It sounds great, but if you were to take a hard look at the UK off-licence sector right now, you might change your mind. Along with clothing, electricals and homeware retailers, you can add off-licences to the list of those feeling the effect of growing competition from the supermarkets.
Add to that the groundswell of opinion that off-licences should be made to act more responsibly in terms of sales promotions, and life for your typical off-licence business suddenly looks a lot less comfortable.
The pub trade is a major supporter of this latest drive, keen to see their off-trade cousins operating under the same scrutiny and pressure they are currently experiencing in the drive to combat binge drinking.
Pubs are only following up on the opportunity offered to them by the Scottish Parliament. Commenting on the current Licensing Bill, designed to curb binge drinking, a committee of MSPs backed all the Bill's recommendations. However, they also said it could have gone further, having seen no reason why similar restrictions to those planned for pubs could not also be applied to supermarkets and off-licences.
These are challenging times for off-licences. People in the know will tell you the sector has lost some of its sparkle. Its ability to market itself aggressively and creatively appears to have faded. That is perhaps no surprise, as cost has become a key determinant for many people when making off-licence purchases.
When this happens, innovation and creativity tend to disappear in the scramble for increased sales.
Majestic Wine, however, is managing to avoid the worst of the competitive squeeze. I know I have mentioned it before on this page, but it really is the darling of the small retailer sector, having struck on a successful formula that differentiates it from the competition. Its reward has been a loyal and affluent customer base. But it goes without saying that not everyone can repeat Majestic's success, all of which makes you wonder how the off-licence sector will fight back.
On the regulatory front, clamping down on off-licence sales and promotions appears rather harsh. Dealing with binge drinking is as much about society's attitude toward alcohol as it is about where consumers can find the cheapest supply.
Businesses certainly need to be vigilant about a customer's age, but to tell a retailer dealing solely in alcohol that it cannot indulge in promotions and discounts, when it is under massive price pressure, seems to be missing the point.
On the competition side, more and more smaller, independent players are looking to the restaurant sector for some relief.
As a nation, we are drinking more wine, which, naturally, is filtering through to the restaurant trade. However, many restaurants are becoming annoyed at low wine prices in supermarkets because they expose their own mark-ups. They would rather offer interesting and exotic wines, safe in the knowledge that customers are unlikely to price-check them before their next visit. Independent suppliers able to supply such wines at an affordable price are therefore likely to find plenty of friends within the restaurant community.
This would represent only a small percentage of sales, however. The need to fight back against those who would see off-licences' market share squashed will remain, and plenty of creative thinking will be needed along the way. It won't be easy; in fact, it could be enough to make you turn to drink.
- Helen Dickinson is head of retail at KPMG
30 SECONDS ON ... THE LICENSING BILL
- One of the main aims of the Licensing Bill is to curb anti-social behaviour caused by alcohol abuse. This is to be achieved through more flexible opening hours for pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels.
- Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell believes fixed closing times lead to rises in anti-social and criminal behaviour. 'Research shows that over 50% of all recorded public disorder incidents occur between 11pm and midnight on Friday and Saturday,' she said.
- A 1999 study by the Portman Group backed the theory of fixed opening hours boosting bad behaviour.
- A 2003 government report into binge drinking carried out by the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit concluded that it costs the country £20bn a year. The cost to employers is about £6.4bn and to the NHS, £1.7bn. Alcohol-related crime leads to 22,000 premature deaths a year.