R. Heath and Jacqueline Lachman’s Bronxville Business Rejuvenation
First Topps Bakery, now Topps Wine and Liquor keep the dynamic duo ahead of the curve on bringing local storefronts back to life.
The Lachmans hope to make their wine store as successful as their bakery a few doors down.
Photo by John Fortunato
The Wine & Spirits Emporium of Bronxville at 98 Pondfield Road, with its 2,700 square feet of dark, dingy walls; a warped floor; and poor yellow lighting, was in trouble in the spring of 2012. The owner, who’d run it for 28 years (the space was a wine shop—Griffler’s—going back to the 1920’s), had died and his widow, who’d struggled to keep the business afloat, was ready to retire.
Enter the Yonkers (Bronxville PO) husband-and-wife team of R. Heath Lachman, 41, and Jacqueline Majers Lachman, 46, for whom rescuing venerable Bronxville businesses that have seen better days has become a habit.
In the Fall of 2006, the couple, who had no baking experience (though there is sort of a “sweet” lineage, as Heath’s great-great-great grandfather, Charles Smylie, had founded Y&S Candies, the company that invented Twizzlers), bought Topps Bakery at 106 Pondfield Road and, within two weeks, had remodeled, renamed, and reopened the 80–plus-year-old business. Today, Topps Bakery offers 221 made-from-scratch items, and has annual sales of $800,000, lean operating expenses, and lots of customers.
After the first few years of owning the bakery, however, the Lachmans realized its finite income potential. “We broke even in the third year, and it was only in the fourth year that I was able to take a modest salary of thirty-five thousand dollars,” says Heath, whose occupational background was in ad sales at magazine publisher Meredith and media/entertainment giant Clear Channel. “There’s only so much you can do with fourteen hundred square feet.” Until August 2012, Jacqueline’s low six-figure salary as VP/chief strategy officer at Reader’s Digest in Chappaqua was the couple’s primary source of income.
In 2012, the couple had been “kicking the tires on some franchises”—Red Mango was one—but decided that, with their successful retail experience with the bakery and Heath’s deep interest in wines, the wine store two doors down was the perfect opportunity.
“The key when purchasing an existing business is turnaround,” says Jacqueline. “The longer the turnaround, the more money it costs you.” They received the key to the store on August 1 after closing the deal the last week of July, and held a soft store opening October 10—just under 10 weeks. The startup budget was $400,000, garnered mostly from personal savings.
Those 10 weeks were a mad scramble of a remodel that included hiring a retail designer (Yonkers native Whitney Vlasaty of volatile-design.com, who has worked on some of the Vince Camuto stores), two rounds of cleaning, ordering supplies, painting, building repairs, and putting in new countertops, a floor, office furniture, a lighting system, water heater, bathroom, computers/POS system, and a piano (entertainment for in-store tastings). Also, a lot of sweat equity on Heath’s part—which “was worth it,” he says. “Working for yourself, you create your own destiny. It’s a more controllable environment than working for someone else.”
Topps Wine and Liquor, up and running for 13 weeks as of press time, offers a selection of wines from the US and around the world, with a special focus on French wines (the Lachmans were engaged in the vineyard for the Château Bélair-Monage in the commune of Saint-Émilion of the Bordeaux wine region), an extensive collection of liquors, plus wine accessories and wine gift baskets. Most bottles range from $14 to $200.
There are cross-marketing opportunities between the two businesses—the logos, signage, and staff uniforms are a similar style and of coordinating colors, and promotional mailings apply to both stores (the $5 Christmas card coupon, in which recipients get a no-purchase-necessary coupon redeemable for $5, has been particularly successful).
“Running the bakery is actually more complicated than running the wine store,” says Heath. “A bakery has two elements—a factory in back where the product is made and retail in front where the product is sold. The wine shop is just the one retail element.”
Is there a longstanding hardware store or flower shop along Pondfield that looks a bit long in the tooth the couple is scoping out?
“We always have an eye out for our next venture,” Jacqueline says.
Topps Wine and Liquor Start-Up Expenses
The $400,000 budget to pay for costs came from personal savings (70 percent) and previous owner financing (30 percent).
Start-up Inventory (liquor/other saleable items) $150,000
Remodel (including a designer) $40,000
Security Deposit $30,000
or two months’ rent (It normally
would have been more but the
landlord for Topps Wine and
Liquor is the same for
Topps Bakery, so the Lachmans
generously received a “Good
Guy Guarantee.” The landlord
based this “deal” on his positive
past experience with the couple.)
Legal (two attorneys) $30,000
Insurance (annually) $15,000
New POS System $10,000
(includes a church bulletin ad,
extensive PR efforts/costs related
to staging shoots, and shared expense
for a joint bakery direct-mail piece
to 15,000 households in the 10708 zip).
Exterior Signage $4,000
Liquor Permit $3,000
Staffing Start $1,500
(to load in product)
Previous Owner N/A
(There’s an NDA so the amount
paid to the previous owner is not available.)
Topps Wine and Liquor Monthly Expenses
To break even each day, the Lachmans need to sell 151 $20 bottles of wine.
(including a wine consultant: Mount
Vernon’s Ronnie Mostero, who runs
Christie’s Auction House’s wine-storage
Cost of Goods N/A
(Due to the newness of the business,
the Lachmans were unable to give a
definite figure for this.)
Payments to Purchase (first year only) $8,000