The Shopkeeper Chronicles: Emily Heintz of Sèchey

The Shopkeeper Chronicles: Emily Heintz of Sèchey

Feb 1, 2024

Emily Heintz is a lifelong retailer and the founder of Sèchey, a bottle shop in Charleston that curates a selection of the best non-alcoholic beverages out there. Emily sat down with us to discuss the journey of opening up Sèchey.  From a pop-up store to a brick-and-mortar and a major partnership with Target, we talked about it all!

How did you start Sèchey?

I did my first Dry January in 2019 and have really lived an alcohol-flexible lifestyle since then, but during the pandemic, I was drinking a lot. I recognized this and started looking for alternatives. I would do these 30-day cleanses and discover these cool, sophisticated, non-alcoholic brands. I figured that there were other people who also wanted to drink less and thought about this idea for a modern bottle shop. It would be a destination for celebration but with non-alcoholic options, and Sèchey was born!

Where does the word Sèchey come from?

Sèchey is a made-up word that means Dryish. It's a nod to the French word for dry, which is sèche.

80% of my customers also drink alcohol, and I really liked the idea of creating a safe space to explore the non-alcoholic category without judgment. We do have our beer & wine license as well, and I have a small selection of super high-end traditional wine.  I have a very specific vision for Sèchey. I want it to be a destination for celebration and wellness, not necessarily a non-alcoholic bottle shop.

You have over 20 years of experience in retail. Was Sèchey the first shop you opened?  

It was the first physical store I opened, but I come from store management.

Brick and mortar is incredibly capital-intensive and operationally heavy. You need to physically have the inventory displayed and you need staff. I tested the concept online first. I wasn’t going to invest in a store until I knew people were going to buy it.

I launched our online store in September of 2021, and I wrapped my car with Sèchey branding to deliver orders. I realized there was a real demand. In January 2022, I launched a two-week pop-up. That pop-up was so successful that I signed a short-term lease for six months. Then we moved to another location, which is our semi-permanent home. We're already talking about what the future of Sèchey is from a flagship standpoint, but we’re still operating in pop-up mode. I don’t have permanent fixtures and the back of the store is inventory and closed off to customers.

It's been difficult to get a lease because landlords didn’t believe in my concept, but I knew that customers would buy once they walked in. I personally believe in physical retail so much that I anchored Sèchey in it, but that’s not always a popular opinion because of the operational and logistical needs of retail.

How do you continuously drive foot traffic at your current location?

There’s a lot of natural foot traffic because we’re located in a tourist corridor on King Street. We also have really great branding on our windows, so people are curious, and they want to come in. I think another important factor is that we’re strategically situated in a food and hospitality area. We are intentionally not next to an apparel store because you don't want to carry heavy bottles around when you’re shopping. It’s also necessary to give people flexibility in how they’re picking up their orders. Local delivery or picking up online orders in-store is really important to offer!

How do you source beverages?

I have some classic partners that my customers and I love, but we’re really still testing and learning because the category is young and brands are new. Brands also hear about us in the media and send samples. I’ll also order from Faire, Airgoods, directly from the brand, and distributors. I do an annual review to see what brands we’ll stock for the next year. 

Talk to me about your partnership with Target!

I’m very familiar with their business. I wrote my term paper on Target for college! We started talking about this idea of Sèchey for “Tarjay” and exploring ways Target can make a statement around non-alc. Sèchey ended up curating an assortment of non-alcoholic options for Target. We also sold our own branded, non-alcoholic wine. We have a Sèchey Chardonary, Pinot Noir, and Rosè.

Why did you decide to launch your own brand of non-alcoholic wines?

It was always part of the long-term plan. I invested in intellectual property for multiple categories, so we own Sèchey in alcoholic, non-alcoholic, retail, etc. However, partnering with a national retailer like Target accelerated the timeline for the launch of our own wine.  Target wanted to anchor our curation with Sèchey-branded products.

What advice would you give someone who wants to open a store?

Be prepared to work hard because you have to do everything – you’re the buyer, the salesperson, the marketer, the janitor.

If you have a unique concept, the right product in the right location, and great customer experience, you’ll be successful.