The StateWays Interview

A new department featuring a one-on-one interview with a top supplier representative, tailored for the control states.


StateWays: What marketing challenges are currently your top priorities, and how do you intend to meet those challenges?


Biles: Our overriding theme is growth, and we’re out to explode the myth that the U.S. distilled spirits market is a declining mature market. How? By taking a positive attitude toward our brands; by telling the best story in the media we can at spending levels that haven’t been seen in two decades; by partnering with our control states; and by providing a knowledgeable sales force that adds value to our control state partners.


SW: How does Brown-Forman target the control state market in its brand positioning and marketing strategies?


Biles: We have a brand position for each brand that applies to the U.S. marketplace. From that position, we in the control states division tailor a position to a local strategy that is applicable to each of our control states. It’s no secret that our NASCAR, SeaDoo, T.G.I. Friday’s/
Jack Daniel’s Grill and other local promotions have not only been successful, but also a win-win for all parties.


SW: Have the control states mirrored national trends regarding an interest in premium and superpremium products? Is the release of Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Tennessee Whiskey reflecting this trend?


Biles: The control states have mirrored national trends, especially in our most urban control states. Certainly JD Single Barrel is positioned to take advantage of these trends, but it has been a project for many years prior to introduction this past spring. Like everything associated with Jack Daniel’s, we wanted to get it right first, then let our customers decide just how well we did.


SW: What has been the response to JD Single Barrel, and where does Brown-Forman see the possibilities for promotion and expansion of the product?


Biles: The response has been overwhelming, but our expansion has been slowed by a limited supply. In a town [Lynchburg, TN] where the population is only 361 and has only one master distiller, you can see how we can only provide so much of this very fine whiskey. We see this product available for sale wherever other fine whiskies and wines are sold…. At this time, because of limited supply, North America and Duty Free will be the only channels available for JD Single Barrel.


SW: What in-store merchandising tips would you give to control state officials and retailers concerning premium or superpremium products and flavored vodkas?


Biles: As all control state officials are faced with the paradox of ‘revenue’ versus ‘control,’ we see this as an opportunity to [promote] premium product categories that will enhance revenues and not necessarily boost case sales or consumption a corresponding amount…. This has been proven successful in a few states already — New Hampshire, Virginia and Ohio, to name a few.


SW: Have you been able to develop solid relationships with agency retailers through your broker representatives and field specialists?


Biles: Michigan, Iowa, West Virginia, Alabama, Mississippi, etc., have had private retailers that our process of partnering has been addressing for years. The most recent addition of Ohio adds to this list, and I believe the trend will continue. The one short-term downside is the allocation of limited resources. With the state giving up control of this channel, we — both the supplier and broker — must take up the slack, and make sure that plans are being implemented in the off-premise [market] on a store-by-store basis.


SW: What other initiatives of your company’s would you like control states to know more about?


Biles: The most important piece of news this year has been the expansion of mergers and acquisitions in our industry. There has been much talk concerning Brown-Forman and other mid-size companies. At our worldwide meeting in June, Owlsey Brown, our chairman, stated to all of us that ‘Rest assured, Brown-Forman will be a consolidator, not a consolidatee; we’ve vied against big players before…’


In other words, I believe we are a terrific partnering prospect for all three tiers — the state, the retailer and our broker network. We stand in support of all three and we’ll do most everything that will help us partner better with the ultimate decision maker, our consumer.

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