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Think Indie Drink Indie: Selling independence

Published:  10 August, 2016

At last month's Think Indie Drink Indie event, attendees listened as a panel of leading merchants and 'outside' experts discussed how merchants can best leverage the powerful USP of being independent in an increasingly consolidated world.

The central theme of the debate lead by OLN editor Martin Green concentrated on ways in which independent merchants can better market and sell their independence, using this to connect with consumers that are increasingly keen on buying into individual, local and quality-focused products, and many insightful points were raised.  

"It's all about offering points of difference, whether in store or on the website, and this is something that we can do well," led John Chapman of the Oxford Wine Company. "But that's not the be all and end all, it's about doing this while not trying to conquer the world; about doing what you do well, but being true to who you are as opposed to one of the growing number of drinks conglomerates."

Rob Sellers, managing director of GreyShopper London, a creative shopper marketing agency, cautioned against going down a combative route against the bigger players, also highlighting the power that indies can leverage with their suppliers.

"As an independent retailer, you shouldn't just go 'it's us or them', you have a huge amount of value to add for your consumers," he said.

"The great thing about being an indie retailer is that you get to shape your retail experience, to showcase the brands that you are passionate about, and for a supply company that is important," continued Sellers. "That is their equity and you hold the key to that, so understand the importance of what you are in the route to customers; what you hold."

Michael Scantlebury of creative digital and social agency Impero brought it back to the consumer, suggesting that the true value - as opposed to price alone - of indies can be best communicated through interactive and educational events.

"You guys are great at being consumer-centric and you need to give reasons [to consumers] to believe in what you are doing, which could be as simple as running educational events," said Scantlebury.

"A butcher around the corner from me is running butchery courses, which are very popular, but the sole reason it is doing this is not to train you to be a butcher, but to show you what they do over and above the supermarkets, why they may cost a little more, and I think that's a big opportunity for you as independents," he added.

Selling the dream

Alex Myers, founder of the Manifest London agency, perhaps best known for its work with BrewDog, suggested that: "It is important, when looking at differentiating yourself as an independent, to take a step back and look at what you are doing.

"There was a reason why it was 'I have a dream' and not 'I have a plan', people buy into a mindset and every major brand is doing this well, while every major retailer is doing this badly. People don't buy what you are doing, they buy why you are doing it... we live in a market where constant disruption is the new norm," he said.

Scantlebury added that being local can be a huge plus if used to advantage with the opportunities offered by new technology and social media.

"On a really pragmatic level, think about where your locations are and think about how easy it is to target a postcode or area of London, on Facebook or Twitter, and build your brand," he advised.

"Someone said 'humans love choice, but hate decisions', but you can do this on a micro level, using social platforms to reach people within a small radius, and they'll say 'I know you'."

Amazon's Ash Parande agreed: "A couple of things succeed, [especially] simplicity of messages, and this allows you to scale faster than you might think," he said. "Use technology to scale and you can do this much faster than any other way."

Check out our four part series "Keys to building you indie business" in the Analysis & Insight Section.