Second Annual BDLive! Conference a Success

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Once again, nearly 40 beverage alcohol retailers from around the country convened in New Orleans at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel for the second annual BDLive! Conference, held on January 26.

The BDLive! Conference is the only event of its kind solely dedicated to the concerns of the off-premise beverage alcohol retailer. And by the conclusion of the day’€™s activities, it was clear that the presentations, the networking and the exchange of ideas among the retailer attendees as well as the speakers all combined for a positive experience for everyone.

For example, Cedric Martin, owner of Martin Wine Cellar, in Metarie, LA, noted, ‘€œI appreciate that the Conference was in New Orleans again, but no matter where it is next year, I’€™ll be there.

Like last year, it was filled with great ideas and the speakers were top-notch.’€ And, in a follow-up email message, Frank Ball, executive director, Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, said, ‘€œI just wanted to contact you and give you and your staff a ‘€˜pat on the back’€™ for a really informative and worthwhile seminar for off-premise folks. Your staff was amazing, the programs remarkable, the venue awesome and I will certainly attend next year.’€

The event began with an evening cocktail reception the night before the opening of the Conference. These few hours gave retailers a chance to relax and meet one another as well as some of the next day’€™s presenters.

The next morning began with an enthusiastic keynote address from Paul Bridle, who has been studying business, marketing and leadership for more than 20 years. His presentation, titled, ‘€œForget Customer Service ‘€” It’€™s About Engagement,’€ described the increasing number of successful companies that do not simply sell to their customers, but engage them in a way that involves the customer on a whole different level. Much of this approach centers around the different uses of social media; however, Bridle says, it also has to do with ‘€œestablishing the confidence, for yourself and your employees, to approach the business with fresh thinking, how to do things a little bit differently.’€

For example, Bridle notes that retailers are often really in ‘€œthe entertainment business,’€ creating an environment where customers can enjoy themselves, be comfortable, learn and be able to tell you what products and services they want and need. Bridle was followed by Danny Brager, Vice President, Group Client Director, Beverage Alcohol Team, for The Nielsen Company. Brager described the latest trends affecting the wine, beer and spirits segments, which categories are growing and which are decreasing. Brager explained that while the 2011 economy was still rather sluggish, wine and spirits consumption continued to grow.

Overall, beer again lost market share to wine and spirits, but the bright spot was that craft beer consumption increased by 16%, expanding to 8% of the dollar volume in the beer segment. Among spirits, Brager noted that the introduction of new flavors and flavored line extensions continues unabated, particularly among vodkas, but also, in the latest flavor revolution, among whiskies, shown by the successful launch of several flavored bourbons.

Brager joined three retailers in a wide-ranging panel discussion that addressed how to translate consumption statistics into action, and quickly moved beyond that to an exploration of a variety of techniques retailers use to increase staff motivation, merchandise more effectively and deal with pricing issues. Moderated by Darryl Rosen, the past president of Sam’€™s Wine & Spirits in Chicago and currently a successful motivational speaker and corporate trainer, the panel also consisted of Brad Rider, vice president, United Package Liquors, Indianapolis, IN; Mark Notarius, owner, Premium Wine & Spirits, Williamsville, NY; and Cedric Martin, owner, Martin Wine Cellar, Metarie, LA.

In addition, there was significant input from attendees in the audience throughout the entire presentation. David Jabour, president of the 70-store Twin Liquors chain headquartered in Austin, TX, followed with an incisive discussion titled, ‘€œHow Designing by Demographics Can Fuel Your Success.’€ Jabour described how his organization uses consumer profile demographics to identify ‘€œwhere the dollars are and what those folks are buying.’€

It’€™s clear that in the current economy, he said, better-off consumers are spending more, while lower socioeconomic consumers are still challenged. Jabour uses his empirical data plus a system of trial and error to better design his stores in order to better service those customers.

He explained how he separates his stores into four clusters: for example, the top cluster (Diamond) includes primarily Twin Liquors destination stores, which are at least 15,000 square feet and offer a wide selection of wines, beers and spirits. In addition, the stores are designed to feel like neighborhood stores – not a warehouse store ‘€“ with lots of oak wood shelving, tasting bars, an area with comfortable tables and chairs, climatecontrolled fine wine rooms and featuring a range of consumer events, such as mixology seminars, tastings on a daily basis, wine education classes, wine maker dinners and other community events (used only to raise money for charity), and a host of other efforts. The three other clusters descend in terms of store size and product selection. Jabour noted that retailers should pay attention to the changing demographics of the U.S. population: for example, the Hispanic population is growing dramatically, while 92% of all U.S. population growth comes from minorities of all kinds.

He also offered this advice ‘€œFigure out the female consumer and you’€™ve figured out retail.’€ After lunch, attendees were treated to an exploration of how businesses can effectively use social media, with a presentation by Amanda Hite, CEO and founder of Talent Revolution, titled, ‘€œUsing Social Media to Ignite Movements That Make Meaning and Money.’€ She showed, through several examples, how social media is an incredibly powerful tool, which can create a sustained online word-of-mouth movement that can result in increased sales activity at bricks-and-mortar stores. ‘€œAll success online starts offline,’€ Hite added, noting that retailers can enlist and incentivize members of their staff ‘€“ or a particular staff member ‘€“ to burnish their store’€™s ‘€œbrand’€ in a variety of social media forums.

The conference concluded with discussion by author Caitlin Kelly on ‘€œHow to Find, Manage and Motivate Productive Employees.’€ Her book, ‘€œMalled: My Unintentional Career in Retail,’€ explains how Kelly, a highly educated journalist, was forced to work at a just-above minimum wage retail job after being laid off. She spent more than two years as a salesperson, and related several impressions she derived from that experience, including the strengths and weaknesses of managers in dealing with their staff, what characteristics are important in a good salesperson, and why managers should recognize just how important a really top-notch employee can be to their organization.

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