Family-owned Roof Brothers Wine & Spirits is part of the fabric of Paducah, Kentucky. The company operates two stores in the small town along the Ohio River. The company was founded in 1958 by Paul Roof, who obtained his liquor license on his 21st birthday, and today four of his children and a nephew are still involved in the family business.
“My father started out in a small, tiny cinderblock store that was drive-through only on a street corner near downtown,” says Denny Roof. “After success at that location he moved to a larger building a block away and he was a fixture in that neighborhood for nearly 50 years.”
Paul Roof retired in 2002 and passed away in 2006, leaving Roof Brothers in good hands as the next generation took over the stores. Even 55 years after the company’s founding, Paul’s philosophy is still guiding the business.
“He taught us to be hands on, be here when you need to be here and don’t sit back in the office doing nothing,” Denny Roof says. “He said to be out on the floor serving customers, attending to their needs and being visible throughout the community.”
Going the Extra Mile
Roof Brothers’ two stores serve two distinct customer bases in town, as reflected in each location’s product mix. The Main Store sells 40% wine, 35% spirits and 15-20% beer (with a heavy emphasis on imports and craft), with the remainder gifts and food items. The Southside store, on the other hand, is located in a working-class neighborhood and sells 40% beer, 35% spirits and about 25% wine.
“We cater to everybody at both stores,” Kenny Roof says, “but the Southside is very blue collar and the other side of town is very white collar.”
For a small town, a surprising number of customers find the store through social media and the web, Denny says. “More and more customers who love a good Bourbon or beer will follow brands online and know exactly when there’s a special release,” he says. “Sometimes they contact us before we even know we’re getting something, so we stay on top of trends and try to get prepared and knowledgeable about new products that are going to hit the stockroom.”
There aren’t any big-box stores in the immediate area, so Roof Brothers competes primarily against other independent stores, using customer service as a differentiator.
“If you come into the store you can ask us about any beer, wine or spirit, and if we don’t know the answer we can get it from someone at the company within a minute or so,” Kenny Roof says. “The other thing that makes us different is that we still pack up everything and carry it out to every customer’s car for them. Whether they’re 25 or 100, it makes no difference to us; we treat everybody the same, and they appreciate that level of service.”
In addition to personal service, Roof Brothers also keeps a digital record of every customer’s purchase history to assist them with looking up products they wish to buy again. “It’s also helpful if a friend or family member comes in and wants to buy a gift for them,” Kenny Roof says.
Not surprisingly given current trends and the company’s Kentucky location, Bourbons are among the hottest sellers at Roof Brothers right now.
“Bourbons, especially premium products, are flying off the shelves right now,” Kenny Roof says. “We could sell twice what we stock of some brands.”
Like most beverage alcohol retailers, the stores have also seen a rise in craft beer purchases. “We were the first store around here, 15 years ago, to have a dedicated craft beer section,” says longtime employee Kane Roberts. “Now we’ve got 700 beer SKUs in the store between crafts and domestics. I also make sure we have some of the rarest beers you can get your hands on, which helps bring new customers in.”
Roof Brothers maintains a close relationship with all the distilleries in Kentucky, building the stores’ reputation as a Bourbon destination.
“We’ve been hand-selecting our whiskey barrels for years,” Roberts says. “We have an in-store collection of Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare, Four Roses, Angel’s Envy and more. We know most every major distiller within the state and we’ve either had them to the store or met them at the distillery.”
The family also holds a Distiller’s Dinner each year, which brings in a master distiller for a dinner featuring a menu inspired by and made with that distiller’s Bourbon. Last October marked the tenth dinner sponsored by Roof Brothers, which also includes a time for the distiller to meet customers, sign bottles and explain the history and process behind the brand. “That’s something that’s always been very popular with our customers,” Denny Roof says.
Doing Business in a small town
As business owners in a small community, the Roof family is often recognized outside of the store. “Paducah is a small town, so when we go out to dinner or somewhere else we can’t help but run into customers,” Denny Roof says. “Even though we’re not at the store, we’re always on duty because we’re out in public and people know us. Most of those folks stop to say how much they love the store, which I think is something that would make my dad proud.”
Fortunately most customers the family runs into are glad to see them, Kenny Roof adds. “This is a great business to work in because people come into the store happy to see you,” he says. “They want to try new things and ask your opinion, or they’re planning a party or wedding or other celebration, so it’s a joyous occasion.”
“They aren’t coming in because their car needs to be fixed and they have to pay two-hundred dollars to fix it,” his brother Denny adds. “You’re selling them something they want to buy, not something they need, which makes customer service a lot easier.”
Branching Out from Bottles
Kenny and Denny’s sister Wendy has added a gourmet food and gift department to Roof Brothers, which began when she came on board and was visiting food shows. “I like to look for things I’ve used as a cook,” she says. “We try to stock the latest spices and gourmet coffee, and we carry a lot of local products like honey.”
The store also features an olive oil and vinegar section, offering refillable containers, in addition to several lines of gift baskets for special occasions (the store sold about 400 this Christmas season). Roof Brothers was also the first store in the area to offer wine tastings, which today feature samples of gourmet foods that pair well with featured wines.
“Now we also hold a daily gourmet coffee sampling,” Wendy Roof says. “That really helps increase sales.”
Keeping it in the Family
One challenge Roof Brothers faces is the decision on whether to expand. For much of the company’s history, Paducah was surrounded by dry counties, but that’s no longer the case.
“A number of counties have gone wet, or some have gone ‘moist,’” Denny Roof says. “A few years ago we would have had customers driving 50 miles or more to come to the store, whereas now we miss a lot of those folks who live in wet counties. We think our prices and customer service keep some of those folks coming back, but it’s a challenge.”
When a town about 50 miles south of Paducah went wet, the family thought about expanding with a third store. “As a family business it really would have stretched us thin,” Kenny Roof says. “It’s hard to run a business from that far away, so at this time we’re not looking to expand any further.”
Roof Brothers Fast Facts
Location: Paducah, KY
Stores: 2 (Main Store and Southside)
Family Owners: Siblings Denny, Kenny, Mike and Wendy Roof
Key Employees: Spirits and beer expert Kane Roberts, Wine manager Micah Hodge
Known for: Large craft beer selection, temperature- controlled wine room and personalized Bourbon selection