International Women’s Day is held on 8 March every year as a day to celebrate women’s strengths and to continue the fight for gender equality. As we all know, the liquor industry is about much more than just the products on the shelf. It is also an industry of connection and collaboration.

Throughout the month of March, National Liquor News will be sharing a series of profiles online to celebrate influential women in the liquor retail industry. Today, we share our conversation with Kate Burls, Owner of Lorn Bottle Shop, about her unexpected venture into liquor retail, and everything she has learnt along the way.

NLN: Could you tell us how you got into the industry, and what kind of places your career has taken you?

KB: I ended up in the liquor industry more by accident than design seven years ago when I inherited a bottle shop. My background was in corporate marketing, which had taken me from Sydney to London and then back to Australia, where we decided to make the Hunter Valley our home. I never, in my wildest imaginations, thought I would end up owning a bottle shop.

NLN: Have there been any highlights or really defining moments of your career so far?

KB: I would have to say, the most defining moment in my career was going from a corporate background as an employee to a small business owner. You suddenly become the boss. You have to become an expert in HR, accounting, marketing, and in the liquor industry, you need to be up to speed with all the compliance.  

I was thrown in at the deep end. From employee to employer and I had to learn fast. One thing my corporate background did provide me was the knowledge to surround myself with a good team and ask for help from the specialists.

NLN: Hospitality and liquor are known to be fairly male-dominated – what are some of the common challenges that you think women face in these industries?

KB: Like any small business, you have to be able to multitask, and most importantly communicate, and that is something women have in spades.

I have worked most of my career in male dominated environments. And the liquor industry is no exception. Even today when I tell people what I do, heads swivel. In my mind, I am a small business owner, not a bottle shop owner. It is a business like any other, I just sell liquor instead of frocks. The major difference is the high level of regulation in the industry.

Like any other male dominated industry, women face the usual issues, and I do believe that at times women might be seen as an easy target, a bit like a woman buying a car. I am by no means saying this is always the case. However, there is still a fair bit of chauvinism in some trades.

NLN: Do you think there are issues with gender gaps in hospitality and liquor, whether that be pay gaps, ratio gaps, gaps in opportunity, etc? Have you personally experienced these?

KB: Personally, I do not see any gender gaps in the industry at a retail level in relation to pay gaps, everyone gets paid according to the award not their gender – the corporate world may indeed be very different. The reality is that the industry does favour males in retail due to the heavy lifting nature of the work such as moving pallets, lifting cases of liquor and, in some cases, driving a forklift.

I am by no means saying that women cannot do these things either, it is just that it appeals more to men by virtue of the physical ability. My business thrives on the mixture of both, but sometimes it is harder to get women to apply for a position.

NLN: What are some positive ways that you think women can overcome these challenges, and ways that we as an industry can tackle these types of challenges?

KB: If a woman wants to work in the liquor industry then she should not feel that it is male dominated, merely a business that offers some great opportunities, and a lot of fun. A couple of things that have helped me along the way have been: 

  • have a vision
  • don’t be swayed, stick to your beliefs and be prepared to fight for them
  • have a good team and support crew – there are days that can really kick you to the curb
  • and, most importantly, enjoy the ride.  The liquor industry can be very fulfilling and rewarding and a lot of fun along the way.

NLN: If we take a step back and think about women in general who are entering the industry and want to further their careers – from your point of view, what advice would you have for them about doing that and getting into the kind of space you’re in now?

KB: I would highly recommend that women get into small business, and the liquor industry is by no means off limits. Women drink alcohol too. In fact, women can be very passionate in the industry. There are an increasing number of female winemakers and also a notable increase of women in the distilling business, particularly gins. They bring a little je ne sais quoi to the industry that appeals to the female market, thus creating greater variety in the market, which can’t be a bad thing, can it?

NLN: What do you think we can do as an industry to value and encourage women’s inclusion?

KB: I would just say to women who are looking for a career change to not disregard the liquor industry.  Many of the businesses in the industry may be passed down from generation to generation, particularly in the wine industry, but this does not in any way stop women who have a passion and keen interest in the industry giving it a go. It is well worth it.

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