Get ready for the Christmas rush

Planning and experience is key to the festive season, say wholesalers

• Publicans should be talking to their wholesalers now to ensure they are prepared for the higher volume of trade that comes with the festive season.

THE most frantic time of the year is approaching for publicans and their suppliers as the festive party season looms on the horizon.

And with the expected upturn in trade – and associated challenges – experience and preparation are key to keeping things running smoothly, claim wholesalers.
A spokesman for Belhaven said the wholesaler takes a thorough approach to planning ahead of the festive season.

Our experience of the on-trade has taught us how to cope with everything December could throw at us.

“The combination of the busiest trading period and often challenging road conditions can place a strain on all kinds of businesses in the run-up to Christmas,” he said.
“Fortunately, our long experience of delivering to the Scottish on-trade has taught us how to cope with everything that December could throw at us.”
And it’s not just wholesalers who can benefit from forward planning.
Ian Cumming, commercial director at Inverarity Morton, agreed that Christmas is a “hugely demanding and competitive” time of year. But operators who plan in advance will be well-positioned to make the most of the season, he said.
“We find that the better-planned customers have the most successful festive periods,” said Cumming. “You don’t want to be running around at the last minute looking for deals, which may not materialise.”
Cumming’s comments were echoed by David Sutherland at Strathnaver, the on-trade division of wholesale firm Sutherland Brothers.
“The perennial problem is to get supplies to the trade in time for the festive period,” said Sutherland.
“We ask for customers to stock up as early as possible, in case of difficult Highland weather.
“Our trucks are designed to cope with bad conditions, and as long as the roads are open we will attempt to deliver.”
Publicans should seek to “maximise the increased footfall opportunity” presented around Christmas, Cumming said, adding that wholesalers are prepared to support operators in this regard.
“Most wholesalers are prepared well in advance and can plan Christmas early with their customers, which then opens a far greater sales window to the consumer,” he said.
“Working with customers to provide seasonal drinks menus, and put together enticing wine packages for their Christmas functions can increase margin and consumer satisfaction.”
Even with forward planning some operators could still be caught out, of course, and Cumming stressed that wholesalers will be able to help with any last-minute demands.
“As a wholesaler we always have to prepare for the unexpected as customers can be taken by surprise by large parties ordering unexpected quantities of certain wines,” he said.
“We are prepared to respond quickly to any set of circumstances.
“The weather can also throw a few curve balls as we found out a few years ago but with a large fleet of vehicles with enthusiastic and hard working drivers we always strive to get the deliveries made whatever the weather.”
The festive season will see operators competing to attract revellers, but pubs and bars aren’t the only ones under pressure to compete.

Our trucks are designed to cope with bad conditions; as long as roads are open we will attempt to deliver.

“For the average wholesaler, trading is challenging,” said Stephen Brogan, owner and director of online wholesale firm Ooberstock. “In any sector where much of what suppliers can offer is similar to the competition it can become a price war.
“Take supermarkets as an example; at Christmas, everyone is killing themselves to offer the best priced beer and Champagne deals.
“Wholesaling is like this in some respect as every wholesaler wants to have the best price on key branded items.”
Sutherland agreed that “competition is as tough as ever” in the wholesale sector, but he stressed that this has benefits for operators.
“This helps drive our continual effort to improve customer service,” he said.
“Our biggest challenge is to make sure our buying prices are as low as possible.”
And with competition tight, wholesalers are looking to provide added value to their trade customers.
Sutherland highlighted the firm’s staff training in areas such as wine as an example of this.
And operators should ensure they are aware of their wholesaler’s service over the festive period, according to Julie Dunn of Dunns Food and Drinks.
“As with everything, effective communication is the best way of ensuring the best possible service,” she said.
“If we understand our customers’ expectations then we will strive to meet and where possible exceed them.”