Michael David; Elizabeth Bay Cellars

Liquor veteran’s survival tips for independents

April 28, 2020
By Melissa Parker

It’s been a turbulent time for bottle shops as both staff and customers adapt to COVID-19 restrictions. While sales are thriving in many locations, others are fighting for survival.

Retail Drinks Australia CEO Julie Ryan said some liquor retailers are reporting their worst April trading in more than four years.

“Retail liquor trading has returned to 2019 levels, and in many cases is actually significantly lower,” she noted.

“On average, liquor retail sales in April are up to 15% lower than this time last year and Easter trading was also up to 10% lower than the 2019 Easter trading period.”

Andrew Orlando, store manager for Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay Cellars, said sales have been buoyant to date, but he holds concerns for the future.

“Our sales have doubled since COVID-19 because we are in one of the most population dense areas of Sydney and Australia,” he said.

“It’s an affluent area, so people have more money to spend. We have a rich hospo scene here and people are used to eating and drinking out. While that is shut down, people are buying more from us.

“Because we have been in the area for some time we are well known and have loyal customers. 

“Our sales of vintage and natural wines have increased. However, as lock down continues we believe people will get tighter with their money. In the short term it has been good, but we are not confident about the long term.”

In the meantime, the store is focusing on safety and customer service.

“When it comes to customers in the shop the main thing is safety so we have limited numbers in at any one time,” Orlando said. “We have a person at the door monitoring entries. People are happy to wait. 

“We have always delivered located but haven’t been known for it. We would get calls and door drop. Delivery has definitely increased. We are selling on our Instagram account and making deliveries and taking orders on the phone.”

Do your research and know your customer

Elizabeth Bay Cellars owner Michael David (pictured main), 82, has been a liquor retailer for 53 years. He gives the latest issue of Drinks Trade magazine his tips for independent survival and retail success.

Elizabeth Bay Cellars

David opened Elizabeth Bay Cellars (pictured above) in 1978 and has built it into a local community landmark. In more than half a century, he has experienced an immense change in liquor retailing. With his wealth of experience, he says there is only one route to success for independent retail: do your research and know your customer.

How did you become a liquor retailer?

By accident; I had the best job working for David’s Holdings when I saw an ad. A fellow wanted to sell a liquor store. It was in a basement at number one Burton Street Darlinghurst, and you had to walk down steps into a dungeon. I bought the shop on February 14, 1966 – Decimal Conversion Day. By the end of the first year, we had turned over an enormous amount of alcohol. The following year I bought from the same fellow, his Rushcutters Bay shop in 1967 and then in 1969 I bought a building in Oxford Street.

How have you seen retail change?

Very much. There isn’t that co-operation that was often between store owners. We once all got on well and helped each other out.

In 1966 there were only 25 people in the Liquor Stores Association (LSA). We would meet once a month at the Royal Automobile Club (RAC) in Macquarie Street. We would have a meeting and then have dinner in that beautiful dining room. It was very civilized, we became friendly, and we worked with people.

There are so many new products people can’t keep up, and I don’t have space. I wish I could double or triple the space. With the range of products now it needs to be huge. Now the supermarkets have taken over.

How does independent retail compete with the supermarket chains in today’s market?

I was at an Independent Liquor Group (ILG) meeting once, and I got on stage and said who doesn’t have $175 to know their business and improve it? All you have to do is go to the Australian Bureau of Statistics and find out the stats from your area. I know there are 1.6 people in every apartment in Elizabeth Bay. I know how 92% of them travel to work. I know the percentage of those born overseas. I know the average income. 1.6 people per household mainly living in apartments don’t buy slabs of beer, so we spend a lot of money on refrigeration because they buy six-packs twice a day. That’s all you have to do to survive. Don’t sell to the customer what you want to sell. Sell what they want. And I say to my staff don’t be nice to me. I don’t pay your wages, the customer does.

We know the names of our customers and their dogs. We have a dog water bowl out the front and dog biscuits inside. The dog would drag the customers in; I get some fascinating people here.

Click here to read David’s full interview in the digital edition of Drinks Trade Autumn.

Share the content

Related Posts