Guy Southern from Copper & Oak Liquor Merchants has won the inaugural Employee of the Year Award at the 28th annual LSA WA Liquor Industry Awards.

The Employee of the Year Award was introduced to replace the Young Liquor Retailer of the Year award category. The idea was to make this award more inclusive and provide the opportunity for any employee of a liquor store to be recognised for their hard work and commitment to the industry.

Southern, who was humbled just to be nominated alongside nine other worthy contenders, was delighted by the win, and said that he has subsequently been receiving some lovely feedback from the Western Australian liquor industry.

National Liquor News took the time to catch up with Southern after the awards night to find out what he enjoys most about the industry.

In 2015, Southern left a longstanding career in FMCG in search of something else, and without any real plan. At the time he was involved with beer writing, which developed into consulting around the WA beer industry and some beer judging.

During the early Covid lockdowns in 2020, he applied to work one night shift a week at Copper & Oak Liquor Merchants, and he’s still there today. When asked what he is most passionate about in his role at Copper & Oak, he enthusiastically says that it’s all about the customer.

“[I strive to create] an environment where relationships develop over time, people explore new products while still being able to enjoy favourites. Learning and sharing knowledge with the team and our community is endlessly rewarding, and fun,” he says.

“Working at an independent retailer provides scope to support smaller producers and offer a diverse range. We retail around 1,500 unique beers, 700 whiskies, 200 gins and a broad range of wine. This diversity allows for fun beyond the transactional, something our customers really enjoy.

“I love being the connection between producers and customers, celebrating and sharing their stories, and building knowledge. Add in the dance of creativity and commerce, and I hope that the sum of my efforts helps build culture, and our industry.”

Southern, who has a love of music and collects vinyl records in his spare time, has come up with a unique initiative at Copper & Oak, and one which has been adopted in-store by other independent retailers. He has developed Copper & Oak Radio and Copper & Oak Chill Radio on Spotify to help create a good energy and in-store vibe, one which complements the products they are retailing.

When it comes to offering advice to other people considering a career in liquor retailing, Southern says to really look at it as a long-term career and to make sure to find the fun in every day.

“There are so many opportunities, and while you may need to chart your own path, this is a profession that will reward for a whole career.”

He also wanted to take the opportunity to thank the Pestana family, owners of Copper & Oak, for letting him have as much fun as he does in his role.

“They deserve a massive congratulations for 20 years of independent, family-owned liquor retailing,” he says.

Deborah Jackson

Deb joined Intermedia in 2015 as Editor of National Liquor News and Deputy Editor of The Shout. Since then, she has also worked as the Editor of Beer & Brewer and the New Zealand title, World of Wine....

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