Industry sector: Retail and wholesale

Off-licence: Customer profile

Your market

You may have several different types of customer, for example:

  • local residents
  • people who work nearby but live somewhere else
  • trade customers like restaurants, to whom you might possibly supply fairly large quantities of goods at a wholesale discount

Each category of customer may buy different types of product so you should try to match your stock as closely as possible to your potential customer base.

Depending on where your business is located, a proportion of your customers may be regulars, with whom you will build up a personal relationship.

If you make online or mail order sales - perhaps cases of wine - then your customers could come from anywhere in the UK. Although you won't be dealing with them face to face, you should still try to encourage people to become regular customers.

Bear in mind that different types of people may prefer different types of drink. Doing some market research will help you to decide which products to stock - will local people want to buy expensive fine wines, for example, or are they more likely to be looking for cheap booze?

Underage drinkers

Obviously one group of people that you don't want to sell alcohol to is underage drinkers (under 18s). Unfortunately, some young teenagers will try to buy alcohol from you - perhaps by asking an adult to buy it for them. The law says that alcohol retailers must have an age-verification policy in place, so you'll need to decide on your strategy for making sure that you and your staff never serve under 18s. Initiatives like CitizenCard, PASS and the British Beer and Pub Association's Challenge 21 scheme can help you to make sure you comply with your responsibilities and the law at all times. In Scotland, the law says you'll need to use a scheme like Challenge 25 to check the age of anyone who appears to be under 25.

Payment method

Your customers might normally pay you:

  • in cash - this will be most likely where customers are spending a fairly small amount
  • by credit or debit card - this is more likely when the customer spend is higher. Trade and account customers like local restaurants may well pay by cheque

If you make any online sales then you might also decide to accept payments through services like PayPal and Nochex.

Special offers and discounts

You might offer your customers a discount on some product ranges, or have special promotions on certain lines, perhaps linking these to popular food and drink TV programs or to different times of the year.

Off-licences also normally offer customers a discount if they buy in large quantities. For example, you might offer 5% to 10% off the price of a case of wine. Be prepared for customers asking for further discounts if they spend large sums of money, for example, for a function or party.

Offers such as 'two bottles of wine for a tenner' can be popular, although you should make sure that you still make enough profit. Be aware too that selling heavily discounted drink is not generally regarded as responsible practice, and may encourage large numbers of underage drinkers to try to buy alcohol from your shop. Also note that quantity-based discount promotions are against the law in Scotland (they're legal in England and Wales, but you'll need to make sure that the total price charged comes to more than the value of the alcohol duty plus VAT for all the products in the deal - although you're unlikely to want to sell them for less than this).

Don't forget to brief your staff thoroughly on the discounts that can be offered. Guard against staff offering unauthorised discounts to their friends and family.