The Shout Magazine (New Zealand)

Owning a liquor franchise: Advice from a CEO

Liquorland CEO Brendon Lawry’s story is featured in the new book New Zealand’s Top Franchise Leaders, Secrets Revealed. Establishing himself as a franchise leader after more than 20 years in the FMCG and liquor industries, Lawry shared his tips for future franchise owners and operators in this excerpt featured in the latest issue of The Shout NZ.

Brendon Lawry

How does a liquor franchise differ from franchises in other niches?

My deduction is that the success factors don’t differ that much. At its core Liquorland, and I think most business (retailing and service industries in particular), are in the people game. Our customers, competitors, suppliers, staff and franchisees are all people, and the better you understand people, the better you understand business.

One of the key differences in our sector is the legislation specific to alcohol. This is the Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act. We treat a liquor licence as a privilege rather than a right. Selling alcohol comes with a huge responsibility and this needs to be respected. While it’s true that the grand majority of Kiwis have a healthy relationship with alcohol, some sections of society don’t and that’s why the retail sale of alcohol needs to be taken very seriously. As a consequence, we have a number of policies, procedures and costs that are unique to liquor stores and liquor franchises.

The traditional liquor retail sector including bottle stores and supermarkets is also incredibly competitive. There are well over 1000 retail outlets in New Zealand selling alcohol.

As a leading franchise CEO, what is the most common question you are asked, and how do you answer it?

I’m often asked, “How much money will I make?” to which I generally answer, “That depends how much effort you put in.” There’s no denying our business is hard and competitive, particularly because our product offer is generic, meaning you can buy Heineken and Chivas Regal in almost every bottle store in the country. But what we know is that the more you focus on, understand and look after your people including franchisees, customers, suppliers and even competitors, the better you will do.

What specific traits do you look for in potential franchisees?

We look primarily for franchisees who get the people game. We want them to understand that success will come as a result of the experience you create for the customer, and how you look after and manage other stakeholders including staff, suppliers and authorities.

It sometimes sounds a bit clichéd, but it’s the size of your heart and the strength of your character that matters, and that’s definitely true in a retail environment. Having talked to so many retailers over the years and walked the floor with so many owners, you can quickly get a sense of people’s commitment to the customer experience. If potential franchisees don’t mention the customer in the first few sentences of our discussion, it’s unlikely that they would fit the type of person we’re looking for.

It’s a preparedness to care enough to properly listen. That’s how you can spot the good retailers against the rest. They understand what it takes to enable their staff to be great, and they can articulate what they need to be able to offer the customer the experience they deserve.

What advice would you give someone who is considering investing in a liquor franchise?

Do your homework. Don’t just look at the model, the cost, the financials and the historic performance of the business. Talk to the franchisor and make sure that their approach, strategy, business plan and importantly their character and integrity match yours. Talk to current franchisees and not just the ones the franchisor tells you to talk to. Lastly, remember it’s a people game, and success comes from your people. If you don’t like dealing with people, franchising is probably not for you.

Edited excerpt from New Zealand’s Top Franchise Leaders, Secrets Revealed by Pete Burdon.
Published by Global Publishing Group. RRP $29.95.

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