How Southern Glazer’s Grew Through Digital Technology

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Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is the biggest wine and spirits distributor in North America — and it’s also committed to being the best.

Historically, the company has always focused on anticipating the needs of consumers and creating new processes and programs that enhance the customer experience. Through substantial investments in digital technology, Southern Glazer’s sets itself apart from competitors and offers enhanced value to its customers and partners through two dynamic programs.

The SG Proof platform is a fully responsive digital shopping experience that also standardizes processes for sales representatives, allowing them to focus more on the customer. Southern Glazer’s also recently launched DRAM Agency, a digital marketing company designed to help suppliers maximize their ecommerce strategies.

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Both initiatives are unique among distributors and have allowed the company to take customer service to a whole new level.

A Seamless Digital Experience at Southern Glazer’s

Southern Glazer’s has prioritized the digital space for many years.

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Back in the dot-com era, Southern Wine Online was one of the savviest beverage alcohol ecommerce sites of its time. It remained a solid platform for many years, but well before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Southern Glazer’s was focused on creating a sophisticated new system that leveraged modern technology and improved the customer experience.

The company began investing in the development of SG Proof back in 2017, and it officially launched the platform in 2018. SG Proof is currently in use in 28 U.S. markets (27 states and Washington D.C.), with additional plans for future expansion.

At the core of the SG Proof platform is a robust ecommerce website. Upon logging in, customers can view all Southern Glazer’s products, view pricing and availability, access product ratings and reviews and easily connect with their sales representative. In states where digital payments are legal, customers can also pay for their orders online.

“We currently have about 150,000 customers ordering from the platform,” says Southern Glazer’s SVP and GM, Proof Sales Marketing and Service, Carlos Vigil. “We also have a 70% customer reorder rate through the ecommerce platform.”

Southern Glazer’s designed its ecommerce platform to meet the customer wherever they are and to make the transactional aspects of the customer/sales relationship as easy as possible. However, the ecommerce website is not intended to take the place of sales representatives — rather, it is designed to make that customer/sales representative relationship even stronger.

The SG Proof platform is a fully responsive digital shopping experience that also standardizes processes for sales representatives.

By providing the customer with convenient ordering options, should the customer choose to use them (the ecommerce platform is not the only way to place an order), sales representatives have more time to devote to targeted customer outreach and engagement. In fact, in addition to ecommerce, SG Proof is also integrated with a broad array of customer engagement strategies, including a tool designed specifically for sales representatives. Proof Sales, which piloted in late 2018, is a mobile application that allows sales representatives to access product details and customer data from their phones, letting them share real-time information with customers from anywhere.

“By providing our sales team with a number of tools that are literally at their fingertips at all times, we’re helping them support their customers’ business,” says Drew Strachan, VP, CRM sales and service at Southern Glazer’s. “Initially, it was a change in the way we do business, but ultimately it replaced a lot of what our salespeople have already been doing and put it all together in one high-functioning tool, giving the sales team more time to focus on building strong relationships with our customers.”

“By providing our sales team with a number of tools that are literally at their fingertips at all times, we’re helping them support their customers’ business,” says Drew Strachan, VP, CRM sales and service at Southern Glazer’s.

Southern Glazer’s is currently making several enhancements to the ecommerce platform designed specifically for customers with unique needs. It also recently launched a new automated ordering option. Ongoing adjustments will be determined based on the needs of the customer, with the ultimate goal to make it as easy as possible to do business with the company.

Along with the ecommerce website and mobile sales tools, the SG Proof platform includes a number of other features.

Proof Service is a customer advocacy program focused on addressing questions or issues as efficiently as possible. Proof Marketing, Southern Glazer’s digital marketing program, generates data-driven campaigns to engage with customers in multiple and meaningful ways. The platform also includes Proof 360, a supplier-facing online community providing tools and resources designed to help service organizations proactively identify issues customers may be experiencing.

All of SG Proof’s components incorporate robust data and analytics features, giving the company more insights into consumer behavior and product performance than ever before. This data is constantly evaluated across the company, and utilized when making key business decisions.

SG Proof was created thanks to a large financial investment by the owners of Southern Glazer’s, who are committed to maintaining the distributor’s status as a company that utilizes best-in-class digital capabilities. A great deal of research, active dialogues with leadership, and feedback from customers and sales representatives were essential components of the platform’s development, and will continue being taken into account as the platform evolves over time.

A New Approach to Digital Marketing

Capitalizing on its proven successes in the digital space, Southern Glazer’s recently took its capabilities to the next level through the creation of a new digital marketing agency. In late 2021, the distributor launched DRAM Agency, an affiliated company dedicated to helping wine and spirits suppliers elevate their digital marketing strategies.

