Spirits too?

A lot of wine merchants also dabble a little bit in other areas – particularly spirits – and it’s no surprise they are the obvious choice. But a lot of them don’t make the best use of it – spirit sales can easily make up 40-45% of turnover in a specialist wine merchant shop – give beer a further 10% and you can immediately see there is some real potential for growing your business through a little diversification.

There are a number of mistakes that people make though :-

1. They only sell spirits that they know well – and if they are new to spirits that means they’ve seen them somewhere before – probably in a supermarket. If people can buy it in a supermarket they are not going to make an effort to come and buy from you.

2. Only selling unique spirits – by the same token the independent merchant shopping wine drinker may not be someone who drinks a  lot of spirits – but they might want a bottle of gin for the odd G&T or a bottle of whisky in the cupboard. For these people the thought of spending £35 on a premium bottle of gin or £45 on a bottle of whisky is completely alien. Having a few bottles that are in their comfort zones will allow you to add some spirit sales to your regular wine customer’s baskets.

3. They imagine they must have an enormous range. A small carefully chosen range can really help you build the business. As things take off you can increase the size of range as cashflow allows and as you see which areas are performing. Spirits are quite trend specific – we all know that Gin is really trendy right now – but over the last few years we’ve seen Vodka as the big trend with lots of releases, followed by Rum and now finally Gin – whisky is probably next (and is still a very important category). Note that when I talk about trend here – I’m not talking overall size of market – I’m talking about what people are talking about and where there is a mini-explosion in growth – just look at all the new gins coming onto the market over the last few years.

4. They fail to think locally – people love a local product – and pretty much there is a local gin distillery everywhere now. 3 years ago there was very little – but now most of the UK is covered – note though that ‘London Dry Gin’ is a regulated style and doesn’t mean regional – if you want gin distilled in London – make sure you get it. As an example our biggest selling gin was Warner – Edwards Harrington – made in Northamptonshire – about 40 minutes away. Customers loved the idea that it was ‘pseudo’ local, small batch, hand made and that we knew the owners and distillers (who also came instore and did some sampling).

5. Failure to put spirits on tasting – a bottle of spirits is something of an outlay to open – BUT for customers they want a guarantee that they will like what they spend £30+ on – and unlike a bottle of wine the shelf life is considerably longer. Many suppliers are happy to give you some tasting stock dependent on the number of bottles you buy and so on. Use them wisely. Don’t always just have a bottle open to taste as and when someone asks – pick a day and extensively push that one thing for a day – perhaps aim to push a different gin each week-end over the summer as part of a gin festival – or do a brown spirit in the autumn. Be proactive and intentional and don’t wait to be asked.


There are lots more things – and I am happy to be asked questions, come back with ideas and so on. What experience have you had selling or buying spirits – and what are your favourite shops and spirits? I can also advise on building a range of spirits for a retailer and  help you to come up with a suitable range.

Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at a top 10 from each category of spirits that I think independent retailers should be looking at. We’ll start with gin later this week!

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