When Sunshine Foss, together with her husband, opened Happy Cork in Brooklyn’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood in March 2019, the duo placed their local community at the forefront of their business model. Foss was also determined to give Black and minority-owned brands a platform when other stores were not, which became two of the many reasons that Happy Cork was presented with an Impact Award in Drizly’s 2021 Top Shelf Retailer Awards.

Happy Cork experienced gradual growth and traction in its first year of business, despite not having any consumer-facing online presence beyond an Instagram account. Faced with a changing retail environment just one year into its tenure, Foss differentiated her small business by investing in Black- and minority-owned wine and spirit brands, offering significant shelf space and a springboard to gain distribution; nurturing personal relationships with local consumers by actively engaging the Brooklyn community; and becoming a Drizly Retail Partner, which complemented in-store shopping with the convenience of delivery to consumers’ door in under 60 minutes. 

Making A Lasting Impact in the Community

From day one, Foss was focused on being actively involved in the community, making neighbors an important part of Happy Cork’s DNA. A key to early success was nurturing relationships with customers and personally educating them on the wines and spirits the shop sells. Happy Cork is constantly leveraging its platform to grow awareness about the Bed-Stuy community, which is reflected by the extensive variety of Black and minority-owned products on its shelves.

“There’s a difference between a place where you’re welcome and a place that was built with you in mind. This place was built for the community,” says Foss. “We know the community intimately because we are highly involved with [the people in it]. This isn’t a typical ‘come in, shop, and leave’ type of retail experience. Our [customers] come in and talk to us about what they are having for dinner, right down to what their kid is doing in school.”

Opening the Door for Black- and Minority-Owned Brands

“When I first ventured into the world of wine and spirits, I knew I needed to give a platform to these underserved and amazing brands that were often overlooked,” says Foss. “It’s now become my passion to highlight these wonderful brands, while catering to the community surrounding us.”

When Foss finds a new wine or spirit she wants to add to the store inventory, she often discovers that most of the Black- and minority-owned brands that make them are not represented by a distributor. Foss connects the owners with distribution partners in her network, opening the door for more underserved brands to be available on Happy Cork’s shelves, but also enabling them to be carried by other retailers. 

“A lot of the brands that we do bring in, most times, we are the first store to give them a chance. So, we work with these brands, to make sure that we stand behind them, to give them an [avenue] to get their product out there,” says Foss.

Quality is prioritized as well; Foss mandates that every new wine or spirit they consider bringing into inventory is tasted by each member of the Happy Cork team. “It’s about offering people the best quality product, at the best prices, and being able to bring awareness to a lot of these Black- and minority-owned brands. A lot of people don’t even realize how many Black-owned brands exist until they come into the store,” says Foss. “These brands aren’t in the store just because they are minority-owned or female-owned. It’s because these are amazing brands that probably would not have seen the light of a shelf.”

Embracing Online Sales

With the onset of the pandemic, as health and safety concerns made regular customers reluctant to venture outside their homes and Covid-19 guidelines restricting the shop to a one-person capacity limit, Happy Cork needed an online marketplace to better serve their customers.

Foss found that Drizly’s e-commerce and delivery platform was the go-to solution Happy Cork needed to effectively reach existing and new customers. Once live on Drizly’s platform, Happy Cork launched a direct mail campaign to inform the local community of their new online presence and home delivery services provided through Drizly.

“For us, being able to deliver to people’s homes, in less than an hour, for a low delivery fee, has been huge,” says Foss. “I would definitely say business grew 300 percent because of that.”

New features on the Drizly platform have also helped consumers easily shop for Black- and minority-owned brands from shops like Happy Cork. 

“Over the past year, we have launched filters on Drizly make it easier for consumers to shop minority-owned brands as well as created marketing campaigns to highlight minority-owned brands as well retailers on our network,” says Liz Paquette, Drizly’s head of consumer insights. In the past 12 months, Drizly has seen a 240 percent increase in share of sales of Black-owned brands, which points to increased demand from consumers.

Happy Cork also utilizes Drizly’s reporting tools to dig into performance data and gain a deeper understanding of which products are driving sales. Understanding the “why” gives Happy Cork the actionable insights to make smarter, well-informed inventory forecasts.

Looking Ahead

Happy Cork continues to amplify its reach by creating engaging content on its social media platforms. Foss shares virtual tastings and intimate panel discussions with minority wine and spirits makers—and celebrity owners like Mary J. Blige—on its Instagram Live, increasing their social following even more. 

“Now, we have reached the point where people are following us from all over. We’ve become that destination wine and spirit store, especially having such a large assortment of Black/minority-owned brands,” says Foss. “People are now coming in from all over to shop our store. These are brands that you typically would not find all under one roof. It’s definitely a [unique] experience for people.”