THE doors may only have opened in August of last year, but Maxwell’s Clarkston has already established itself as a veritable Aladdin’s cave of beer and cider, thanks in no small part to the sheer passion displayed by owner Onker Singh.
That passion was rewarded twice over at this year’s Scottish Grocer Awards, where Onker took to the stage to collect not only the Licensed Retailer of the Year award for his well-established Pollokshields shop, but also Beer and Cider Retailer of the Year in association with Carlsberg on the first time of asking.
Maxwell’s Clarkston is Onker’s second store and it’s something of an evolution in his business, jumping off the back of the success he’s seen at Maxwell’s Pollokshields, which he took on as a former Threshers just as the beer category was finding its way back into the spotlight.
“Craft beers were just kicking off so I had to do a bit of research in the craft beers, took certain beers home, drinking with friends etc, which is difficult work but it’s got to be done,” he said.
Once the Pollokshields store was established, Onker said he had the idea to open a second unit that was fully focussed on off-sales.
“I had a vision. I wanted to have another one but I just wanted it completely alcohol and it took me around six months to two years to find the right site, because it’s quite important. It has to be in the right area,” he said.
That patience has paid off as, positioned by a busy roundabout, the store is able to attract customers from five and 10 miles away, according to Onker, and he reckons he’s now pulling in his fair share of craft beer aficionados.
“My customers are intelligent individuals who know what they want and they will try different stuff,” he said.
Having an informed clientele coming from miles away may be the dream for many, but that’s only the start according to Onker, who reckons retailers need to put in a fair bit of work to keep their customers satisfied.
“Customers coming in, they’ve been to different parts of the world and you’re listening to what they’re looking for but at the same time you know if you’re also drinking the stuff you can give an indication of what it is,” he said.
To meet the high expectations of his customers, Singh said he sources beers, ciders, wines and spirits from anywhere between 25 and 30 suppliers – allowing him to stock a range with both breadth and depth.
Offering variety is particularly crucial to craft beer sales according to Onker, who said he sees an “octopus effect” in store, with customers keen to try something different on each visit.
“First of all, they never buy the same bottle twice and they’ll never buy two bottles,” he said.
“Even in the fridge what you’ll probably find is one missing from one shelf, one from another, one from another, because the person has just picked one, one, one.”
While the big brands have their place in store, Onker acknowledges that his beer range is shy on brands from the macrobrewers, but he reckons this gives him an edge over the local supermarket competition.
“The stuff the supermarkets have got, I kind of call it commercial craft, because they buy a whole pallet of the same stuff, there’s no individualism about it, it’s just get it in, get it out, get it sold.
“With people who drink craft beers, there used to be a time when the supermarkets could get away with it, but customers are not stupid and especially the craft drinkers they’re not stupid,” he said.
That specialist range might give Onker an edge over the supermarkets with some customers, but building a stand-out range is only one step on the road to success.
Onker highlighted a host of considerations for retailers trying to create a beer and cider offering that really works, which includes being “wary about price,” and “wary about product”.
“You can’t just put in a selection of craft beers and then say ‘right let’s cross my fingers and hope it sells’. It’s not going to work that way,” he said.
“You need to do tastings, you need to have the product knowledge, you need to be getting everything done and sometimes people just don’t have the time for it.”
You can’t just put in a selection of craft beers and then say ‘right let’s cross my fingers and hope it sells’. It’s not going to work that way.
– Onker Singh
Despite the time and stock cost of hosting tasting sessions, Singh reckons the economics add up over the long-term.
“If you’re talking about numbers, stats-wise, if you see five customers at a tasting and two or three like the product you are offering, from that three all you need is one customer to keep buying from you and that case will go pretty much within the month. So all of a sudden you don’t have stuff out of date,” he said.
Onker’s set-up, which includes a take-away draught beer offer and a deep range of wines and spirits, may be the ideal, but he knows that for many retailers the time commitment to create a similar range may be too much. Retailers shouldn’t despair however, as he said he’s now considering expanding his business further with an off-sales consultancy service.
Further developments pencilled in for the future at Maxwell’s include offering a wholesale service. Onker said he’s already got a website in development and, once squared up with a wholesale licence, he plans to supply anybody that’s interested.
“That’s the kind of the direction I’m going in,” he said.