Ahead of the 2022 Industry Leaders Forum, National Liquor News interviewed Retail Drinks CEO, Michael Waters, to get a detailed insight into the organisation’s big plans to support the entire liquor retail industry in the year ahead.

National Liquor News: What have been the highlights for Retail Drinks in 2021?

Michael Waters: Whilst 2021 has undoubtedly been a challenging year for everyone, Retail Drinks has had a number of major highlights. We were able to ensure that all of liquor retail remained open throughout each and every state and territory lockdown (of which there were over 14 in 2021). We secured key legislative outcomes benefiting the retail liquor sector in multiple Australian states and territories, including in Victoria where comprehensive liquor legislation was passed after more than two years of stakeholder consultation.

Our Online Alcohol Sale & Delivery Code of Conduct has not only helped inform the development of legislative and regulatory frameworks in Australia but was also globally recognised as best-practice by the International Alliance for Responsible Drinking and helped them shape their own Global Standards.

We also held an enormously successful Liquor Retail Summit and Retail Drinks Industry Awards in May 2021, which, despite being held as an exclusively virtual event, saw over 1000 delegates attend from all member categories, and from all parts of the country, and nominations in our Awards Program increased by over 250 per cent.

NLN: What will be the immediate focus for Retail Drinks in 2022?

MW: Being one year into our three year Strategic Plan, our focus will be on continuing to implement and deliver our agreed actions, building momentum and on our solid foundation by delivering strong advocacy and services to members in representing the needs and interests of the entire retail liquor industry.

Off the back of such a strong operational performance in FY21, and thanks to the ongoing support of our members, Retail Drinks has been able to bring forward three key projects – a new research agenda to support our ongoing advocacy efforts, a bespoke and exclusive merchant services offering, and the development of a new and comprehensive suite of online training modules for liquor store owners, managers and staff.

Online alcohol sales and delivery regulation remains a high agenda item in several jurisdictions, following the legislative packages which have passed in both NSW and VIC in the last two years. We will continue our proactive engagement with these governments and policy makers to ensure that any new legislation strikes the right balance between good regulation and the freedom the retail responsibly.

NLN: Retail Drinks Member Services initiatives have been served well by new partnerships in 2021. How important are partnerships to Retail Drinks and do you see these expanding further in 2022?

MW: Forging strong, long-term partnerships, whether they be with industry, government or commercial stakeholders is essential for any membership-based organisation.

Our partnership with Luemo Workplace Wellbeing launched at a critical time, as the team were witnessing first-hand (via our constant engagement with members) the effect ongoing pandemic was having on the overall general wellbeing of people in our industry.

Running or managing a business can present many challenges. Whether it’s working alone, financial pressures, staffing issues, long work hours or just the grind of day-to-day life, looking after yourself is not often a top priority. Being aware of your own wellbeing, both physical and mental not only makes good sense personally, but is fundamental to the success of your business, so we’re pleased our partnership with Luemo is connecting members with free resources and services, helping them during stressful times and helping to build their resilience.

While Retail Drinks’ core focus is on advocacy, and the provision of ‘advocacy as a service’ this important work is complemented by giving members access to a comprehensive range of services and benefits that help them to run their businesses more efficiently and effectively, including trusted advice and support, resources, discounts and exclusive deals, and professional development opportunities.

NLN: What do you think will be the big challenges for the industry in 2022 and how will Retail Drinks navigate that?

MW: Whilst we are fortunate of Australia’s high vaccination rate, we are still nonetheless wary of the challenges ‘the new normal’ and living with COVID-19 presents, particularly with the emergence of new variants and the unpredictability of health orders and government decision making. We are confident however in the ability of the industry to respond to these challenges the same way they have the last two years, and in Retail Drinks’ ability to work proactively with all stakeholders to nurture a stable political, social and commercial environment in which the retail liquor industry may continue to grow sustainably.

In 2021, Retail Drinks made 17 separate submissions to government reviews and inquiries, was invited to participate in several consultations, working groups, policy forums, and public hearings on behalf of the retail liquor sector and helped shape the development of long-awaited legislative reform in several jurisdictions.

To be honest, I’ve never seen so much policy and advocacy activity in my 12+ years in the industry so if last year was anything to go by, and with a Federal Election imminent, I can predict that 2022 will be equally busy, with ongoing national digital identity reforms, online age verification requirements in NSW coming into effect from June, online alcohol sale and delivery reforms and liquor licence fee reviews anticipated in several states and territories.

NLN: What do you see as the biggest opportunities for Retail Drinks as an organisation in 2022?

MW: For both Retail Drinks, and our members I would say that we are all very much looking forward to the opportunity of getting together face-to-face again.

While there are benefits to holding virtual meetings and events, and in acknowledging that they will continue in some part moving forward, I think it’s safe to say we’re really looking forward to hosting our key member events (safely of course) in person in 2022, particularly our annual Liquor Retail Summit and Retail Drinks Industry Awards – when our industry comes together in this way we are at our best.

The nomination period for the 2022 Retail Drinks Industry Awards is open now, with the Liquor Retail Summit and Awards Presentation Dinner scheduled for 18th May 2022 in Sydney – be sure to mark these dates in your diaries. We promise another solid, informative and insightful event program and we look forward to seeing another strong attendance by members and industry colleagues.

NLN: Are there any additional messages that you would like to share with the industry?

MW: We would like to thank each and every one of our members across our Liquor Store, Chain Store, Digital & Online, Banner Group, Corporate and Associate categories for their ongoing support, as without it we would not have been able to achieve any of the outcomes that have benefited the industry enormously. We would also like to congratulate our members on the tremendous resilience they have demonstrated in the face of repeated challenges with COVID-19. As the industry and rest of the country navigates the ‘new normal’, Retail Drinks is strongly committed to assisting our members in operating their stores, both profitably and sustainably.

Lastly, to those in the industry reading this who are not yet members of Retail Drinks, I encourage you to get in touch with me or the team to learn more about the work we are doing to protect the future needs and interests of the retail liquor sector in Australia, and importantly how we can assist and support your business.

Membership is affordable, fully tax deductible and is your investment against poorly developed legislation and regulation that will impact your freedom to retail responsibly, and ultimately your bottom line. Being a member also offers you the opportunity for your voice to be heard, as well as gain access to a broad range of services that can directly and indirectly benefit your business.

Find more great insights in the 2022 National Liquor News Indstry Leaders Forum.

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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