DRAM refers to a single pour of whiskey and also stands for “Digital Revolution of Alcohol Marketing.” As a supplement to SG Proof focusing on business to consumer ecommerce, the agency aims to identify growth opportunities and embed them across Southern Glazer’s broader operations.

“We wanted to make sure we were meeting consumers where they’re at online, which is how DRAM was founded,” says David Chaplin, Southern Glazer’s chief growth officer. “We want to help our supplier partners sell more of their products online.”

“We wanted to make sure we were meeting consumers where they’re at online, which is how DRAM was founded,” says David Chaplin, Southern Glazer’s chief growth officer. “We want to help our supplier partners sell more of their products online.”

Ecommerce saw explosive growth across the board at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Southern Glazer’s has long been focused on the SG Proof ecommerce platform, and the company recognized that there were additional opportunities to accelerate their supplier partners’ performance as well.

While some suppliers have their own in-house digital marketing teams, many do not — especially smaller operations or manufacturers that are just starting out. Southern Glazer’s has a deep history of success across digital platforms and received ongoing requests from suppliers asking for assistance in this area.

The decision to develop a central, permanent digital marketing hub was made, and DRAM Agency began as a small pilot program in 2020 to learn how to best partner with vendors differently than with retailers. After a lot of testing and analyzing feedback from multiple partners, the agency team was built up and launched with a full suite of incremental digital marketing services available to suppliers, who contract with DRAM Agency as they would with any other agency.

“We provide services that support suppliers of all sizes,” says Nathan Mansperger, VP, B2C ecommerce at Southern Glazer’s. “Not everyone needs everything. Sometimes it’s about innovation, sometimes it’s about providing the basics and maximizing everything our suppliers are doing.”

DRAM Agency is unique as its sole focus is on the beverage alcohol industry, and it offers a best practices lens into both the wine and spirits categories. To Southern Glazer’s knowledge, it is the only distributor-owned agency of its kind that exists.

Even if suppliers have their own in-house digital experts, their knowledge is typically limited to their own brands. The DRAM Agency team utilizes knowledge and experience across Southern Glazer’s entire product portfolio to deliver targeted strategies to its clients. By only offering digital marketing services, DRAM Agency can also partner with suppliers’ in-house teams to enable the creative aspects of campaigns to be as successful as possible.

“In ecommerce, you need to make sure you show up in a great way on the digital shelf,” Mansperger says. “A big part of that is optimizing content. One of DRAM Agency’s most popular features is to make sure the supplier has the right content in place to make sure it’s easy to sell their product.”

“In ecommerce, you need to make sure you show up in a great way on the digital shelf,” Mansperger says. “A big part of that is optimizing content.”

An example of how DRAM Agency leverages content optimization for its clients is by learning about the suppliers’ specific needs, working with their creative teams to build out content relevant to those needs, and then loading that content into a digital marketing system that utilizes The Trade Desk, which serves the digital ads programmatically across the advertising landscape.

This ensures that the content is optimized and displayed in the right places that will yield the most impactful results. DRAM Agency works with suppliers that have wide-ranging budgets and can help clients with even the smallest digital marketing budgets maximize their dollars to receive the best possible return on investment. That ROI can be as high as ten times the initial investment.

Despite its relative infancy, DRAM Agency has already executed digital marketing campaigns for 200 brands representing more than 60 suppliers. It plans to continue expanding its vendor offerings, ensuring that it is positioned to offer value to all supplier partners regardless of suppliers’ individual needs.

The agency is also looking to explore its current data aggregation offerings, aggregating industry-wide results to create a more-detailed look into online consumer trends.

Ultimately, DRAM Agency is yet another example of how Southern Glazer’s continues its quest to maintain its status as the distribution vendor of record, and provide ongoing value to its customers and partners.

“Our goals are our suppliers’ goals and aspirations,” Chaplin says. “That’s why we built DRAM Agency. We have an understanding of how this industry is going, and as our suppliers continue to invest in the digital space, we want to be here to partner with them. Quite frankly, beverage alcohol is behind in ecommerce, and it’s our mission to make sure we aren’t being left behind in the digital basket.”

At Southern Glazer’s, all roads lead back to the consumer. Through SG Proof, DRAM Agency, and many of its other offerings, the company continues moving forward with a very customer-centric focus, propelling growth opportunities and serving as a successful model for others to follow. BD

Melissa Sherwin is a freelance writer and marketing communications strategist from Chicago, IL. Her work has appeared in Chicago’s Daily Herald newspaper, Time Out Chicago, Suburban Life newspapers, and various magazines. She is also the author of several children’s books. Follow her @MelissaNSherwin.

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