Kenton Burchell, group trading director, leads the trading and marketing teams across the Bestway Wholesale division, which also incorporates the retail arm. He tells Lucy Britner about the latest hybrid stores, key trends and how the Bestway business works 

Bestway hit our headlines in late 2023 when the company opened the first Costcutter with a Wine Rack hybrid store near Guildford. The move followed the launch of Costcutter with a Bargain Booze – a concept rolled out in 2022 and now at around 20 shops, with more on the agenda for 2024. 

“We are the only really credible national off-licence left in the marketplace,” says Bestway Wholesale group trading director Kenton Burchell. “And if you combine that with a fantastic convenience offer, it creates a unique proposition.” 

Burchell took over his current role in 2019, having moved up from commercial & logistics director at Bestway Retail. He came to Bestway via Conviviality Retail, which was acquired by Bestway – along with brands including Bargain Booze and Wine Rack – in 2018. 

The marriage of convenience and off-licence has, Burchell says, delivered “significant sales increases” for the hybrid stores. “In the first few weeks of trading, we have doubled sales in our first Costcutter and Wine Rack store in Bramley, compared to our previous standalone convenience offer,” says Burchell. “This truly demonstrates the power of bringing together a market-leading drinks and convenience offer.” 

BEHIND THE SCENES 

Burchell explains that he wants the off-licence business to be at the “forefront” in terms of what’s on the shelf. “We want to carry on developing the range and being at the forefront of the offer when it comes to the contemporary products coming out in the marketplace, but also provide advice and inspiration to reach the franchisees and the consumers.” 

To understand how Burchell and his team are providing this advice and inspiration, it’s worth zooming out to look at how his division works. “We’ve been integrating our retail business units over the past couple of years,” he says. “We’ve been aligning the teams, our systems, our supply chains, also our service providers, really to improve our efficiency and simplify the operation. 

“For instance, the trading and marketing team, whether they’re focusing on our wholesale business, or our retail business, are functionally aligned, so they report through to me, and we have the same approach in our other departments.” 

He says this speeds up the decision-making process and helps to give different customers what they need. “Whether that’s the right range, the right price, the right service, the right marketing, having that functional alignment means that we’re really joined up but also very focused on the customer offer.” 

Burchell talks about the company’s various centres of excellence, with a team dedicated to the off-licence format working out of the Stoke office. “Their job is really focused on making sure that the off-licence offer is the very best it can be,” he says. “They will be working as part of a bigger team, but really they work to produce the right range, the right prices, the right promotions, the right category advice planograms, then the right marketing and communications – analogue as well as digital – to really help our franchisees succeed in that off-licence format.” 

He adds that Bargain Booze and Wine Rack suit different demographics, and Bestway’s skills across convenience, the on and the off-trade make the team well-placed to help retailers create the kind of operation they want. 

FUTURE PROOF 

Looking forward to the next 12 months, Burchell is mindful that both businesses and consumers are still under pressure. “The cost of running a business is a lot higher than it was 18 months ago,” he says. “That’s obviously not helped by the fact that the cost of cash is higher because of interest rates.

“Bestway is very diverse, financially stable and sustainable. We’ve worked incredibly hard to avoid passing on inflationary pressures to our customers. I don’t think everybody in the marketplace or all the wholesalers and retailers are able to do that as well. And I think what is inevitable in 2024 and beyond is that we’ll see further consolidation across the industry.” 

Where consumers are concerned, Burchell says home drinking will continue to be on the agenda, with added value through experiences playing a part. And the old “less but better” mantra is also in play. “Quality as a decision factor for consumers buying a spirits product has increased by over 12%,” he says. “I find that really quite interesting in a cost of living crisis.” 

Low and no will continue to grow, believes Burchell, but he has some concerns about pricing. “There’s an opportunity here I think also because, clearly, these products don’t attract the same duty as full alcohol products. The opportunity is for manufacturers to think about how they can accelerate the growth by just making these products a bit more accessible from a price perspective to consumers, to get the penetration and the rate of sale.” 

And, like the rest of the trade, Burchell has high hopes for a full sporting calendar and a better summer to set tills ringing. For now, he’s raising a glass of Guinness 0.0 – his tipple of choice for January. 

THE BESTWAY FAMILY 

Bestway Wholesale includes independent retailers, catering and specialist pet foods, as well as Bestway Retail, which in turn operates franchised off-licence and convenience chains as well as company owned stores. Bestway Retail consists of around 3,500 stores trading under the Bargain Booze, Wine Rack, Bestone, Costcutter and Central Convenience brands in addition to 3,500 retail club convenience retailers. As a group, Bestway’s annual turnover is circa £4.51 billion, with Bestway Wholesale hitting above £3 billion. Alcohol sales make up over £700 million.