William Grant & Sons has been a stalwart of the premium spirits landscape for five generations and, with the dual rise of e-retail and worldwide travel, the company has gained a truly world-renowned reputation for quality and originality. In recent years this independent, family-owned company has also achieved significant growth in its global travel retail (GTR) business channel and is looking to capitalise on this achievement, as Business Review Europe explores.
The business of distilling
In 1887, the Glenfiddich distillery was established by William Grant, his wife and nine children in Dufftown, Scotland, and since then William Grant & Sons has expanded its capacity and the number of its distilleries to support the growth of its award winning brands. The company now has a reach covering practically every territory in the world with the marketing and distribution of its various brands executed via a range of wholly-owned, joint venture, and third party vendors, spanning Cape Town, Mexico City, and New York, as well as offices in India, Australia, Russia, China, and South America.
“William Grant’s as a company is defined by our history and inspired by the future and it is our history of innovation that is key to the company’s success,” says André de Almeida, William Grant’s Europe Travel Retail Director; “Our entrepreneurial spirit is one of the key differentiators for the company - it is actually one of the reasons why I work here.
“My role is to bring our portfolio of core brands to life in the global travel retail channel, with a specific focus on Europe and that can take shape in different ways. Global travel retail covers everything from airports, airlines, ferry and cruise ships, diplomatic and military shops.”
Managing a whisky business presents its own unique operational challenges, as de Almeida explains: “We have to lay down stocks and have planning cycles which run 20, 30 years ahead in terms of forecasts for future demand. We foster innovation because whilst we clearly know what's relevant today we always ask ourselves if there is something we can do now that has the potential to give us options and flexibility in the future.”
The image of holidaymakers stocking up on duty-free alcohol is certainly a common one, but the realities of travel retail are far more nuanced – and challenging – to say the least. Not only are operations subject to fluctuations in traveller numbers (particularly pertinent in the wake of recent terrorist attacks) but each outlet also has to cater to the interests of a truly international customer-base.
De Almeida says: “Penetration levels at airport retail stores are one such challenge, as the number of people that are actually going into a store is fairly low. We try to recognise this crucial factor by offering reasons for the consumer to enter the store such as engaging activations and unique propositions such as differentiated ranges of our products.”
“My objective is to think of ways to build long-term growth in a sustainable way because what we don't want to do is to drive sales only by activating our brands via heavily discounted price off promotions, for example, which diminishes the value perception consumers have of our brands.
“We are always striving to improve the experience at point of purchase for the consumer. Looking at how to bring our brands alive in some way, shape or form in travel retail environment in order to showcase those premium products we have.”
William Grant and Sons prides itself on its creativity and for being able to cater to a smorgasbord of international customers, each with different personal tastes, budgets, and brand expectations. Being able to achieve this is not merely a triumph of sales and marketing prowess – it is an art, bringing together a symphony of ideas, underscored by the growing significance of technology.
De Almeida explains: “Technology has become more and more important. Airports for example are talking about being able to communicate directly with consumers from the moment they decide to travel on their journey all the way through to their destination. I think personally e-commerce will have more of an impact - we've already seen examples of it in travel retail and just have to look at the success of Amazon in the US and UK markets.
“I think what technology will also play a role in is the engagement aspect, with increased use of virtual or augmented reality and insights generated from anonymous wi-fi analytics for example. So from our perspective, we want to use technology - whether online or in store - to really convey what the brand stands for and create engagement.”
The company has also utilised experiential marketing in order to increase the coverage of its portfolio in particularly novel ways. One such example was the Hendrick’s Gin Gin Oscillating Sensory Helmet (G.O.S.H.) activity. Other more recent examples include the launch of the House of Hazelwood whisky and the Grant’s Elementary range launch exclusive to the travel retail channel. Shopper and retail marketing agency, HRG, is responsible for the majority of William Grant & Sons’s build and installation of activations in Europe travel retail. HRG is an example of a partnership approach with a dedicated account director, Lucy Tugwell, supporting the business as well as helping to develop creative content.
He adds: “William Grant & Sons has the ability to move quickly, working in collaboration with partners, to be creative and innovative in our approach which ultimately, of course, helps to drive our business ”
Understandably, William Grant & Sons’ brands need to be carefully managed; not only to maximise in-store impact, but also to ensure that they reach the correct demographic – an important factor given the increasing prominence of high-spend travellers. Agency staff in store play a prominent role in representing the company and its brands to consumers. William Grant & Sons is working to enhance its presence and impact at point of purchase in partnership with Sally Allington at Blackjack Promotions– a company specialised in serving the travel retail sector with quality, brand-conscious personnel and an experiential specialist.
Almeida adds: “As an example of partnership approach, we work with One Red Kite retail and digital consultancy on an ongoing basis and Kevin Brocklebank and the team have helped us in developing an app to improve our communication and performance management with the agency staff in store.
“We are also working with Brett Goldhawk and team at Ziggurat Creative Agency because we are trying to look past just the travel retail store. We want to be looking at the moment the consumer decides to travel, all the way to when they arrive at their destination
“If our objective is to bring our brand essence to life, then we should be looking beyond the travel retail store and Ziggurat is helping us to look at following the consumer through this journey and identifying alternative ways to bring the brand to life”
Having gained global prominence for the quality and innovative approach to its brands, William Grant & Sons has combined over a century of experience with the latest trends, while managing to keep its sights fixed firmly on the future. Having been able to leverage travel retail as a healthy source of revenue, the company is poised for even more growth in this area.