The Heart of the Entrepreneur: Devlin's Wine & Spirits
David Vincent | Photographer
As owner of Devlin’s Wine & Spirits, he is used to the question, and it makes him proud. It points to his heritage as a third-generation entrepreneur in Topeka.
Yes. He IS one of those Devlins.
Grandpa, Henry Devlin, and great uncle, Bart Devlin, started Devlin’s Grocery Store just over the bridge in Oakland 73 years ago. A lot of long-time Topeka residents fondly remember the store.
“My grandpa had that store on 6th Street until he retired,” Devlin said.
Customers also remember his father, Pat Devlin, who owned a sewing machine place on 6th Street. Pat Devlin opened up that shop in the mid-1980s and ran it until he saw the sewing machine market changing and decided to get into the liquor business.
The Devlin’s Wine & Spirits of today started as a rented spot inside a gas station on south Wanamaker. Clayton Devlin’s parents ran that store, expanded it into a freestanding location and moved the store to the highly visible corner of 29th and Wanamaker in 2001.
Clayton Devlin grew up in the business.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I remember going to sewing machine and fabric warehouses and shopping with him [dad],” Devlin said. “I mowed the yards to all the properties and painted. I always wanted to be around my dad and I always knew that was what I wanted to do.”
After Devlin graduated from Kansas State with a business degree in 2006, he went straight back into working at his parents’ business. Three years later he had bought them out. “I was extremely young. But I had always been interested in the business. Even as a 10-year-old, I would go sit in the kitchen and listen to my parents talk business rather than going to watch cartoons,” Devlin said.
Devlin says the three-generation entrepreneurial history behind him gave him the understanding of the kind of hard work it takes to be successful. It also gave him the confidence that he could be successful too.
“Knowing that I could go talk to my dad about it at any time has to be the biggest part that makes me feel confident,” Devlin said.
When Devlin took over the store, one of the first changes he made was to computerize the business.
“My dad was not a computer guy,” Devlin said.
It was the first of many upgrades to the 29th and Wanamaker store, and now at the second location of Devlin’s Wine & Spirits on 21st Street west of Gage. Devlin says he completes a major project nearly every year because he believes upgrades and expansions are just part of keeping the business thriving and growing.
“Every year, the national chains are doing something new to their stores,” Devlin said. “You have to stay competitive and invest in your store. When people walk in, I want them to feel that we have a clean, organized store with a good collection that makes it easy to shop.”
Devlin says he likes the challenge of being a business owner. There is constant change and different issues to deal with every day.
He also enjoys the opportunity it has given him to be involved in the community. Devlin helps a lot of charitable organizations with wine pulls for their annual fundraising events.
“It’s a great reward to see all the charity events be successful,” Devlin said.
ADJUST & DIVERSIFY Other changes in the near future for Devlin include adjusting to new liquor laws in Kansas. The first will come in April of 2019, when grocery stores, gas stations and drug stores will be able to sell 6% and under beer. Currently the regulation is 3.2% and under.
“It will affect the domestic beers for sure. Instead of 33 liquor stores in Topeka, now we will have 200 people selling it,” Devlin said.
Devlin is preparing for the change by diversifying and adjusting his inventory and appeal to offer a bigger selection and a more shop-able selection than other stores in Topeka. Devlin’s is currently the 10th largest liquor store in Kansas. That distinction gives them a better chance than some other Topeka stores of getting highly allocated items— like limited edition brews. That kind of inventory draws in and helps keep customers.
In the future, Devlin anticipates there will be more changes to liquor laws. As an entrepreneur, he believes the best plan is to be prepared to change your business model when the time comes.
“Do I want those changes to happen? Of course not. Change is hard. But I am not naïve about it happening. There’s a lot of years left for change,” Devlin said.