Family business sold to new owners in January
By Karen Carr Keefe
Sam and Kim Aceti have left the building, as of Jan. 2, but their business and the community haven’t left their hearts.
Despite selling Aceti’s Wine & Spirits to two young entrepreneurs, they are still there for advice, as the wind beneath the wings of their business successors – Andrew Graziano and Peter Johnson – and they are still there for the community.
As the two young men pick up where the Acetis left off and create their own business style, the advice is always available from their predecessors.
“We hope everybody still supports them,” Kim said. “As far as they’re concerned, we’re still there, but we’re not there.”
While the business has new name, Grand Island Wine & Spirits, the commitment to the community, the large selection of products, and even the staff are still the same, the Acetis said.
Speaking at the dining room table of their gracious Grand Island home, the memories flood back of a career and commitment that still resonate for their family and for the community they have served for 16 years.
“There’s absolutely no way that we would have been successful if it wouldn’t have been for the community of Grand Island. We needed 100% backing for this thing to work – and we got it,” Sam said. “I tried to do my best to keep my customers happy. It wasn’t really hard; it’s just common sense.”
While the Acetis realize the sale comes as a surprise to many customers, it wasn’t a sudden decision.
“We met them (the buyers) 10 months ago, so it was a long process,” Kim explained.
“We kept it quiet because my concern was our customers looking at it and saying, ‘Oh, sure, he’s leaving – now what are we going to do?’ ” Sam said.
In their search for a buyer, they piggybacked on a national search with another store owner who also was selling his store. That brought them prospective buyers from New York City, Albany, Massachusetts, Toronto, Brampton and Western New York.
“And we finally found these two gentlemen. I was extremely happy with them,” Sam said.
They imparted some business wisdom to the new owners: “You’ve got to make sure you take care of the customers. The customers are first, your employees are second, you’re third, then your family. … That’s just the way it is in retail. It’s not a hard job. It’s just tedious and you have to focus on details. Your customers will point out all the negative details … that’s why you’ve got to be positive about everything.”
What’s next for Sam? He is still enjoying the freedom to think about that.
“Right now, I retired. There’s things in the back of my head right now,” he said, referring to the vacations not taken, the hours at home and at the store, building a business as a total family commitment.
“We were lucky enough to buy a cottage up north in Canada during the store years, and I’m going to try to spend some more time up there,” he said. “Kim’s company allows her to work from anywhere she wants. We may look at spending a couple weeks up there. We’ll see. We’ll just play it by ear.”
Kim also has worked for 21 years doing corporate reporting, currently for Johnson Controls. She is from the Albany area, and Sam was born and raised in Niagara Falls.
When Aceti’s Wine & Spirits was a young business, they set a pattern of hard work that resulted in success.
“The weekends, she’d be doing the books and I would be – for years – I would have this whole table just loaded with order books, trying to figure out what to order, when to order, how much to order,” Sam said.
He noted the weekend workload was eased when they went to a computer for ordering and bookkeeping, but the business was the fabric of their lives, day in and day out.
“It was a lot of fun – a lot of pressure though,” Sam said. “I’m the kind of person, I like to keep everybody happy. I know that’s impossible.”
Retirement is a new phenomenon for Sam: “This is totally different for me. I’ve been working since I was 12, 13 years old – shoveling snow. That was my first job, making a buck a house.”
Kim said retirement seemed a natural next step, and the time was right.
“Retail’s a different world,” she said. “It’s never off his mind. Everyone says, ‘Oh, you’re not in the store.’ Well, he’s not physically in the store. We haven’t taken a vacation – all four of us (including daughters Melina, 21, a graduate student in physical therapy at Daemen University; and Marissa, 15, a Grand Island High School student) – in 16 years, except for a 36-hour trip to Florida for Thanksgiving to see his mom.”
Sam added, “Thank God we did because, a year and a half later, she passed; so it was good that we did.”
Kim said, “We were never closed except for Christmas Day. It’s always there.”
She ran the finance side of the store. “He did the operations side of it and I did the payroll. I did all the books, all that stuff.” Kim did her part of the work from home. She and their two daughters would only work in there on the busiest days – Sam chimed in, “Christmas Eve, Thanksgiving Eve, New Year’s Eve,” as the biggest three days each year.
The liquor store had an auspicious start.
“We opened up Dec. 2, 2006, on a Saturday at 10 o’clock, and I didn’t stop working there for seven, eight months by myself – every day, all day,” Sam said. “Kim would bring me over dinner. And we would put Melina – she was still in a baby carriage – put her under the table. Kim would go wait on customers for a half-hour while I ate, and then she’d grab the baby and come home. That’s what we did. Running your own business isn’t as easy as people think it is. It consumes all your time. Maybe it doesn’t consume all your time at the building, but it’s constantly on your mind. ”
They first opened the store at the plaza on Grand Island Boulevard. Then on Oct. 4, 2010, they moved and opened the store at the Tops plaza, where sales jumped 22%.
Sam stressed that making the customers happy is the key to a successful business.
“You walk in the store and you say you want Barefoot Moscato and I don’t have Barefoot Moscato. Well, guess what. Give me your name, give me your number,” he said. “I had a book there; we created a book when we first opened – because we had no clue what to order – whatever the customer wanted, we wrote it down, and I would call up the customer and I would say, ‘Just so you know, we now have Barefoot Moscato. You don’t have to come in and buy it. It’s on the shelf. Just so you know that we have it. Goodbye.’ And that’s how I created the business that we had.”
The caring attitude carried over – not only in the store, but in the community, where the Acetis provided charitable gifts to support activities and fundraising for schools and organizations on Grand Island and beyond.
“We’d given out tons and tons of gift baskets over the years,” he said.
Checking their records recently, he realized “We got almost 600 gift baskets we donated over the 16 years. And that doesn’t include the golf outings that we supported for the Grand Island High School – the GISBA (Grand Island School & Business Alliance).
Kim and Sam noted they also were the main sponsor of the comedy show produced by the Grand Island High School alumni association for about eight years. They also were a major sponsor of the high school’s golf outing for several years. Their donations were monetary.
“We always questioned how much we could support the school, because (the Acetis business) was alcohol. So this was our way of supporting the school,” Kim said. “That was our belief. “
“We wanted to keep the alcohol away from the kids, and yet we wanted to support the kids,” Sam explained.”
They said one of the biggest challenges of owning their own business was hiring the right staff with the right stuff, including math skills, as well as customer service skills.
Sam comes out of the sports and entertainment industry.
“I worked in the operations departments for four or five major arenas in the United States. I probably hired 400 to 500 people,” he said.
When it came to establishing his own liquor store, Sam said there was a lot of homework to do before setting foot in their own store. He put a business plan together with his wife – “She’s the ultraconservative. I’m the one that will stand on the edge and take a jump.”
He figured out how many bottles they had to sell per hour to make the business work, and they wondered if they would have to sell their house to make the investment, or if the sales would take off sufficiently to avoid that.
The sales were impressive in the very first hour of business; the first day – a 13-hour marathon – was a big success, and they were off and running.
“And we never once were in the negative,” Sam said. “I wanted to make sure where we were spending our money – what’s my return on my investment.”
As far as the biggest rewards?
“There’s a lot of people that thought that we weren’t going to do it,” he said. “I think the biggest thing for me is that I took myself out of having nothing and then giving my family a beautiful home, having a beautiful summer home, being able to do what we want – and I never thought I’d be here. I’m extremely humbled by the community. We would have never been successful if it wasn’t for the community.
“I just hope we left an everlasting positive impression. We’ll still be around. We’re not going anywhere.”