In the 2021 National Liquor News Industry Leaders Forum, we caught up with Chris O’Brien, General Manager of Liquor Barons, to hear about the events of last year and plans for the year ahead. 

Liquor Barons stores are coming off the back of 12 per cent growth in customer foot traffic, which General Manager Chris O’Brien attributes to an integrated marketing campaign and the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Being a co-operative, Liquor Barons’ focus is on ensuring each store continues to be more profitable each year via margin growth.

As O’Brien said: “The co-op doesn’t exist for itself, it exists to benefit its members, that is our overarching purpose so we need to frequently evaluate and adjust according to market conditions and expectations.”

Those evaluations led Liquor Barons to focus its 2021 around driving more customers into stores on a year-round basis. The business believes this can be achieved by having front line staff set the tone for the customer experience. O’Brien said the goal is to increase store traffic and ultimately sales, as this is the primary driver to making stores more profitable.

“Our steadfast focus is on our customers and their experience with the brand at their local store,” he outlined.

“In 2021 we will roll out further capability in our industry leading customer facing technology which will not only allow for a greater opportunity to interact with our customers but assist the process of selection, purchase and provide product information which is more accessible and interactive.

“This change in customer experience is multifaceted from shop fitouts being less ‘hard retail’ to more organic and free flowing, to tastings of new innovative products, to a high level of customer service where store owners get to know a customer’s likes and dislikes and they become a trusted source of advice.

“We are changing things up within the West Australian liquor industry, creating a more bespoke, friendly, less one-dimensional style service for our customers.”

Liquor Barons relaunched its loyalty program, Barons Locals, in September 2020, which led to an increase in customer numbers. O’Brien said this, in addition to updated digital marketing strategies, also helped strengthen a diverse customer base.

“We have consciously adopted the strategy of an integrated approach which incorporates traditional channels with digital marketing along with significant investment into our point of sales system and a sophisticated digital capability,” he said.

O’Brien noted that the Western Australian economy is now on an upward swing and said the positive outlook will lead to further growth for Liquor Barons stores and business partnerships.

He said: “Our wholesale relationships remain vitally important to the ongoing success of our business. Through effective integration and striving to achieve the most cost-effective supply chain solution for our members there is a greater opportunity for mutual growth.”

A bold prediction

O’Brien was forthcoming with his predictions for consumer consumption in 2021, heavily believing in the growing beer sector.

“There is a gut feeling that premium wine groups are dead. If you’re planning to join a premium wine group in 2021 you’re 10 years too late,” he stated.

“Beer continues to change consumption habits as the range of craft beers on offer ever increases. The fact that the flavours incorporated into craft beers challenge the norm is a big draw card for many consumers.

“The gin category remains hip and happening as it continues to evolve. A big challenge for many gin distilleries in 2021 will be the emergence of seltzers.”

You can read this story and many more in the 2021 National Liquor News Industry Leaders Forum here. 

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