Vodka focus: Fear of the unknown

Related tags Vodka Sales

Vodka, vodka, vodka, yawn, yawn, yawn!! Ask many licensees what vodka they sell and the reply will often be two: one house band and one named brand....

Vodka, vodka, vodka, yawn, yawn, yawn!! Ask many licensees what vodka they sell and the reply will often be two: one house band and one named brand. 'Twas ever thus! And it shouldn't be like that.

I had a 'road to Damascus' experience walking into one of my pubs about eight years ago. I looked up at the myriad of different whiskies on offer, generally very easy on the eye, but not actually amounting to much more than a hill of beans in terms of sales. Yet there, looking forlorn, in splendid isolation was a bottle of vodka, proudly puffing out it's chest knowing that it amounted for around 70 per cent of all the spirits sales in the pub.

A better experience

Are we missing a trick here I thought - surely if one category amounts for so much of the sales we should give it a little more time and effort?

It still amazes me how many people don't look at what they are selling and try to give a better experience to their customers.

We work in an industry where the bartender often doesn't know much about the product he or she is selling.

When we don't know too much about a certain product we tend to shy away from being adventurous and so opt for the safest option. But by doing this are we really doing justice to our customers - so many of whom obviously enjoy vodka?

So the key is really to have an understanding of the product you are selling. This allows you to get as excited about the brands you are selling and to sell the for all the right reasons, to be able to chat to your customers about them. To be enthusiastic!

I was determined to try and alter the way Pleisure looked at the vodka category. I wanted to bring some point of difference, some choice for our customers and some training for our staff. The first step was to decide which product we would use for pouring throughout our estate. I pulled up a short list of products, some well known, some less so and some which at the time few had heard of.

A decision based on taste

The decision of which product to sell was not based on who cashed the biggest cheque, or retrospective discount. It was actually based on taste. As well as that I was looking for a distributor that was going to help us train our managers and our staff to ensure that we could engage with customers.

We decided on a relatively unheard of Polish vodka, Wyborowa, as our pouring brand (this was long before it was bought by Pernod-Ricard). Because we had picked what was at the time an unusual product, it made the educational side of our journey all the more important. I felt this was a bonus, because it encouraged customers and staff alike to be inquisitive about the product and we would tell our customers why we believed Wyborowa to be the best.

Picking a Polish vodka has also allowed us to highlight the geographical variations of vodka. We stocked Russian, French, Dutch, American among others. It also allowed us to have a premium pour which initially was Luksusowa, this also allowed us to differentiate between a rye and a potato vodka.

To ensure that the knowledge of the vodka was being sent out to our customers we set out on the vodka road show. Doing tastings of up to 10 different vodkas in each of our venues. It was great to see the look of delight on people's faces when they realised that they could tell the difference!

We now have an extended vodka range in all our pubs, giving customers choice (one of our venues has over 120 on its back-bar). It's a very competitive market place, some would say saturated. But it's an exciting one which accounts for a huge amount of sales and we are only now ensuring we are doing the right thing for our customers.

Nick Griffin is managing director of Pleisure Pub Company

Related topics Spirits & Cocktails

Property of the week


£ 60,000 - Leasehold

Busy location on coastal main road Extensively renovated detached public house Five trade areas (100)  Sizeable refurbished 4-5 bedroom accommodation Newly created beer garden (125) Established and popular business...

Follow us

Pub Trade Guides

View more