The shops that stand out from the madding crowd

The judges met last week to sort out the winners in the independent categories of our 2018 Drinks Retailing Awards. The results are top secret until the awards dinner on February 6 but it’s giving nothing away to report that the overall standard of those that will be revealed in the shortlist of finalists in the January issue of DRN is higher than it’s ever been.

It’s been my privilege for some years to visit the finalists as part of the judging process, which this year meant trips to a record 31 independent retailers across nine categories.

Stocking a highly-evolved product range that signalled areas of specialism, or exceptional levels of generalism, was once enough to single the finalists out from the crowd. But as the branded drinks landscape has been transformed over recent years, listing a great range of products has increasingly become the norm.

The standout shops are now those that excel in customer one-to-ones, or host inspiring events, or recruit customers through ingenious marketing and state-of-the-art tech.

Best of all are those that take skillfully calculated commercial risks with location or trading style, or creative ones that turn their retail space from a mundane shop into a vibrant and enveloping place for shoppers to explore the amazing stuff that they sell.

Of course there are plenty of poor-to-average drinks retailers out there who leave customers underwhelmed and it’s arguably on this last point that they most commonly fall short.

But, unless you’ve got the online customer recruitment skill of a Naked or a Laithwaites, the shop floor is the place that gives retail businesses the opportunity to shine. It’s a lazy marketing cliché to talk about “in-store theatre” but it can be useful short-hand for all the extra stuff that goes on that makes the best shops, in whatever retail sector, come to life.

The best way to part a shopper from their cash is to keep them on-site as long as possible, yet we’ve all been in shops that are cold (physically and metaphorically), generic and plain dull, giving shoppers little incentive to do much else than head straight for the door.

Retailing is a creative environment, not just a commercial one, and a New Year’s resolution to give each aspect equal billing could lead us towards some of our winners in 2019.

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