Local store invites guests to try something special for the winter party season
CHRISTMAS comes but once a year or so the story goes. But in Bruce and Donna Morgan’s very special Lanarkshire local store and post office, Best-one at Brownlies of Biggar, different aspects of the festive season begin at different times.
Our reigning Scottish Grocer Licensed Retailer of the Year’s main Christmas drinks stock goes out on the shelves from early this month. Some of its foodie-friendly festive biscuits, pickles and specialities have been available for many weeks, however.
But Christmas drinks start now. Bruce and Donna have many drinks suppliers – who help them provide a remarkably wide range of beers, wines and spirits. So one of the first tasks is to meet with them to discuss which items they’ll be promoting over the season.
And there’s a date in the diary for late November for the shop’s major Christmas wine tasting.
“We hold that at a local hotel,” Donna explained.
The store works with Ian Macphail, of the business’s main wine supplier Edinburgh-based Wine Importers, who organises the wines for the tasting from among those to be highlighted at Christmas.
“We usually do a sparkling wine at the tasting, so probably prosecco because sales of that are crazy just now,” she said.
“And we’ll do whites, reds and usually a port or a dessert wine as well. We try to get people to buy cases as opposed to the odd bottle.
“We do beers at it as well, our suppliers’ Christmas ones. We take some local food along and do some things with that too. We try to get them to order on the night and then we deliver to their door.
“We’ve worked hard at this over four years or so. It’s important to get people to try the wines. If you’re asking someone to spend maybe £12 – £20 on a bottle of wine unless they’ve tried it they’ll stick to something they know.
“We bring in the wines in early to mid-November so that when we have the tasting in late November, they’re available in store. Ian and Wine Importers have been very supportive.
“Whatever Best-one has got on promotion we’ll have those deals on as well,” Donna said.
Typically the store will stock some large multipacks of mainstream beers but she accepts that the Best-one isn’t going to be able to match what she sees as the often crazy prices of the supermarkets.
With certain spirits she will try to compete head on, however – and there’s a particular reason for that.
As well as selling through the shop, the store also serves some local businesses, Donna explained.
“I’ve got one customer that we supply with about 50 bottles for that business’s staff. The only price he asks me for is the malt. As long as I compete with the multiples on that he doesn’t worry about the other prices. So sometimes we will take a wee bit of a hit on the malt but we know we’ll make it elsewhere.”
Many of the shop’s malts whiskies come from specialist Gordon & Macphail and Donna and Bruce make sure they have malts that won’t be found in local competitors like Sainsbury’s and the Co-op.
The store does well on fractional-sized spirit bottles and it augments its range of miniatures, which are in demand as stocking-filler gifts. It also stocks miniatures of drinks like cassis, to be used in Christmas Kir Royales.
Best-one at Brownlies is open every day including 10-2 on Christmas Day and 12-4 on New Year’s Day. It supplies the local gala committee’s Boxing Night dance and does well out of the town’s big Hogmanay bonfire.
Beer fans go for the shop’s very, very wide range of craft and traditional beers. The real enthusiasts sometimes actually meet together to compare Christmas specials from the different craft brewers. And people who have guests coming who like their beer will often come into the shop to seek advice and to buy.
In soft drinks it is, says Donna, very much a Barr shop with Irn-Bru a “don’t even think about running out” must-stock. Other soft drinks often do well on promotion.
The store has seen sales of alcohol-free wine increase but not, surprisingly enough, alcohol-free beer. Adult soft drinks do well at Christmas and as well as the main brands she makes sure she has some specials like a soft drink from France and a sparkling Elderflower drink too.
“We found that we had to have a wider range because people are asking for it,” Donna said.
• Terry Feeney’s large Nisa store and post office in Linwood in Renfrewshire serves a quite different market.
Scottish Grocer’s Champion of Beer in 2014 the Linwood shop is famous for its Beer Cave, a large chilled glass-fronted room in pride of place in the shop’s alcohol zone, and the store serves an area that has seen population numbers decline since the local car factory closed.
For Terry promotions and deals are vital for business.
“I don’t know if it’s area-driven,” he said “but if it’s not on promotion it’ll not sell.
“And that’s even more so at Christmas.”
So, what are the most popular promotions?
“Boxes of beer, it’s the same year-in, year-out.
“I think there might be some good deals out there this year because the big guys will have a surplus, particularly of boxes, because of England going out of the Rugby World Cup.”
Brands-wise he said “old favourites” like Tennent’s, Budweiser, Carling and Strongbow are easily his best sellers but he had been surprised that MGD sales had gone down quite substantially.
Prosecco does well and he expects that to be true at Christmas too. He’s been holding off buying large quantities until he knows which ones will be available at Christmas at a good price.
He will get some extra malts in but won’t “go overboard”.
When Terry spoke to SG he was just waiting to hear details of Nisa activity at Christmas, particularly for drinks. But the store has had Christmas cards out for a while and it was just about to put out Christmas chocolate tins.
Its main work with Christmas POS material will tie in closely with the Nisa six-week promotional leaflet.