Opportunity knocks

02 April, 2010

The phrase “quantum leap” is a relatively new one. It came into popular usage in the mid-20th century, and refers specifically to a change in particle state of an electron within an atom. In common usage, it means a tiny but irreversible change that happens suddenly rather than gradually. In the past couple of weeks I’ve made my very own quantum leap, as my first book, 500 Beers, has been published. (As an aside, you’ll notice the use of the phrase “my first book”, which subtly implies there will be more to come – here’s hoping.)?It’s an exciting time for me because, up until now, the majority of what I’ve written has been read by a more-or-less captive audience. You, dear reader, work in the drinks industry – and so read this fine journal to keep abreast of current affairs – and everything I write about is specifically for that audience.

I run a website and a blog (the two are subtly different), and although beer blogging has become hugely popular over the past few years, there is perhaps a sense that beer blogging (and probably blogging in general) is a group of people having a conversation with themselves, rather than writing for a wider audience.

There are very few points where the general public can just shamble up, plonk themselves down and listen to what you have to say. Those moments really only happen on the shop floor, whether in an off-licence or a bookshop.

But this week, I was offered another opportunity to spread the word about good beer. The business that employs me to manage the shop in Headingley also runs a mail-order service from its warehouse. A few years ago I helped with a redesign and relaunch of the website, but other than that, I’ve been fairly hands-off with it.

Perhaps sensing they have an asset on their hands (hey, I’m an author now, don’t you know), we sat down and looked at the best way of utilising this quantum shift in my status from “that beer bloke” to “that beer bloke with a book out”.

What has transpired is that it’s more or less turned over the updating of the website to me, which is the sort of new challenge I enjoy. Specifically, the challenge is: how can we drive new people to the website, or get previous customers to revisit it regularly? The plan is to generate original content regularly for the website – call it a blog, a magazine, a featurette, we’re not sure yet – that will give people something to read once a week.

If I had to couch the approach in marketing babble, I’d probably say “it’s about creating a new interface point between the consumer and the product”. Euurgh – that phrase came all to easily to me.

Most people who work in drinks retailing, at least those at the sharp end on the shop floor, do so because they have a passion for what they do. The low wages and antisocial hours mean it tends to drive away all but the most determined.

The second most interesting part of the job (after tasting and drinking the goods) is communicating what you know to customers, making a sale, and knowing they will be back to buy more from you. Allowing staff to get more involved in the business, whether running tastings, writing newsletters, or revitalising the content of your website is good for everyone, owners, staff and customers alike.

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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Is blended Scotch overshadowed by single malt in retailers?

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