In the September issue of National Liquor News, we caught up with Western Australia liquor retail icon, Michael Tamburri. Here, we’ve expanded on that story to bring you even more of his insights about the industry, collected over 50 years in retail.
When Michael Tamburri got his first taste of the liquor retail industry through his uncle’s store in late 1970, things were a lot different to how they are now.
Over the years, Tamburri has seen trends come and go, consumers change their habits, and technology change significantly. But throughout all the different developments in the industry during his career, Tamburri has remained an extremely successful retailer, nominated for a number of awards and seeing great business results.
From the start he has shown a penchant for successful retail. When he bought a historically unsuccessful store to open his first independent outlet, Tam World Liquor, it was an incredible risk to take, but one that ultimately paid off.
“I had no one to support me or help me, not even the banks to give me money because of the history of the store. And thank god we surprised. We had a five year plan, but fortunately, what we wanted to do in five years happened in 18 months,” Tamburri said.
Today his store La Vigna, in the Perth suburb of Menora, is also the home store of wife Grace and daughter Ann Marie, who manages the store. Bringing together products from all over the world, the premium independent outlet specialises in wine and is renowned for its extensive range and exceptional quality.
This focus is one that has developed over time. When he first began, Tamburri said retail was all about beer, but then in the 1980s, winemaker Brian McGuigan paid his store a visit and gave him some sage advice that changed the course of his retail philosophy from that point on. Tamburri recalls McGuigan told him that going into wine would be “the cleverest move you’ll ever make in your life”, and so the store never looked back.
“Our focus was on service, product range and then specialising in a lot of products that weren’t available previously. We used to be the largest range stockist in Perth at the time, and managed to go from 4000 items to 14,000 items,” Tamburri said.
Today with La Vigna, the strategy solely revolves around the needs of the local consumer, as Tamburri said: “Our local customers are the focus, even though because of our specialty, people know us from afar and recognise us for our product range.
“And I’ve noticed in the last 18 months because of the lack of travel, people are looking to specialty stores again.”
The wide range of international products that La Vigna stocks is one example of how Tamburri has catered to the changing expectations of his local consumers. Although things have changed a lot in the industry since he began, he believes in the always steady value of being an independent, family-run business and how it helps connect him with his customer base.
“People’s loyalties have completely changed, and today people shop totally different to how they shopped when I started. Before, they used to have one butcher, one supermarket, one bottle shop. But now, they’ve got that much choice, it’s changed their expectations,” he said.
The ways people shop in liquor has also been influenced by other outside factors, including things like international travel regularity increasing in the early 2000s, which made customers want more international products. Being independent and agile, Tamburri said he’s always been able to adjust his offering to these outside influences accordingly.
“We’ve been lucky to anticipate the market shifts, how people went from beer in the 80s, then into specialty Australian wines and then in the 2000s to international products, and now we’ve gone through the RTDs to see the craft beers go crazy. That’s the journey, you have to see the change and adapt to it,” he said.
“Our stock range used to change probably every two or three years. Now, we have to adapt and change within six months. Its not to follow the market, but to lead the market.”
Identifying and successfully predicting what the customer base actually wants is Tamburri’s biggest lesson from his career and ultimately whats kept him in the industry so long.
He said it’s important to: “be very sincere and straightforward to your customer base and make sure to provide for their needs. Its pointless stocking 1000 beers if you’re in an area where people prefer spirits, and vice versa.
“What drives me and inspires me is our customer profile, that’s what’s made it interesting, that interaction. As an independent, you get a closer relationship with your customers, and that’s what’s really relevant.”
Personalisation is key for Tamburri’s approach in this way, opting to avoid too much general advertising and instead looking to provide targeted offers to existing customers. The intention of this is for these customers to then talk about their experience to others and expand the reach of the store.
“It’s become a faceless society, everything’s done online or by phone or by text, and that relationship with a customer is harder to maintain, but I think in future that people are going to go back to basics. In other words, keep things simple, identify your market and just understand your customer, that is what is crucial,” Tamburri said.
In terms of the advice he would give to retailers starting up in the industry, Tamburri suggested sticking to a simple focus in line with that target market you have identified. And by doing this through all components of the business – from the online presence, to the product range and offering, right through to staffing – retailers can differentiate themselves in the market as it ebbs and flows.