Customer is King for Liquorland’s Bennett Smith
With a long family history in the industry, it was almost inevitable that Bennett Smith would follow in his father Keith’s footsteps. The two own a successful Liquorland franchise in Northcross on Auckland’s North Shore, where they are pushing the boundaries with a wide range of international wines. We chatted to Bennett about what drives his passion for the business.
How did you get involved in the wine industry, and was it always a passion?
My family has been involved in the liquor industry for many years. I have always been interested in wine, but developed a real passion about ten years ago. I have been fortunate enough to be invited to industry-leading conferences such as the Central Crush and, more recently, the International Sauvignon Blanc Conference in Marlborough. Without a doubt, any time I attend one of these conferences, it takes my interest and passion to the next level.
Tell us a little bit about your business, what makes it different to other wine stores?
We are a small family-owned and -run business and I feel that part of our success is due to the genuine interest and passion we have, and a huge part of it is our staff. We have a raison d‘etre (reason for being) and this is to ‘look after the customer, look after the customer, look after the customer’.
Tell us about some of the challenges of running a thriving wine business.
There are many challenges running this type of business. For example: other banner or industry competition, legislation and, more recently, we have seen an increase in private equity company involvement looking for return on their investment, with the end result quite often being a reduction in margin return for us.
What constitutes a successful wine store to you?
To me, a successful wine store will have a good range of the main varietals including sub-regions across all key price points. But probably more important is to have the staff with the ability/education to explain the differences of each representation, with the end goal being that the consumer is able to make an informed choice that suits their taste and the occasion they are purchasing for.
Do you have a personal favourite wine/varietal?
My favourite varietal consistently changes with the seasons. As I learn more about the wine industry and am constantly being presented new varietals, I realise I would never be able to claim just one to be my favourite. In saying that, I do tend to purchase pinot noir quite regularly.
What is your personal favourite food and wine match?
At the moment my favourite food and wine match is steak with my wife’s blue cheese and mushroom sauce, and Tarras the Canyon Single Vineyard Pinot Noir from Bendigo in Central Otago. But I would be just as happy matching wine with more wine.
Which are currently the most popular wines you are selling?
It still blows me away, but our biggest selling varietal is sauvignon blanc – by a long shot. There is definitely a shift towards reds during the colder months, but ‘sauv blanc’ easily out-sells any other varietal.
How did your relationship with Martin and Planet Wine begin?
I met Martin through our store many years ago when he was trying to sell me wine. I then became a local at his restaurant, The Internationalist, where we held a number of very successful Liquorland staff parties. Now his wines are an important, stable part of my wine selection.
What is it that you appreciate about Planet Wine as a supplier?
The quality and range of wine Martin supplies is excellent and fits with exactly what I am trying to achieve. He is also flexible in terms of working with us to trial new/different wines, especially as we enter new territory with South African Wine.
Liquorland Northcross, Corner East Coast Road & Carlisle Road, North Shore City, Auckland. Ph: 09 479 5216.