Bestway's Tippl and BB's concepts: Braving a new retail approach

Consumer buying habits have changed considerably since coronavirus hit the UK and there’s no telling what might happen when we move out of the pandemic era.

So it might be considered risky to introduce a new retail concept at this time, but Wine Rack owner Bestway Wholesale managing director Dawood Pervez explains why it decided to trial two new drinks-led formats: Tippl and BB’s.

Pervez says: “We are very impatient people and, having already delayed the roll out of both concepts, we decided just to go for it.”

The testbed for Tippl – which aims to extend the Wine Rack model in key areas of the UK – is in Garforth, Leeds, and the store opened at the end of November 2020.

The format includes a strong food-to-go proposition as well as meals that can be enjoyed in-store, and an “exceptional” range of wines, spirits, ales and craft beers. The store also features an on-trade proposition.

BB’s is more of a convenience-led offer but also with a focus on BWS.

Both formats have been doing well, says Pervez, with Tippl achieving record sales of £30,000 in the week before Christmas, driven by growth in both wines and premium spirits, as well as take-home food.

Pervez says: “BB’s has shown margin and sales growth already, while Tippl has shown margin growth.

“Sales for Tippl are good but clearly we don’t know why because we have had lockdowns and Covid and all sorts of fun and games, so it is hard to attribute performance to any specific thing. We need to get out of this turbulent environment and properly assess it after that.

“But we are getting some good insight into what’s working, what’s not working so well and what’s not working at all, which means we have been able to refine what we are doing. We will carry on doing that.”
The idea behind Tippl came from observations within the company’s Wine Rack estate, including the evolution of the gin craze, which saw customers increasingly trading up to premium brands and seeking out local and unusual variants.

Pervez says: “The interest in gin has ignited customers’ interest generally in spirits. Rum and whisky sales took off and there are more premium brands and unique flavours appearing. That’s really what we are trying to do with Tippl. It’s been the same thing with craft ales and beers. There is so much interest there and people obviously like looking at specials, local brewers and imported lines. And then in wine we have always been extremely eclectic.”

CURATED RANGE

The company extended the number of wines available to Wine Rack by 800 lines early in 2020 and it has been able to select from the premium tier to curate the range for Tippl.

The trial is ongoing but in the current climate the company is proceeding with caution. Pervez notes: “I am not saying we are rolling it out and I am not saying the trial is over.

“We are saying it looks like it is working, but at the moment so does everything else in local retail.

“We have seen our customer numbers increase and we have a lot of customers coming back into shopping local. We think they have enjoyed the range and choice that we offer – sales in some of our premium products, such as world beers and ales, have doubled, while gin sales have continued to increase. Wine sales have also been healthy.

“But in terms of expansion we have obviously got to get out of some of this Covid turbulence in order to assess the success of the two concepts. We have got retailers that want to change format or are considering changing format and we are sharing information with them to show how it is performing. For now, we are just holding them at bay, and they are quite happy to be held at bay – there is no desperate rush to do these things. We are going to try to wait for lockdown to end and then I suppose we need to have a few clear months at it without the turbulence.

“At that point, we should have the confidence to say let’s put the pedal to the metal and roll this out more and more, because I do think the signs are there already.

“It is an interesting format, it has a point of difference, it has produced improved sales and improved margin. It connects best with the local communities and it is on-trend in terms of providing premiumisation and also food to take home – and covering more than just one mission, which is, of course, Wine Rack’s biggest problem, coupled with a name like that.”

While the trial continues, Pervez says the company is able to continually tweak the offer.

“When you premiumise your offer it does mean you are changing your customer base. We have seen, for example, that tobacco sales have actually fallen in Garforth and perhaps some of our bundle deals. We are going to look at how we do those because we are not sure people are going to come and buy bulk deals. We also need to think about whether we should have some value options there as well. There are some mixed missions and just because you end up sourcing a value product doesn’t mean you don’t want to be in a nice environment. You might dabble in something premium from time to time.”

Looking ahead, Pervez is conscious that others may be looking to introduce similar concepts. He says: “Retail stores have always been hard to get hold of, partly because we have seen uninterrupted retail rent increase since 1993. Now, for the first time, you are going to see a reset on retail rents because a lot of stores are failing. That enables the unemployed, or the entrepreneurial unemployed or just entrepreneurs, to go out and open a format. They could open a traditional convenience store, or a wine shop, or a wine and cheese venue, or somewhere that allows you to sell coffee and wine. I think you are going to see a lot more mixed-use, mixed-mission, interesting different store formats popping up over the next few years.”

Tippl should also benefit from the trend for working from home, assuming the daily commute will not come back with a vengeance in the future, and locations that tap into the trend for shoping local should work well for this brand. Pervez says: “If we roll this our we would be looking to place Tippl stores closer to where chimney pots are rather than office blocks.

“It is a wonderful offer with a relatively small footprint, combined with the store ambience that appeals to on and off-trade alike.

“We think it is bringing something different to the market. We are really excited to introduce it and I am really proud of the team’s efforts to get this up and running during the time that they did, and I think it looks great. Plus, the local communities really appreciated it and we are gaining more and more customers for Tippl as the weeks go by.

“We had an amazing Christmas week there, it was really strong.

“We will continue to tinker with it in the meantime before we decide how fast and hard we will roll it out.”

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