With 21 years of wine buying, retail sales and the development of a large, loyal customer following, Stan Kato and The Grape Tray have relocated to The Opus I Shopping Center just north of Fresno’s Fig Garden and Bullard High areas, Jan. 4, 2013.
While those who shop for wines at local grocery stores may not have the interest or take the time to seek out unique wine offerings, many vino aficionados appreciate Kato and his staff’s wine scholarship along with The Grape Tray’s long-time focus on customer service.
The former Los Angeles finance manager relocated to Fresno to be closer to family and has built The Grape Tray’s retail reputation to include award-winning, popular top 100 rated wines and hard to find boutique choices for sophisticated palates. Kato’s emphasis is on old-school business practices and a no-nonsense value per bottle sold is what makes his 4,700 customers keep coming back.
“While our new store is four miles from the old location, it is actually closer to most of our current customers,” Kato said. “People will follow me out to the new location if they feel we offer something of value. I believe driving an extra two to four miles will not stop my customers from visiting us, especially those who know what we do. We have a good product at a fair price. If we continue to do that, people will come.”
Sandwiched in between Mathnasium, a math tutoring center, and Wild Rose, Foral and Gifts, The Grape Tray fits very well into the Opus I Center on the northwest corner of Palm and Bullard.
All of the businesses are small and compact–no chain stores here–offering local storefronts. Each has 1,500 square feet or less and are all independently owned. And as a result they all have their own clientele, which often produces crossover business. Customers shop for their vitamins at Ounce of Prevention, restring a tennis racket at The Stringer, take their dog to the Central Bark groomer or pick up their watch or ring settings from Mitch’s House of Jewels. There is definitely synergy in this center.
The customers who shop at The Grape Tray know that Stan provides an alternative to the standard wine set; many appreciate the selection and have not had an issue with the move to a smaller store.
“I have been buying wine from Stan for over 10 years,” Johanna (last name withheld) said. “While I have purchased wine from other shops, I return to The Grape Tray because Stan gives excellence advice, great customer service, his selection is wonderful and really takes care of his clients. He spends time talking with me and even makes time to find wines when I have a special request. I often recommend him to my friends and acquaintances and I tell them I would buy wine from him no matter where I live in the city.”
Kato says he left the Shaw and Fresno location because he wanted to be closer his customer base and provide easier access, moving into the space vacated by a pilates studio.
“I wanted a smaller location (1,000 square feet), did not want to offer food anymore, wine only,” Kato said. “The new spot had to be in a decent location. So my real estate broker told me about Opus I and while we looked into a couple of other places, our new spot seemed perfect.
“The owners of the complex liked the idea of having The Grape Tray,” Kato said. “I know they checked us out, talking to a lot of people in this center. They spoke to other businesses and came to the realization that we would be a good fit here. Opus I now has a wine shop, jeweler, a place to get high end vitamins, and a book store…. This bookstore, Petunia’s Place is a dynamite, rockin’ kid’s store. They are good, no great, at what they do. You have a yoga place Fig Garden Yoga Studio a Catholic bookstore (The Holy Child) and D Hou Chinese Restaurant.”
While not all Grape Tray customers who walk in the shop or make inquires via the phone or Internet want to discuss their wine purchases, Kato and his staff are committed to continuing their decades-long tradition of building relationships, finding them the right bottle for the table or event.
“An important part of my business is listening to my customers,” Kato said. “I have customers everywhere, whether they be local or out of State. Many offer tips and heads up. We get information and inquires and we look into those. And of course, I am always reading online, reading the industry (wine) publications.”
Kato related story after story of how he managed local, phone or Internet customers narrow their wine choices. His focus is educating customers on wine choices.
“A couple contacted me recently after I hadn’t seen them for over 10 years,” Kato recalled. “I had met them at one of my tastings a decade ago. Then out of the blue, the couple come into the shop. I was shocked. So we started to dialogue about an event they were going to have and they asked me about wine choices and if I could provide them with $40-$50 Cabs. So we talked about pricing, the competition and a value choice rather than just a name brand with a high score. While they preferred a high-priced brand name Cab, I sensed this was not their first choice. So I steered them to a lesser-known but high quality wine. It took a little education but after I offered to give them a tasting, they ultimately chose the lesser-known over the high-end cab.”
That story seemed to be at the heart of Stan Kato. He said he didn’t know why the couple decided to come back into his shop after a decade, but they ended up buying a large amount of value wine. Stan said he is happy to sell Camus and Veuve Clicquot or more expensive bottles but will not just hand someone an expensive label when a customer asks for it.
“I want to know whether a high-priced, well-known label is the best option for a dinner party or large event,” Kato said. “In this case, we sold them lesser-known and well-respected wine label whose vintage we recommended as exceptional. The customer did not have to buy a bottle that they really didn’t need or want. It fit what they said they were looking for: elegance, not over-the-top ripe and in a price range they could afford. And in the end, the customer was tickled pink, happy. We got wonderful feedback. It was a win-win situation.”
This kind of sales requires a lot of tasting and familiarity with wines and to try and a wine merchant must anticipate what their guests and customers will like. For instance, Stan says he often ask the ages of the wine drinkers. A 22-year-old probably will like something different than a 55 or 60-year-old and the buyer should be aware of varying preferences at the same event.
“We do business the old fashion way: its fair and its honest,” Kato said. “There’s no gimics, no smoke and mirrors here. There’s no inflated retail and then we take off a big discount. It’s straight up fair. The inventory is current, and we carry products that people want to buy whether because they are chasing the points or its because the wines are hard to find or because they are popular. We are compeitive, fair and being price driven plays an important part of it.”
The Grape Tray’s new address is The Grape Tray, 6023 N Palm Ave, Fresno, CA 93704. Their phone number remains 559.226.6828 and can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For past articles and stories, please check the menu bar at the top of the page or read Rangeland Wines and Angus beef: Get to know Laird Foshay.