Hi Julian, what do you do at Bibendum and how is a typical day at work for you?
Bibendum is a B2B operation in which I’m responsible for the management and growth of our drinks business across the National On Trade sector in the UK.
Our customers include hotel, restaurant and pub groups, and I have a team of 18 outstanding sales and account managers whose ability to cultivate great client relationships allow us to be a company that people love dealing with.
At this time of the year, my typical day consists in presenting the business to new leads, planning meetings with buying and marketing teams, tasting new wines & spirits, reforecasting & budgeting and recruiting for new team members.
What do you like about your work and what do you find rather demanding?
It is a hugely rewarding and motivating component of our work to witness a hotel group or restaurant chain’s growth in their drinks category. This will often lead to our business being recommended to other prospective customers, which is a healthy way to grow.
Because of the global nature of the products we deal with, travel is an essential part of the job.
Whether it is a South American wine sourcing visit, a Sake educational trip to Japan or a corporate tour of Tuscany – visiting producers is a recurring feature of our calendar. I’ve been known to organize a team meeting at one of our wine-producers in South Africa, which happens to be one of my favourite wine producing countries at the moment!
On the flip side, and also because of its global nature, wine is a very volatile commodity and is heavily influenced by agricultural, socio-political and macro-economic pressures. Droughts, fires, shipper strikes, Brexit and global financial tensions can all impact the market and our supply capabilities, which can undermine the stability of our service proposition.
You have been working in the drinks industry for over 20 years. What has changed over the time?
The UK drinks market has become hugely competitive with ever-decreasing margins and operators continually looking for vibrant and exciting solutions, so you have to look from different perspectives that will give you a competitive edge.
At Bibendum we have invested in our proposition over the past 20 plus years by developing a unique methodology that is built around improving the value and revenue for our customers. That’s why we have evolved into a specialist drinks distributor whose range is underpinned by market-leading demographic insights, training, marketing, design and activation departments. All of this allows our customers to win in their respective markets.
Has digital innovation modified customer relationship management in any way?
Digital innovation is a critical medium through which our customers communicate with their consumers. As a business, we also have to embrace and refine our digital capability. Working constantly for our customer’s needs, we have recently launched a “drinks training platform” that is delivered via an App. We place our clients at the heart of all our initiatives.
This has allowed us to manage and deliver award-winning content straight to the smartphones of our customers’ staff - like waiters, sommeliers and bartenders - with lots of quizzes along the way to test their learning. We can then monitor and evaluate progress on product-knowledge and service quality and ensure an experience that exceeds the expectations of our customers’ consumers.
Elsewhere - our marketing teams continue to develop innovative digital opportunities to communicate as effectively as possible with our customers.
Would you let us in on any major trends for the near future?
There is constant innovation and development in our sector. This is principally driven by consumers, with constantly evolving lifestyles, demands and expectations.
Proliferation of artisan gins, locally-produced whiskies, rapid innovation in the soft drinks sector, delicious wines from China, Slovenia and Canada and unusual and wonderful beers from all corners of the world make the UK the most exciting place in the world to enjoy a drink – responsibly of course.
However, we also face a clear challenge for the UK drinks trade, since alcohol consumption is slowing down in the UK. Against a background of stagnant earnings and increased preoccupation on healthy lifestyle, consumers are choosing to treat themselves less often or, indeed, turning away altogether from alcoholic drinks - especially in the under 35s generation.
This all leads to a more positive strategy where quality is more important than quantity. Less is better. Although the consumer will continue to limit his or her frequency and volume of alcohol consumption, the thirst for variety, quality and innovation will continue to grow. We all know plastic straws are a big no no. If your drink occasion need a straw, one should make it biodegradable!
What skills does a good Sales Manager need to have? Any advice for someone looking to pursue this career?
In simple terms, be dependable, deliver on your promises, be bold, passionate and allow your personality - whatever it is - to shine through.
If you are looking to embark on a career in the UK wine & spirits industry, be prepared to work and play hard and don’t be scared of starting from the bottom. It is an industry where you can quickly rise up through the ranks and you will meet a galaxy of interesting people.
Although it may not be a sector where you will make a fortune, you will be joining an industry where it’s impossible to get bored, is highly rewarding and where you will make lifelong friendships.