Jenny Hughes Leads NILWA into New Chapter

November 16, 2016
By Alana House
jenny-hughes NILWA GM, Jenny Hughes

This week, drinks bulletin sat down with newly appointed General Manager of the National Independent Liquor Wholesalers Association, Jenny Hughes.

Jenny has been with the business for ten years and during that period as National Business Manager, she worked closely with former CEO, Martin O’Mara.

In May this year, Martin decided to move onto the Board as Executive Chairman and pursue a new opportunity with one of NILWA’s members. Martin passed the reigns of the Association over to his long-term colleague and friend and became CEO of Novocastrian Wholesale Liquor.

During the transition, NILWA was also experiencing some major changes to its membership, with Paramount Liquor VIC, Liquid Specialty Beverages QLD, and Liquid Mix WA announcing that they would be ending their relationship with the Association to establish their own, combined wholesale business, 100Proof.

If anyone could steer the ship through this time and now lead the Association into the next stage of its journey, however, it would be Jenny.

NILWA’s membership is still strong, with ten family owned and operated wholesalers, which now also include Coast to Coast Liquor Distributors and Monacellars. Services include training, networking opportunities, research and selling power, helping NILWA members to provide strong purchasing and ranging decisions and competitive prices to over 6,000 customers primarily in the on-premise, but also in the off-premise.

NILWA will celebrate its 20th anniversary next year and Jenny sees this as a good opportunity for the Association to relook at its foundations and refresh some of its offerings. For Jenny, the priorities initially will be on NILWA’s structure and communication, while also looking at how it can get better results and rewards for its members and suppliers.

“When the three wholesalers left, it gave us an opportunity to reestablish ourselves and have a look at some of the things that we needed to put in place to become a stronger Association for our members,” Jenny explained. “A lot of it was about refocusing and saying okay what’s happened has happened, but we’re still here and we still have great programs; we might have to tweak things a little bit, but let’s take a look at how we can get better results.

“So it’s all about structure – getting the foundations right and building relationships. We’ve got good relationships with our suppliers, some of those relationships have changed with the change, but it’s about working together and seeing what opportunities are available and then communicating those, which is something we need to get better at.”

Jenny also wishes for NILWA’s members and customers to become more unified.

“There’s been a real breakdown in terms of the channels and their structure and we think it’s important that the industry becomes more unified,” Jenny said. “It’s a good industry, I think we just need to work on it a little bit harder. There’s plenty out there for everybody and we are now working to find our little piece of the pie. So our key is unity and working together.

“Progressiveness is also important, we need to look at alternate ways to market. If we look at our competitor, Dan Murphy’s, they are great marketers, they do category development and training really well, and while they do that predominantly for the retail segment there is some flow over into the on-premise, but you can’t fault them. So it’s a matter of taking some learnings from them and applying them in an on-premise sense.

“We also need to get a bit more modern with our technology and that’s a challenge in terms of dollars because we don’t have the same turnover as they do. So the challenge is about looking at what we can do with the dollars we’ve got.

“You see the changes in small bars and with craft spirits and beers; it’s all about being premium and doing something a little bit different. That’s why we have to change the way we think a little bit and be a bit more creative about what we’re doing.”

Jenny added that these changes will primarily involve its programs.

“Not anything too major, but definitely a few tweaks. As I said, with change comes opportunity, so it’s about acknowledging the changes and working out where the opportunities sit for us as a diverse group. One size doesn’t fit all, so we need to be flexible in our programs and be able to say here are the products we work closely with and here are the opportunities and then let the retailer choose.

“We’re putting our programs out there and reviewing those constantly.”
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