How Hi-Lo Liquor Market Builds Community and Brand Loyalists

How Hi-Lo Liquor Market Builds Community and Brand Loyalists
Consumers want to support their local establishments and feel like they're part of something special while doing it. But as a business, becoming a local gem takes authenticity — mixed with a bit of brand strategy. 
by Alena Courtney Mar 11, 2024 — 6 min read
How Hi-Lo Liquor Market Builds Community and Brand Loyalists

In our modern and hyper-digitally connected world, real-life community has become more important than ever before. Consumers want to support their local establishments and feel like they’re part of something special while doing it. But as a business owner, becoming a local gem takes authenticity, mixed with a bit of brand strategy. 

Whether you’re a restaurateur or retailer, adding fresh offerings to your business can open up additional revenue streams and help new customers discover your brand. And one of the best ways to amplify your brand awareness with likeminded audiences while testing new products or services is to partner with other local businesses. 

Enter the era of multihyphenate businesses. As the name implies, a multihyphenate business is one that diversifies their revenue by adding other offerings, subscriptions, or services to their core offerings. And they’re everywhere if you open your eyes to them — for good reason.

The 2024 Square Future of Multihyphenate report examines how companies are adding new revenue streams across the retail and restaurant sectors. This approach helps de-risk businesses by making them more resilient to consumer behavior changes while attracting new customers. The cherry on top? Noncore items and services can often yield higher margins than the main business.  

To get the scoop on a real-life multihyphenate success story, we sat down with Hi-Lo Liquor Market in Southern California. Alvin Haruthunian, Director of Operations, and Alisha Buehn, Social Media & Events Manager, share how they’ve reinvented the traditional idea of a liquor store. How? By leaning into community-centric, multihyphenate strategies and branded merchandise to foster fierce brand loyalists. 

The magic all starts with the brand

Hi-Lo Liquor Market merchandising
Hi-Lo Liquor Market merchandise

Building a rock-solid and memorable brand isn’t easy. But when it’s done right, customer acquisition may suddenly feel a whole lot easier (and your CACs may look a whole lot lower). 

With Hi-Lo Liquor Market’s branding approach, what could have been another run-of-the-mill liquor store is now a multilocation community hangout for all ages. It not only sells alcohol but also offers community events in partnership with other local businesses like jewelry stores, food trucks, and more. 

When the founders came up with the concept, they wanted it to be more well-curated, light, and bright compared to your neighborhood liquor store or bodega. They focused on an approachable setting, with really good products that support local brands favored by the community. Over time, that’s evolved into becoming really community based. People come in — parents, kids — they get anything from whiskey to ice cream, and then can even stay and sit down at the counter, which is our beer and wine bar inside.”

Alvin Haruthunian Hi-Lo Liquor Market, Director of Operations

And Hi-Lo Liquor Market isn’t alone in their approach to growing their fan base. In the 2024 Square Future of Retail report, when asked what additional revenue streams retailers currently offer or are interested in offering, 61% expressed interest in adding in-store dining options like a coffee bar, wine bar, or cafe over the next 12 months. 

If you’re looking to take it a step further and capture a younger generation of consumers, 78% of Gen Zers also said they would be interested in offerings outside of traditional services, like in-person classes and at-home DIY boxes (Hi-Lo Liquor Market sells take-home cocktail kits, too). Offering more ways to engage with your brand fosters new and long-lasting relationships with your target audience.

Not sure where to start? Partner with other local favorite brands to test out new offerings and concepts. Using a competitor analysis template can also provide guidance by helping to identify your brand’s areas of strength, weakness, opportunity, and threats — and which other brands you may have audience alignment with. 

Collaborating with businesses in your community 

Regardless of the type of business you’re in, it’s likely that other establishments in your area are also looking for opportunities to partner in order to reach new customers.  

When asked what’s needed to improve upon in order to better compete in today’s restaurant industry, over one-third of restaurateurs (36%) identified the need to improve their hosting of events to encourage more in-person connections, according to the 2024 Square Future of Multihyphenate report. Whether your business is a salon, gift shop, or brewery, identifying other local businesses to partner with will help raise awareness for in-person activations and drive foot traffic through your doors. 

