For this week’s #ShopFranklin Spotlight, I interviewed Mark Lenzi of Franklin Liquors!
A Franklin native, Mark’s been minding the store full-time since 2006, but Franklin Liquors has been around a lot longer than that. In the late 1970s, Mark’s dad, a former contractor, bought a downtown business known as Jimmy’s Penny Candy and Package Store, which ultimately became Franklin Liquors. For the benefit of us New England transplants, Mark explains that the “package store” name is a reference to “the brown bag that they wrapped [the liquor] in… it was called package because that’s all they saw was the package.” Mark remembers that his parents took over the store about a week after the infamous Blizzard of ’78 (although I wasn’t around for that, I’ve heard enough from those who were to imagine that the aftermath was a pretty good time to own a liquor store!). In 1986, the Lenzi family built Franklin Liquors’ current location on East Central Street, and the store has been operating there ever since. Just about all of Mark’s family members have worked in the store at one time or another, and now Mark and his brother Mike are the ones in charge. Under their leadership, Franklin Liquors won Wicked Local’s Readers Choice Award for the number one liquor store in Franklin and 16 surrounding towns in 2014 and 2015, so clearly they’re doing something right.
When you shop at Franklin Liquors, you’ll notice that the store relies heavily on technology. “A lot of it had to do with my dad,” Mark says. “He’s a technical guy, always liked the latest stuff.” Mark’s own background is in medical electronics, so it’s natural that he keeps the tradition alive. Franklin Liquors combines in-store technology like its touch-screen kiosk with mobile apps that make it easy to browse and shop when you’re nowhere near the store. A new app formerly called ScanKart, now known as Buttery, allows customers to place an order for pickup, and Mark tells me that a local delivery service will be starting up soon. Buttery doesn’t cover the store’s entire inventory – Mark cautions that you “can’t order a single beer” – but a selection of wines makes it possible to order your wine for dinner while you’re in the grocery store picking up ingredients. Buttery’s selection even links to another app called Quini, where customers can check out independent reviews of the wines they’re considering. Mark also recommends an app called Vinobly; you tell the app what you’re having for dinner, and “it not only suggests [a wine], it tells you what aisle it’s in – it gives you a map of the store.”
Wine is a major focus of Franklin Liquors’ offerings. The store has always held in-store tastings, but originally these were mainly events held by a sales representative promoting his or her own brand. “To me, it wasn’t very personable,” Mark says. About 10 years ago, Mark’s brother came up with the idea of having a tasting room at the store to host sit-down events, which ended up becoming the Franklin Wine Club. According to Mark, the Wine Club was intended to help different people get together to learn and talk about wine in a friendly way, resulting in community connections and more educated customers. “That’s the difference right now between stores our size and bigger stores,” says Mark. “Obviously there’s a convenience… and pricing is obviously a big thing, but we want people to know what you’re getting, be a smarter shopper.”
Education isn’t only for the customers at Franklin Liquors; Mark has invested a good deal of time into furthering his own education. After completing two levels with the International Sommelier Guild, Mark realized that he preferred to focus on specific wine regions or areas rather than to become an overall expert. To that end, Mark was the first person in Massachusetts to complete a specialist class on California appellations through the San Francisco Wine School, and he recently became certified as a French Wine Scholar through the French Wine Society. “The more you know about a region, you never stop learning. It’s geeky,” Mark laughs. Not neglecting the other side of things, Mark is also a certified specialist in spirits.
The liquor industry is not without its challenges, chief among them being the rise of liquor licenses being granted to larger chain stores. “They have a huge buying power, so your buying has to change, because you can’t compete with them buying a thousand cases when you’re buying five to ten cases. You really have to be selective and try product. I don’t like recommending things I don’t try,” says Mark. Liquor store customers are already a somewhat limited group, since not everyone is old enough to drink legally and not everyone of legal age drinks, so Mark feels that stores like his will survive on customer service and education rather than wholesale pricing. “We don’t want to come up as being expensive, so we have to find other ways. The education, the technology, giving you other options to try to stay competitive.”
Looking toward the future, Mark is excited to see what changes the new proposed shopping center will bring to his end of town. He’s a little more skeptical about Franklin’s Big Dig-esque downtown traffic revamp; “I don’t know if it’s going to help or hurt.” Since he’s lived in Franklin his entire life, Mark has seen the town change dramatically over the years, and notes that its “growth is phenomenal,” but that it’s maintained its friendly feel. More than anything, Mark hopes that Town Hall will not only continue its efforts to bring new businesses into town to fill up empty storefronts, but will also provide additional support and communication to the businesses already here to help them stick around and thrive. I don’t know about you, but I’ll certainly drink to that.