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By Andy Knef
When Simpson County approved legal liquor sales on Nov. 4, 2019, young entrepreneur Randi Dunn, 22, saw the vote as a chance to serve her community—in more ways than one. With the help and support of her parents Carol and Bruce Dunn, Randi opened The Sip Discount Wine and Liquor on Simpson Highway 49 in Magee last month. “I’ve always wanted to operate my own business,” she says. “When talk about legalizing liquor sales here began looking realistic, my Dad and I decided: ‘If this thing passes, we’re going to open a store.’”
Randi appreciates that well-meaning citizens on both sides of the debate fought hard on the issue of making Simpson County wet. “We never lobbied anyone, all we did was vote,” she says. “I was born and raised here in Magee, graduated from Magee High School, and my family and I strongly support the idea that all alcohol drinking should be done responsibly. I have a sign in the front of the store that specifically spells out that message to our customers, and I’m adding it to all our business’ social media posts.”
A firm stance against drinking and driving is another core priority for Randi—one that she comes by through personal experience. “I’ve had a close family member pass away from drinking and driving so it hits home with me,” she adds.
The Sip faced launch challenges from the beginning, but Randi’s entrepreneurial passion and mission to give back to the people and community she loves powered her forward. After the liquor referendum passed with over 60 percent support, the Dunn family began renovating the property they already owned behind the Subway restaurant in Magee. They submitted their final application Dec. 12 for a permit to sell alcohol from Mississippi’s Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), the Department of Revenue agency that regulates alcohol distribution. It’s an exhaustive process that includes extensive background checks. “We stayed busy cleaning and building shelves but it seemed like it took forever,” Randi explains. “It was excitement coupled with a great deal of anxiety.” On January 24, The Sip received its permit number and Randi was finally authorized to order from the ABC warehouse and begin stocking her empty shelves with bottles of affordably priced wines, bourbons, vodkas, whiskeys, brandies and other popular spirits.
Lining up alcoholic products with customer demand is a big part of Randi’s job. It’s also a chance to educate the public and The Sip staff at the same time. Besides Randi, The Sip team pitches in part-time. That lineup includes Randi’s boyfriend Jacob Starita, Aunt Lisa Bryant and friend Cody Cumberland. “Our business has been growing in these first few weeks as we figure out what products people want and the sizes and flavors that are most popular,” Randi says. “At first I just ordered products I’ve seen in other package stores. After getting in a new shipment, it seemed like I had immediately compiled 8 pages of notes on customer preferences. A customer might ask: ‘What flavor of Paul Masson Brandy do you recommend?’” Randi adds that Beringer’s White Zinfandel has been flying off the shelves. Among The Sip’s solid supply of traditional liquors, Crown Royal and Southern Comfort remain popular standbys.
Another way to educate customers and staff on the subtleties of wine and liquor quality is to put them to the test. “I hope to introduce taste-testing at the store in the coming months,” Randi says. “For example, what does the term ‘Dry’ mean in a certain wine? Working with my product reps, tastings can be fun marketing events that will make my customers more educated consumers and me and my staff more knowledgeable advisors when it comes to all kinds of alcoholic products. I also plan to personally attend a free wine tasting at the Old South Winery in Natchez this month to learn more about the wine industry.”
A thirst for knowledge applies to Randi Dunn’s philosophy of life, not just her choice in wines. After graduating from Magee High in 2015, Randi earned her associate’s degree from Co Lin and went on to major in Business at Southern Mississippi University. She’s currently a senior specializing in Business Entrepreneurship. “I take classes in marketing, management and merchandising, and my goal is to learn a little bit about all aspects of being a successful business person,” she says. “Through my coursework and my own experience launching this business, I’ve developed a strong conviction about what it takes to succeed as an entrepreneur. Your best resource is the people who work for you, and unfortunately, a lot of business managers don’t understand that. It’s not the product you offer, but the people you have that’s the strength of your business. I want to give other people the opportunity to do something great and to work around other good people.”
Good people like Randi’s mother Carol, who helps out behind the register and stocking shelves, and Dad Bruce, who gladly pitches in offering customers his own spirited recommendations on favorite cocktails and ingredients. Randi adds: “When we decided to open the store, Dad said, ‘This is yours—it’s up to you to keep everything in line and make this a success.’”
Randi explains that her commitment to The Sip team, her family and her customers also embraces the entire Simpson County community. That’s why she joined the Chamber of Commerce soon after opening and welcomed Chamber members with a cookies-and-lemonade (non-alcoholic, if you please) get-together at the new store. And that’s why she hopes to collaborate with local restaurants to help them meet their wine and spirit needs.
Randi points to the local taxes that stores like The Sip and competing liquor purveyors will add to government coffers, but for her, it’s more personal. “This is my home,” she says thoughtfully, “and my goal is to be able, one day, to contribute directly to our local Simpson County schools, so that someone playing in the band, as I once did as a Magee Trojan, has all the equipment and support he or she needs to be the best they can be.”
Being the best she can be as an entrepreneur and a community leader. That’s Randi Dunn’s toast to her hometown as she steers The Sip Discount Wine and Liquor into a new era for Magee and Simpson County. Cheers to you, young Lady!