Dynamic retailers bask in the limelight

The trade gets too few opportunities to take a bow and, when the moment arose this week, Off Licence News was again on hand to roll out the red carpet to make sure it didn’t pass without appropriate ceremony.

For the 10th year running, our Drinks Retailing Awards played host to the biggest night in the off-trade’s calendar, saluting the contribution made by retailers of all shapes and sizes. While the trade has changed enormously in the past decade, the intention of our awards since their launch has remained the same – to recognise the cream of the industry.

One of the most striking trends of this year’s entries was that, far from retreating into a mindset of purely peddling drinks on price – a claim that is so often levelled at retailers – many are seeking increasingly novel ways to develop and morph their offer.

Bringing new initiatives and ideas to the market is a key element of good retailing – and this doesn’t stop because there’s a recession. As I said to our assembled guests on the awards night, while wrangles over price and margin will continue to dominate headlines, there remains a valuable level of innovation that is often overlooked. Supermarket buying teams are usually where most of the blame is laid, making it too easy for commentators to dismiss the efforts of individuals working to enhance, not erode, the categories they oversee.

It would be naive to believe that this vital entrepreneurial spirit lives in every buying department of every retailer or that it can’t be stifled by the pressures often applied by the financial controllers above. Which is all the more reason why we should applaud it when it’s in clear evidence.

David Smith, the beer and cider buyer for northern chain Booths, was very much the star of the show, picking up the Off Licence News Lifetime Achievement Award. Throughout his career, he has pioneered quality and provenance, experimenting with new ways of educating customers. He was ahead of the game when it came to in-store tastings and unearthing unknown gems for his range. He approached his sector with passion and conviction and took the customers shopping in Booths along with him.

There are plenty of suppliers who wish they could see more buyers supporting the values he extolled when they are negotiating, and he is a great role model whatever the product category.

Smith has served the industry well during his tenure, helping it to thrive and prosper. If our awards are any indication, he will no doubt feel reassured that there are many retailers who share his vision and genuinely believe in protecting the health of the industry in the years ahead.

Another round of applause to all our winners and finalists, without whose dedication the UK drinks scene would be a far less dynamic place.?