retailing

Why showing you care for the community makes good business sense

Isn’t that a bit like saying “they do a lot of work for charity, but they don’t like to talk about it”?

It is, but if you want to be seen as a good business it’s not necessarily showing off, it just makes a lot of sense. We’re also not just talking about raising money for good causes here, but the economic impact your company is having on the local community around you, and if you’re big enough, regionally and nationally too. If you’re changing things for the better then don’t keep it to yourself.

But why are we talking about this now?

Well, it’s a particularly relevant message for the drinks industry and wine sector to take seriously. Not a week goes by without some sort of negative medical report coming out claiming how dangerous it is to drink alcohol on a regular basis. Yes, you might have the odd study that extols the positives of the occasional drink, but the overriding message is booze is bad and, by association, so are the companies that make and sell it. If that means adding more taxes, duty and hurdles that make life difficult for all those companies, then who cares? If it means paying more for a pint or a bottle of wine, that’s the penance you have to pay for indulging in such an unhealthy activity.

 

“Tesco now claims that out of every £1 spent by customers, 73p goes back to farmers and suppliers across the UK, 11p is paid to Tesco colleagues in wages and 3p is paid to the government in tax to pay for public services like the NHS.”

 

This has gone down hill all of a sudden.

Bear with me. It’s why we have seen our trade bodies, particularly the Wine & Spirit Trade Association, make the business and economic case to the government as to why another duty raise does not make financial sense, rather than try to make any sort of health arguments. It’s a strategy that has worked. Particularly since it has employed third party consultants, Ernst & Young, to make the business case for it.

What are those headline WSTA figures again?

Yes, they’re worth bookmarking and using at any given opportunity. The UK’s wine and spirits industry supports 554,000 jobs, contributes £50bn per annum in economic activity, including £17.5bn to the public purse, split £9.5bn from the wine industry and £8.2bn for the spirits sector. If you look at the wine industry on its own then it employs 172,000 people directly and 105,000 in the connecting supply chain. All of whom help contribute £19.9bn in economic activity, including sales worth £6.7bn in shops and supermarkets and £4.2bn through pubs, bars and restaurants.

Anything else?

The WSTA’s campaign to convince the Treasury to freeze alcohol duty finally paid off when the Chancellor did exactly that in last November’s Budget. It was then able to prove its long held claim that a freeze on duty would actually raise the amount going into the Treasury when in April the HMRC announced that in the four months between December 2017 to April 2018 revenues from wine and spirit duties were up £67m, or 2%, at £3.291bn and the yearly impact would be a £140m rise. See how powerful it is when the figures do the talking for you?

What else have you noticed?

Let’s look at how individual businesses are using economic impact reports to present themselves in a better light. Probably the best current example is Tesco. It was not so long ago that at its height of popularity it came out with the fateful statement that £1 in £8 was being spent in one of its stores. It was meant to show how successful and popular the chain was with the Great British public. But it soon backfired and was used to demonstrate, by competitors and critics alike, how dominant and powerful it had become. Traits the average British shopper saw as the business equivalent of scratching fingernails down a blackboard. The new Tesco, under chief executive Dave Lewis, is a very different beast and it is now using its size, scale and influence not to show off, but make the economic argument of how effective and important it is both nationally, but particularly to local struggling communities.

Sounds like you’ve been drinking too much Tesco cola.

No, I’ve just been studying its recent Value in Your Town report. It again uses the £1 analogy, but crucially it does so in a very different way. It now claims that out of every £1 spent by Tesco customers, 73p goes back to farmers and suppliers from across the UK, 11p is paid to Tesco colleagues in wages and 3p is paid to the government in tax to pay for public services like the NHS. Every £1 of direct economic activity at Tesco was also claimed to generate an additional £5.46 in value to the UK economy as a whole. It has noticeably divided the country by parliamentary constituency therefore allowing every MP and resident in those postcodes to see what impact Tesco has had there. Now admittedly these are Tesco’s own figures and they might have small businesses, suppliers and local c-stores throwing their cornflakes at the wall, but if you look at the bigger picture it's a very astute move from a retailer that is still trying to regain the confidence of the general shopper and its investors. It is also painting the rest of the FMCG, grocery sector in a good light so it probably won’t be long before we see similar reports from other retailers.

What does it mean for us lesser mortals?

These are all good examples to take lessons from. We might not be able to produce an all singing, dancing economic analysis study - just ask David Davis how hard they are to come by. But we all know our customers, and what benefits and services we are providing them. So rather than fill your website and social media feed with all the medals you have won, and pats on the back you have got, concentrate on what impact your business is having, be it in the local community or with your customers and their consumers. Tell the world about those and that’s where you’ll make the biggest impact.

