A lot of bottle

Bruce-and-DonnaAwards profile – beer retailer of the year

Winner:  Best-one @ Brownlie’s, Biggar

Beer Retailer of the Year 2016 – sponsored by Tennent’s

Interview with Bruce and Donna Morgan, owners.

Winner details

Size: 950 sq ft

Symbol: Best-one

Years at store to date: 10

  • In June Bruce and Donna marked 10 years as owners of Brownlie’s. They celebrated with three days of offers and special events at the store.
  • The couple and their team do a lot in aid of charity. This year Bruce has set himself the challenge of running 1000 miles, including at least one race each month. At the time of going to press, he had run almost 600 miles and raised £2,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support.
  • The store’s bottled beer range can run to over 90 lines and features many traditional and innovative beers from the growing crop of successful Scottish craft breweries.
  • Brownlie’s at Biggar is a renowned retailer of beers, wines and spirits and last year was awarded the title of Licensed Retailer of the Year at the Scottish Grocer Awards 2015.
Brownlie’s has served the local community, in one guise or another, since 1755 and is now a listed building. It has been owned by Bruce and Donna Morgan for the last 10 years.

THIS year, Bruce and Donna Morgan celebrated their 10th anniversary as the owners of Best-one @ Brownlie’s of Biggar. The winner of Beer Retailer of the Year Award at the Scottish Grocer Awards 2016, Brownlie’s has come a long way since 2006.

“When we took it over, the shop did need a refit,” said Donna. “We started quite small, working on one bit at a time. It was only when Sainsbury’s announced they were coming that we decided to rip everything out and start again.

“We tried to make different areas within the shop and improve the feel of the alcohol area. Over the years we’ve built up our range. When we took over the shop we probably did a couple of shelves of bottled beers and we’ve increased that gradually over the years.”

Brownlies-wide-viewAt just 950 sq ft, with an unusual, warren-like layout, space is a real issue for the store. Despite this, it can proudly boast one of the best ranges of beer of any c-store in the country.

A core range of big brands and popular sellers are supplied by the store’s symbol group Best-one, dual sited in the chiller and ambient areas. But a step into that ambient alcohol section also reveals upwards of 90 craft beers and traditional ales, most of them Scottish.

Bruce and Donna deal directly with brewers like Williams Brothers and Broughton as well as with a number of specialist suppliers including the Cress Company, Inverarity Morton and Gordon and Macphail.

Brownlie’s has a huge range of bottled beer including long-standing traditional ales and a growing number of modern craft beers. It’s particularly strong on Scottish beers and the store deals directly with a number of Scotland’s leading craft breweries and a number of specialist suppliers.

“We have a lot of Scottish beers, a few English and some international beers as well,” said Bruce. “We’re quite limited for space, with the physical dimensions of the shop, so we’ve got to be selective. We can’t broaden our range without knocking something else off.

“At the end of the month we look at our sales figures to see the bottom sellers. If there’s only two or three bottles of something that’s not doing so well still left on the shelf I’ll just take them away with me and give them a good home. And we’ll put another product in that place to see how it goes.

“We’ll follow the trends as well. Real ale and craft beer are very big right now.”

Contrary to the stereotype, it isn’t just urbanite hipsters who are interested in craft beer. At Brownlie’s a broad mix of customers check out the shelves, searching through the bottles for something that captures their imagination.

“Customers like coming in here to find something different,” said Donna. “And we stock a lot of things because customers have specifically asked us for them. Because we’re independent we have the ability to do that.

While the top sellers are kept cool in a chiller near the counter, most of the range is situated in the walk-in drinks display area. Deals and tastings are promoted on a chalkboard while digital display screens broadcast brand marketing videos and the latest product offers from Best-one.

“We do the same thing with beers as with all our categories in the store, really. We offer a standard range, but supplement it with things that they won’t have at Sainsbury’s, Co-op or Spar. That’s really important for us.

“We’ve had some that haven’t worked. You have to try. You have to keep it interesting. Customers will buy what they like, but if they see something new they might just pick it up to try it.”

Customers also get to try new beers – and other drinks – at the store’s regular tasting events, with the biggest, held in the run-up to Christmas, attracting upwards of 40 people.

Donna’s key piece of advice for retailers looking to improve their beer offering is a simple one.

“Speak to your customers. Everything we stock is down to our customers. I wouldn’t say go crazy. Build up from the popular ones that people will know and then you can become a bit more specialist. Our shop evolved from talking to people and getting to know them, finding out what they’re looking for,” she said.

Norman Loughery, head of RTM, Tennent’s, left, and awards event host Alistair McGowan, right, present the Scottish Grocer Beer Retailer of the Year Award to Donna and Bruce Morgan, Best-one at Brownlie’s, Biggar, South Lanarkshire.

“A lot of people will come in looking for something, but won’t necessarily ask if they can’t see it. If I see someone looking I’ll always ask if there’s something we’ve not got. People now know that they can come in and ask us for things. It’s so key that you get to know what your customers want and talk to them about it.

“In a lot of places our shop wouldn’t work, but wherever you are, with the kind of competition out there, you need to be able to make yourself stand out.”