THE nights are fair drawing in and while the winter weather may not be to everyone’s taste, the festive bells that ring from busy on-trade tills make it clear that Christmas is prime time for the on-trade.
As the festive period approaches, wholesalers have outlined the steps they are taking to ensure operators can meet customer expectations this Christmas – even if the weather turns frightful – and they’ve offered some suggestions on how licensees can prepare for success this season.
Tony Holmes, sales director at Bestway Wholesale, said that his firm recognises that the festive season is the busiest time of year for the licensed trade and so “we have stepped up our support across the board” to help customers.
Reliability is a key feature for wholesalers during the festive season.
“That includes improved ordering facilities via online and telesales channels, and increased support in Bestway and Batleys depots from our specialist sales managers, who can offer licensees advice on range planning and ordering,” said Holmes.
Christmas may bring with it a few surprises for the on-trade in terms of volume sales, but Holmes does not expect wholesalers to be rushed off their feet thanks to some forward planning, the kind of planning which he reckons would also help licensees ensure they’ve always got stock to hand.
“Generally, licensed businesses increase their orders steadily as trade builds towards Christmas, and wholesalers gear up to service this increased demand,” said Holmes.
“Even for the best-prepared operators, though, customer demand is the key variable and this year is likely to be no exception.
“Our advice to licensees is to ensure that they are well-stocked in the key drinks categories, including beer, wine and mainstream spirits, and to be ready with competitively-priced ‘treats’ such as premium ales, sparkling wine and simple cocktails.”
Planning can mitigate most potential stock pitfalls over the festive season but a busy period can come out of nowhere at Christmas. However, Holmes reckons wholesalers are equipped to handle unexpected, if welcome, boosts in demand.
“To meet last minute peaks in demand and help licensees maximise sales opportunities, we’ll be servicing customer orders through our depots and via delivery throughout the Christmas period excluding Christmas Day,” he said.
Having a wholesaler you can depend on is critical over Christmas and Billy Bell of Wine Importers echoed Holmes’ assurances.
“Reliability is a key feature for wholesalers in the festive season as no operator wants let down at this key trading period,” said Bell.
To cope with Christmas demand, Bell said Wine Importers has boosted its stocks by 30% and will “ensure drivers and vans are equipped for the conditions and increase communication with customers through our customer service to ensure everyone’s informed and at least knows what to expect.”
As a service-driven industry, Bell suggested it’s vital wholesalers are prepared to react at short notice when required, which includes preparing for unpredictable Scottish winter weather.
While wholesalers will do what they can, Bell still recommended operators take the possibility of disrupted service into account over the winter months.
“My advice is like climbing on the Scottish mountains as you never really know what the weather might bring so stock up early, then ‘top up’– don’t leave the wine order until last minute,” said Bell. “Think ahead, hold extra stock for weekends.”
To ensure those stock levels are where they should be, operators need to ensure they have decent stock of popular products and Bell offered some suggestions on areas to focus on this festive season.
“[Stock] popular wines with a known track record as most prices for all imported goods will be on the increase due to exchange rates,” said Bell.
“When money is tighter customers tend to stick to ‘what they know’ and experiment less. We have also noticed a ‘drink better and less’ trend in many outlets.”
Some customers may opt for a more frugal festive season, but many others will be more than willing to treat themselves this Christmas.
Michael Hardy, managing director of online wholesale firm Ooberstock, reckons demand for premium products will be high this Christmas.
“With people willing to trade up and spend more at Christmas, make sure your staff know their premium spirits and cocktails and recommend them to customers,” said Hardy.
Spirits and cocktails can definitely provide operators with an opportunity to up-sell but Hardy also suggested the rise and rise of craft beer will not be stopped by proximity to Santa Claus.
“Not only is beer a popular beverage at Christmas but we are seeing a growing interest in pairing beer with food – and Christmas lunch is perfect for this especially as the demand for genuine and authentic tasting beer grows,” he said.