Spice up your sales

Laura Clark and Christine Boggis have a few suggestions

1 Stock premium brands, encourage trade-up

"Premiumisation" is the buzzword at the moment and a raft of upmarket launches are making it easier to steer customers towards higher-margin drinks.

Heritage, regionality and provenance stories - explained on shelf barkers or by hand-selling - are all reasons to pay more.

Pernod Ricard has been encouraging shoppers to trade up by attaching 20cl samples of Martell VSOP to bottles of Martell VS, and offering the chance to send away for a flask containing The Glenlivet 15 Year Old with a purchase of The Glenlivet 12 Year Old.

The Co-op has introduced a selection of premium products across various spirits categories and sales have grown 3.2 per cent ahead of volume growth at 1.4 per cent, according to BWS category marketing manager Vicky Steel.

She says: "For the past few years, consumers have started to shop for more premium products within the food and drink sector, and the on-trade has reacted quickly. It is not unusual for bars and clubs to pour slightly more premium brands as house spirits nowadays. This trend has also been moving across to the off-trade, and the steady move to range key premium lines will help to add value."

2 Sell something your competitors don't

Look for smaller, specialist producers - you could even source them yourself. Major spirits-producing regions such as Cognac and Armagnac are just a budget airline flight away for many.

Stock local spirits. Try Suffolk's Bushes Brew's fruit-infused gins and vodkas, Boru Irish vodka, apple brandy from Somerset or Merlyn Welsh cream liqueur from the Welsh Whisky Co.

Suggest food pairings such as Appleton Estate rum with chocolate, Cragganmore 12 Year Old with Scotch pies or Glenkinchie 10 Year Old with Parmigiano Reggiano cheese.

3 Educate staff

If you really want to grow sales and profits you need to know your range inside out - and make sure everyone who works with you does too. Nothing sells as effectively as a passion for the product."There is a genuine lack of knowledge among shoppers about different categories, brands and styles. Give staff information so they can advise and help," says Drew Munro, general manager for Beam Global Spirits & Wine.

Giles Fisher, Waitrose's central buyer for beers and spirits, adds: "Retailers need to train the people in the branch on product knowledge and product use. We've focused a lot more on this area in the past year and have many WSET qualified staff."

Open a bottle for staff after you close the shop and tell your colleagues all about it. You'd be surprised how many of the drinks trade's most successful figures caught the bug over a tipple after work.

Maxxium UK has developed an educational programme for the on-trade - Essential Mixx - which it is now planning to take to the off-trade. The scheme covers five basic steps bartenders should follow when creating a range of mixed drinks.

4 Perfect service

Happy punters grow sales by recommending you, so it's vital that staff are motivated, communicative and well-trained.

"Customers should always be greeted with a smile when they visit their local off-licence as it is important to engage them with the shop and the staff so they are more inclined to revisit and repurchase," says Simon Oldham, UK off-trade sales director for Whyte & Mackay.

5 Get feedback

Keep a variety of core products available and ask customers which ranges they would like to see extended.

Monitor on-trade trends and find out what your customers are drinking when they go out.

"It's nice to have new spirits sitting on the shelves, but pointless if there is no demand for them," says Stelios Eliades, of spirits specialist Gerry's in London's Soho.

6 Tell customers about the best serves

Use shelf-edge labels to explain how a spirit tastes and what is a good mixer, and use third-party recommendations where possible.

Pernod Ricard has introduced tear-off coupons which help consumers understand "how to enjoy the products and so are helping to drive spirit categories", according to commercial director Simon Thomas.

Northern retailer Booths merchandises its malt whiskies by region. Shelf-edge barkers feature maps of the Highlands, Lowlands, Islay, Campbeltown and Speyside, and describe each malt's regional characteristics.

Waitrose prints cocktail recipes in its free monthly drinks magazine.