Curating markets has been a huge success, so going outside of what we carry on our shelf, we also bring in local makers, including food pop-ups, other retailers, and also the makers. That’s another key growth driver for us. And it brings in fresh energy and really great products. That’s where we’re going to just continue thriving when we combine forces with other really great producers and makers. And using Hi-Lo’s shops as a place to host these really fun, curated events.”

Alisha Buehn Hi-Lo Liquor Market, Social Media & Events Manager

While retailers’ core offerings remain their primary revenue generator, the majority of retailers surveyed (61%) rely on up to 25% of their business’s revenue to come from revenue streams outside of their core offerings, according to the 2024 Square Future of Retail report. And for 48% of restaurateurs surveyed, 11–20% of their business’s revenue comes from outside of their core restaurant service through retail items, classes, events, and more. 

If you’re looking for ways to grow your business, take this quiz to understand what new revenue streams can benefit your business the most.

Using branded merchandise to aid brand awareness 

Hi-Lo Liquor Market branded merchandise
Hi-Lo Liquor Market branded merchandise

Most people won’t proudly wear branded merchandise unless they genuinely love the brand. So without a strong brand that consumers actually want to represent, investing in branded merchandise won’t get you far. 

Another area Hi-Lo Liquor Market gets right is their branded merchandise strategy. In addition to managing Hi-Lo Liquor Market’s social presence and events, Alisha Buehn also leads their branded merchandising buying and is responsible for curating items that make sense for the brand’s aesthetic and bottom line. She only buys products that are high quality and typically have some type of functional purpose that aligns with the brand, like a canvas tote bag or a bandana to wear at your picnic on the beach. 

The key was creating the lifestyle brand. What actually looks cool, what would people actually wear, what do people actually look at and say, ‘That itself is a good product?’ That’s done really well for us. But going back to the brand, that’s something that we felt really distinguished us first.”

Alisha Buehn Hi-Lo Liquor Market, Social Media & Events Manager

And partnerships with other beloved community businesses shouldn’t stop at in-store events and activations. As bigger brands produce branded merchandise with esteemed partners (take Baggu x Russ & Daughters for example), Hi-Lo Liquor Market partners with local artists and brands for smaller and more exclusive branded merchandise drops. 

The key is to get your branded merchandise into people’s hands by not making it too pricey. While businesses can certainly earn additional revenue from branded merchandise, it’s primarily a strong word-of-mouth marketing play. 

I mean, listen, it’s challenging. There’s so much to choose from, but it’s really just finding good quality, but also a price point that’s not going to break the bank. So finding a happy medium of both is kind of really what we’re always aiming for.”

Alisha Buehn Hi-Lo Liquor Market, Social Media & Events Manager

Marketing your business in an authentic way 

Hi-Lo Liquor Market employees
Hi-Lo Liquor Market branded merchandise

Let’s say you’re aiming to achieve a strong local presence and cult-like following, but you don’t have a massive marketing budget. Focusing on local activations and partnerships can serve you well. Creating engaging and memorable customer interactions can go further than a paid advertisement with today’s savvy consumers.

We don’t do a lot of paid advertising. Maybe be a few targeted ads on Facebook here and there, but nothing in the traditional sense of a TV spot or a commercial. It’s really been kind of smaller, niche, and I think that also helps, at least for us, to kind of protect the brand.”

Alvin Haruthunian Hi-Lo Liquor Market, Director of Operations

And if you build a brand people love, they’ll want to hear from you. The Square 2024 Future of Retail report found that 82% of global consumers agree that receiving communications from local businesses makes them feel more connected to the business. Only 18% of consumers reported that communications don’t make them feel more connected, so don’t be afraid to reach out. Using Square Marketing text messaging and email marketing, retailers can build stronger customer relationships and drive repeat business. 

That’s really what it’s all about — combining forces with other really great products and brands. We curate so many fun things in the shop. So the sky’s the limit of who we can work with, who we can partner with. So it’s really fun. That’s where I certainly thrive, in working with other really like-minded people.”

Alisha Buehn Hi-Lo Liquor Market, Social Media & Events Manager

If you’re looking for other like-minded business owners near you, check out the Square Give and Get Local Directory

Alena Courtney
Alena Courtney is an Editor at Square covering all things Retail — She writes about retail trends, retail business models, inventory and supply chain management, ecommerce and in-person growth.


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