As the category manager of beer, wine and packaged beverage for Stillwater, Okla.-based OnCue Express, Kim Cuellar is responsible for space management and product selection as well as product optimization and promotion management.
“Every time I tell someone I’m a beer and wine buyer, they respond, ‘That’s the dream job!’ And I say, ‘Yes, yes, it is,’” Cuellar said.
In her role, she also works closely with the merchandising team to set up new cooler and shelf sets.
“I believe each wine and beer assortment should be individualized by each store,” Cuellar said. “While it’s more work, it really helps provide a customized variety.”
Cuellar also played a key role in the launch of OnCue’s new app, working with the app partner Rovertown and creating offers and promotions across categories to ensure its success and ability to provide value to customers, especially during difficult economic times.
For all this and more, CStore Decisions is recognizing Cuellar as a 2021 Category Management Leader.
How It Started
Cuellar has a PhD in human sciences, a master of business administration (MBA) and a bachelor of science in marketing, all from Oklahoma State University (OSU).
In the time between earning her MBA and her PhD, she worked for Sonic Drive-In’s corporate office as a sensory and consumer insight analyst.
“When learning about sensory, I took a class with UC Davis, which is renowned for its extension education programs, largely focused on wine,” she said. “I was totally hooked on studying beverages after that course.”
Her PhD research was primarily focused on food and beverage. And over the course of her career, she’s received her certified sommelier, multiple Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET) certifications, Society for Wine Educators certifications and her Certified Beer Server through the Cicerone program.
She spent seven years teaching food, alcohol and research courses at Virginia Tech, Texas Tech and at her alma mater, OSU. And she served as the director of the Wayne Hirst Beverage Education Center, the executive director of the Wine Forum of Oklahoma, the largest education and scholarship fundraiser for hospitality students in the state, and the founding director of the Craft Beer Forum of Oklahoma, a sister event to Wine Forum, focusing on beer education.
“How I ended up at OnCue is a great story,” she said.
While she was teaching at OSU, a program called the Distinguished Chef Series Dinner culminated in a special scholarship dinner four times a year, which OnCue’s Griffith and Aufleger families attended. The dinner included a wine component, and Cuellar was the beverage education director.
“I knew that Jim Griffith, the CEO of OnCue, wasn’t the biggest fan of white wines but really enjoyed big bold red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon. I also knew he was a big craft beer fan,” Cuellar said. “Every dinner, I would specifically pair a beer for him instead of white wine. I would also stop at their table and chat. Long story long, I guess my hospitality, wine and special beer pairings won him over because I went to OnCue as fast as I could!”
How It’s Going
Cuellar is not only passionate about the category, but also about the company she works for.
“OnCue is just the best company,” she said. “Waking up every day being able to take on new challenges while having the support of executive management is very rewarding. Everyone is incredibly kind and empowering, so it makes work
Ultimately, she said, collegiality supports growth and productivity in the workplace. The public relations, graphics, pricebook and purchasing teams work closely together for the betterment of the company and one another. Cuellar also has a deep respect for the leadership team.
“I believe that Laura Aufleger, our president, is the epitome of class, grace, eloquence and logic,” she said. “She has been a tremendous role model and mentor. My supervisor, the Director of Purchasing Greg Webb, also has the most wonderful servant heart, so I try to emulate that as much as I can.”
Of course, the pandemic has brought its challenges. For Cuellar, it’s significantly changed how she views sets and assortment. For example, she’s continuing to focus on 12-packs and larger and decreasing assortment of six-packs. She’s also keeping price optimization and elasticity in mind now more than ever before, and she’s filling voids caused by the aluminum shortage, “while still providing customers the product they want — and maybe product they don’t know they want yet.”
She’s dubbing 2021 “the year of the full-flavor seltzer” and is looking forward to increased seltzer innovations, as well as ready-to-drink wine cocktails.
But she’s also putting increased focus on local craft breweries, many of which have been struggling amid shutdowns and other pandemic-related challenges. OnCue’s new brewery collaboration series teams up with Oklahoma breweries to create limited-edition beers sold in OnCue stores across the state.
“They are providing an amazing product, so I really want to support our local economy as much as I can,” she said. “We are making investments in additional local craft beer space to support local breweries and to provide customers an opportunity to connect with product made in Oklahoma that they may or may not have tried before.”
No matter what this year brings, Cuellar will be on the front lines, ready to provide customers with “the best product, with the best variety, at the right price.”
“I love nothing more than going to our stores, seeing what their challenges and opportunities are and seeing what our employees think about what products are out there,” she said. “I learn more from our amazing store managers and employees than anything.”