7 Get spirits out from behind the counter

Suppliers are convinced shoppers will buy more spirits if they can browse them in the way they do wines and beers - and many retailers feel the same. Some even say sales increases are worth more than the loss of the occasional bottle to an opportunist thief. Diageo is trialling cross-merchandising units in which spirits are brought out from behind the counter, protected by security caps, and sales have grown 39 per cent.

The FWD's spirits merchandising scheme Putting Leaders on Display offers retailers security caps for 1-litre and 70cl bottles, so they can be safely moved to open shelves. Retailer Simon Jones says he boosted sales by 29 per cent at his Melksham off-licence Night & Day after introducing the FWD's with the scheme.

As part of its trial of Grab & Go units, Diageo trialled a display unit which made the noise of a bottle of Schweppes tonic opening when a customer picks up a bottle from the stand.One retailer who tried out the scheme says it was useful for keeping an eye on what customers were doing - but annoying when they started picking up bottles just to make the noise. A Diageo spokeswoman says the trial found security caps were more effective.

Not everyone wants spirits on open shelves. Steve Denham from Londis in West Chiltington tried bringing spirits out from behind the counter last Christmas. He says: "We had all the promoted range with shelf-edge barkers, but they didn't even notice it there. They came to the counter and asked for it there, because that is where they have always bought it."

8 Get merchandising right

Make sure customers know what they are buying and give them ideas for what to do with spirits when they get them home.

Keep merchandising simple. Use beacon brands to guide shoppers around aisles and signpost each category with shelf-edge barkers.

Merchandise spirits with classic or more unusual mixers - such as vodka alongside cranberry juice, ginger beer or fruit juices as an alternative to cola.

Put an ice chest, cocktail kits and fresh fruit alongside spirits.

Sell or give away cocktail guides and recipe cards.

Diageo is trialling Grab & Go display units marketing spirits with mixers and snacks - with themes such as Great Night In for Smirnoff, Coke and snacks; Chilled Night In for Gordon's, Schweppes tonic and snacks; and seasonal stands such as Mother's Day with Baileys, chocolates and appetisers. Diageo says trials have shown spirits volumes grew 60 per cent compared with

spirits marketed in closed units.

9 Make it all about the occasion

High-value drinks such as spirits sell best as treats for Christmas, as presents and if customers just want to reward themselves.

Beat the discounters at Christmas by encouraging customers to trade up - and why not offer to gift wrap purchases for them?

Make space for popular gifts such as malts and liqueurs around Christmas, whiskies and brandies around Father's Day, and more feminine drinks such as Baileys on Mother's Day.

Stock gift packs and presentation boxes at Christmas.

Highlight the odd high value spirit as a gift or treat outside the traditional gift seasons - it's always someone's birthday or anniversary.

10 Get some in-store theatre going

The off-trade has a 77.5 per cent share of spirits volume sales in the UK - but just 43.6 per cent of the value.

Retailers are never going to be able to hike prices to on-trade levels or serve cocktails in the way bartenders can - but there are ways to get a bit more excitement into shops.

United Brands director Rob Preston says: "On-trade theatre and serve is difficult to replicate in the off-trade but, with home entertaining continuing to grow, we must still try. Very simple, different cocktails are one way.

"The Dark & Stormy, made with Goslings Black Seal Rum, ginger beer and lime is one cocktail which has a dramatic positive effect on the consumer's palate and on their perception of dark rum.

"We run a very successful programme of masterclasses throughout the on-trade channel that has stimulated 400 per cent year-on-year volume performance.

"We talk about the heritage of Goslings and bring the brand to life. This sort of thing can be done with BWS managers in the off-trade."

Try holding some sampling events. Time after time retailers have told OLN that sampling is a key way to boost sales, especially if it shows customers a different way to serve a spirit, or a new cocktail they can easily replicate at home. If you're a small operation, you could hold tastings for customers and staff at the same time.

Try sampling spirits and snacks - it may work just as well as a cross-merchandising unit if your space is tight.

Related articles: