Liquor retailers across the country are navigating the aftermath of the most extraordinary year to date.

Retailers in Western Australia have been doing this alongside another set of unusual circumstances. In Perth, retailers recently experienced a snap lockdown, while Pilbara retailers continued to see the positives of the Banned Drinkers Register (BDR) trial, and further north in the Kimberley, retailers started another BDR trial.

And alongside this as always, the Liquor Stores Association of Western Australia (LSA WA) has been equally as busy, as it works on a slew of tasks to support its members and give independent retailers a voice in the state.

National Liquor News this week caught up with Peter Peck, CEO of LSA WA, to hear about what’s been happening in the organisation and what’s next on the cards.

BDR trials

The rollout of the BDR in the Pilbara last year and most recently this year in the Kimberley has been something that the entire industry in WA has welcomed with open arms. As one of the organisations that spearheaded the initiative, LSA WA is incredibly pleased to see the trial roll out across both areas.

Peck said in the Kimberley, the soft roll out has begun and is on schedule, with the highest populated area of Broome getting the first set of scanning machines. There have been no complaints as yet, as shoppers get used to the idea of scanning their ID in-store.

Meanwhile in the Pilbara, Peck said: “It’s getting close to the six month point where the independent [researchers] from the University of WA will do their first report. I think that report will be full of a lot of positives and encouraging signs that this is having an impact.

“Of course, it’s not going to fix everything in the first six months, but it’s a case of people becoming educated for it to become part of their thought process prior to committing an offense when they’re intoxicated. The risk of having the tap turned off will hopefully become a big enough deterrent that they’ll think twice before they behave badly.”

The launch of the BDR in Broome. Source: Liquor Stores Association of WA

Innovating and adapting

One of the big aims for LSA WA is to keep WA retailers up to date with information that may impact their businesses, as it arises. An innovative and adaptable approach to this has been key to keep members efficiently engaged about such content.

A recent example of such innovation has been through the creation of a podcast titled ‘Packaged.’ Developed during the pandemic as a way to keep members informed in a new format, it’s just one example of how LSA WA is embracing new ways of thinking.

Peck said that during COVID, the open rate of LSA WA material went through the roof as people searched for any source of information they could. When this began to taper off as people became more “COVID comfortable,” the team began to look for other ways to get information to time-poor members who might not have the opportunity or the interest to sit down and focus on reading.

The initial trial of the Packaged podcast saw higher engagement than LSA WA could have imagined and it set the wheels in motion for a series that has had guests from all across the industry, including National Liquor News and The Shout.

In terms of where the popularity comes from, Peck said: “People are able to listen at their leisure without having to sit and concentrate on reading. People are listening in their cars on the way to work… it just gives us a broader platform to get information into people’s heads and educate them in the easiest form for them.”

With a click rate sitting at around 80 per cent, a phenomenal result for any online communication, Peck said the podcast is set to continue with a number of people across different sectors reaching out to be involved. Meanwhile, LSA WA is already thinking about where else it can innovate.

“We’re already talking about what we are going to be doing over the next two years because we want to stay ahead of the curve. We don’t want to follow what other people do, we’d rather people follow us. Podcasts are now the norm, so we’re now looking at the next innovation that we can bring into this industry to make communication with our members even easier for them,” he said.

The LSA WA Sundowner event in 2020. Source: Liquor Stores Association of WA (Facebook)

Relationship with government

From a lobbying standpoint, Peck said one of the biggest wins recently has been liquor stores remaining an essential service throughout lockdowns during the pandemic. This is indicative of the positive relationship that LSA WA has with the current government, including new Minister, the Honorable Reece Whitby.

“It’s been phenomenal… They are listening, they are taking on board everything we’re saying. Sometimes they don’t agree with us, and that’s fine. We’ll just continually keep pushing the point until they either make a decision or come across. We’re not going to get everything we want, we’re realistic, but most of the stuff we’re dealing with is common sense, and they can see that. This government doesn’t seem to be frightened of trying something new and different,” Peck said.

“I feel that moving forward into the next four years, we’re going to see a lot of change in liquor, but it’s going to be positive change. And it’s going to be positive change for both our industry, but also health and the general public. I think we’re going to find that people will start to wake up and understand that we shouldn’t be going head to head with each other because there’s a large number of things we all agree on. We’ll start to kick some seriously good goals with government this year because collaboratively, we are pretty much on the same page on most things.”

Into the future

As for what’s next for LSA WA, Peck said the organisation is excited to be hosting its awards night again later this year, after taking a necessary hiatus last year during the pandemic.

“Although it’s an awards night, it’s more about coming together as a group, celebrating the fact that we’re still here, recognising people that actually have done well including through community service, and being able to network in a social setting,” Peck said.

In place of the missed event last year, LSA WA held a sundowner event that proved so popular, its likely to return again on an annual basis. The sundowner would be another event that the local industry can look forward to, giving them the opportunity to connect and celebrate in a relaxed environment.

Looking to the future, Peck said one long term goal is to rid WA of sly grogging and shut down the culprits who “really don’t care about the community or the misery they create.”

On the member front, the future for LSA WA is about keeping retailers agile, able to pivot to new circumstances such as those we’ve seen in the pandemic at a moment’s notice.

“We look at large retail outlets as supertankers. They are enormous and carry enormous volumes of stock, and that’s one of their advantages. But one of their disadvantages is, when you want to stop or turn a supertanker, it takes around three kilometres,” Peck said.

“Our stores are jet skis, and jet skis are so nimble. We want to make sure that our guys can turn on a ten cent piece to changes within the industry, while others are still trying to figure out where they are going. It’s about speed and being right at the cutting edge as it breaks.”

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Brydie Allen

Editor of National Liquor News

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