In the 2022 National Liquor News Industry Leaders Forum, Chris O’Brien, General Manager of Liquor Barons, talked about the core strengths of the business and how this has helped overcome 2021’s challenges.

Liquor Barons enjoyed a successful 2021, with the Western Australian cooperative continuing to see like for like growth and increased brand loyalty.

General Manager Chris O’Brien told National Liquor News that single digit growth had continued throughout 2021, and is expected to remain into 2022.

There were three key highlights for Liquor Barons in 2021 – an increase in membership, with store numbers growing to more than 90 outlets; an increase in market share; and the strength of the group’s marketing campaigns, which continue to focus on the Liquor Barons brand as opposed to product or price.

O’Brien explains: “The Legit Locals campaign has really put our brand into a particularly strong position within Western Australia. The Liquor Barons branding now not only attracts more people, but it has increased performance in our brand health numbers.”

When it comes to challenges, staff recruitment has been a key concern at all levels, from frontline store workers up to professional and managerial levels. Tough border restrictions have eliminated the migrant workforce and further to that, the mining sector is booming and there are a plethora of jobs paying more than $150k.

“It’s difficult to maintain customer facing staff when those sorts of alternatives are available,” says O’Brien, who also points out that it’s a difficult position to be in when the business is growing but is short staffed.

“If we took a poll of our 90 member stores, I think that every one would have at least one or two roles to fill. What we’re seeing in hospitality venues is that they’re closing for two or three days a week just to make sure their staff get a break, and there is the potential that we could get to that point too, where liquor stores and hotels need to close or operate on reduced hours, to give their exhausted staff a rest,” he added.

Looking ahead to 2022, O’Brien says the key focus areas for Liquor Barons will be growing revenue, growing margins in-store, and growing its customer base through the next phase of the award winning Legit Locals marketing campaign. In 2021, the Legit Locals campaign picked up the Australian Institute of Management’s Marketing Excellence Award, and achievement that O’Brien says he “couldn’t be prouder of”.

Independent retail is the new on-premise for growing brands

O’Brien says the age-old adage of ‘you grow brands in the on-premise’ is no longer true and that independent retail has become a more trusted source of generating trial of new products.

“I think independent retail had evolved incredibly and has proven itself as a trusted source of information and education,” he says.

“It’s almost like independent retailers are the new on-premise. I think you grow brands in the off-premise and the local expert at independent liquor stores is now a key influencer when it comes to creating trial with new products.

“During COVID, where consumers haven’t been able to use the on-premise, brands returned to the high street and gave indie retailers a go, and have found the experience to be really rewarding, so they haven’t left.

“Indie retailers should be really proud of themselves, because they are doing a great job. They are growing new products and creating trial, and really proving that independent retailers are the new on-premise.”

Article written by Deb Jackson.

Read more from the 2022 National Liquor News Leaders Forum here.

Brydie Allen

Brydie Allen is the Editor of National Liquor News. She has been with Food and Beverage Media since 2019, when she joined the company as a journalist across National Liquor News, Bars & Clubs, The...

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