The SAQ upscales upstairs

The Société des Alcools du Québec updates its higher-end store in Quebec City, SAQ Signature, with help from Sid Lee.

About four years ago, Quebec’s liquor control board, the Société des Alcools du Québec (SAQ) underwent a redesign with its agency Sid Lee that reorganized the stores based on the way consumers bought wine (such as price and flavour) instead of how the industry thought of it (by region). This was followed up by “Taste Tags” that categorized wine into eight colour-coded groups and demystified the wine-buying process further.
So when the SAQ wanted to update its higher-end store in Quebec City, SAQ Signature, Sid Lee was up for the challenge.

Discerning tastes
“When people came to the store, they couldn’t tell if it was a high-end store or a regular store,” says Isabelle D’Astous, co-CD at Sid Lee and the creative lead on the project. “They didn’t have any space to experience the rituals of the tasting.”
Differentiation became a key goal. The new Signature store would be housed in a new location, a floor above the standard store (called Sélection). Created around the concept of wine tasting, the store would be an “authentic wine cellar with a modern twist.”
Unlike Sélection, Signature is primarily geared towards the wine connoisseur, who likely has a fully stocked wine cellar and may even spend $600 on a bottle (the most expensive bottles hit the $3,500 mark). Its secondary customer knows less about wine, but is looking for a special bottle, for an anniversary perhaps, at closer to the $25 price tag. The store had to appeal to both groups.
 
An authentic appearance
“We’re not creating a Las Vegas or Walt Disney wine cellar,” says D’Astous, “We wanted to create something very modern but authentic.”
Sid Lee took a cue from the black labels in fashion with its signature look, and used only real materials – such as wood and slate – inside the store. New arrivals are kept in wood crates to further evoke the cellar feel.
Love for wine is literally written on the walls of the store (and the floors) with passionate quotes, as well as coats of arms for different vineyards and both the city and province of Quebec (to keep the experience proudly Quebecois).
To further educate this already-knowledgeable audience, a wall illustrated with wine bottles of varying sizes and the name for each bottle was also included.

Wine tasting 101
The Signature store isn’t all about buying wine, it’s about experiencing it, evidenced in its wine-tasting details. Like the Sélection stores, the Signature store has a machine that allows customers to sample a small amount of wine for a dollar. The dispenser preserves the wine so that it doesn’t spoil once the bottle is opened, and is located next to long tables where tasting events can take place. The devil is in the design details that the non-connoisseur may not notice, such as a white portion of the table that allows tasters to clearly see the colour of the wine. At the old store, sheets of paper had been used.
D’Astous says those details were highly important to the overall store experience. “Before even selecting the colour scheme, we met with the consumers and the director of the store to talk about what could be integrated,” she says.
They also created a system of stickers that allow the customer to label their bottle with details about when they should drink it. “When you have two bottles in your cellar, it’s not a problem, but when you have 50 or 100, you don’t even remember it.”

Into the future
The Quebec City Signature store has been open for about a year now, and the only other location is in Montreal. It will likely be similarly redesigned within the next year. D’Astous says there are no immediate plans to open more locations – after all, you have to keep these things exclusive. 

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