Why we need more than just 15 minutes of fame

That's being a bit greedy isn't it? Why would you want to be famous in the first place?

I don't mean people staring at you in the street famous. I mean working out what it is you want to be famous for in the eyes of your customers, be it the trade or your target consumer. That's a very different kind of fame and it will increasingly determine how successful you are at what you do.

Really, why?

It's a bit like taking your company's values statement that sits pride of place on the wall in reception and turning it into something that really matters. Not to you, but your customer. What is it about you that makes them want to work with you, buy your products and come back for more? It's a harder question to answer than you think, particularly in such a homogenised industry as wine, where essentially everyone is just buying and selling different variations of the same thing - 75cls of wine in a bottle.

But surely every business is different based on the people in it?

They are, but it does not mean the end product or service they are offering is anything distinctly different from a whole number of other like-minded companies. Which brings us back to working out what it is you are really famous for. You can't just say you are dedicated to finding, supplying and selling the best quality wine in the world. There are directories full of companies all claiming to do the same thing.

So what's the answer?

That's clearly going to be different for every business. Look around your competitive set and you will quickly be able to identify what they do best, or better than you. What is it about them that gives them an edge? What would they say makes you unique and different? If you can't answer that, then you've got a problem. Look around different sectors and the most successful companies are the ones that have got a clear business strategy, image and identity. Take Naked Wines. It's all about its Angels supporting winemakers around the world. The Wine Society. A not-for-profit wine club made possible by the collective support of its paid up members. 67 Pall Mall. A private club for professionals who are passionate about wine. John Lewis, a department store you can trust to never sell you a product that is cheaper elsewhere.

But surely there is not an infinite number of ways to buy and sell wine?

If you can't find one then you're in the wrong business. Particularly now that competition is fiercer than it ever has been. Smartphones have put the buying power in the hands of the consumer and your decades of good, loyal service to the wine buying public now stands for nothing if your products come up more expensive on Vivino or Wine Searcher.

So who are the winners and losers in all this?

Potentially it's particularly bad news for the big generic businesses that claim to be all things to all folk. Like our major retailers and national drinks distributors. It means they are effectively all doing the same job - supplying wine from all over the world. Where the only differences between them comes down, in the case of a retailer, to the price or the quality of their private label. Or for national distributors how easy it is to place an order, how flexible they are on delivery slots, and what sort of support, training and trips they offer. They can stand out by being the biggest, with the buying power to supply wines at a lower price. Or they can diversify and specialise in new emerging regions, but then there are independent companies who are already doing that.

So what are they doing?

It's interesting to see how Bibendum is making quality, interesting content as one of its key points of difference. Already famous for its market-leading consumer and trade insights, it is now producing a premium quality e-book, Fine Lees, with customer and producer profiles and magazine quality content. It is also producing a regular podcast, Bibendum Radio, featuring members of its own team, producers and customers to push quality information out alongside the wines.

What else is going on?

We can learn a lot from what is going on in the hospitality and travel sectors. Here businesses that are essentially service providers, be it the food, drink, hotel room or airline seat they offer, are 100% focused on making themselves into brands that are relevant to what their customers want. If you have the money why do you choose one airline over another? Or book yourself into a certain hotel chain? It's the same with restaurants, bars and pubs. Noble Rot became famous amongst its customers for its off-beat, left field magazine, before channelling the concept of the magazine into a restaurant of the same name. Martin Williams, founder of M Restaurants, is quite clear he is all about building a brand, not a chain. A brand famous for providing excellence in service and hospitality that can take those credentials and the community it has created around them into other sectors, be it travel, fashion or whatever. It's what M is famous for that counts, not how many outlets it has.

And finally?

It's why we are seeing so many specialist subscription services starting up. It's where brands are going to be famous. The space available for brands, both big and small, on supermarket shelves is decreasing by the month as they look to build customer loyalty through their own private labels. So instead brands are looking to go direct to their target customers by building up their own subscription models. Just look at the success of Harry's, the US shave club, that is now raking in sales in the UK for its through your door regular supply of razors and cream. It became so successful that Unilever bought it for $1bn. If Harry's can become famous for such an unexciting product as razors, then there has to be enormous potential still for all those businesses, and individuals, who can become genuinely, uniquely famous for the wines they make but increasingly about how they market it, sell it, deliver it and get people coming back for more.