Instagram accounts in ways that hadn’t been used before.
“Every week I do tastings with new wines, beers and liquors that I am bringing in new, new, new so I want to make sure we keep some of the things that work for us,” he said. “Like having a niche similar to some of these state wineries and also bringing some mainstream stuff. We weren’t carrying certain products that people were asking for. If I hear it once or twice, I bring it in and then let people know were carrying it.”