The reason why you can sip on your favourite drink anywhere in the world is right here ….
Exporting anything, especially alcohol, can be bureaucratic and logistically complicated. With over 20 years of experience in the beverage and logistics industries, Sovereign Beverage Company is able to export their suppliers’ premium products to customers around the world, safely, efficiently, and profitably. David spends some time with Business Matters and explains his secrets of success and how he ensures that their client’s products are in safe hands.
What is your USP?
We are the UK’s premium drinks exporting company and have access to markets in every corner of the globe, supported with full service technology which makes the ordering process as simple as possible.
This means we are able to assist companies that are looking to export from anywhere in the world. Our customer-centric philosophy means that we are ready and able to oversee the transport of our customers’ products every step of the way and reduce the complexity and mitigate the risks associated with importing and exporting beverages.
What made you start your business – did you want to rock the status quo, was it a challenge or a gap in the marketplace that you could fill?
My real ‘aha’ moment came in 2006 when I was working as an account director and I was meeting with a brewery representative. An offhand conversation led to the birth of Sovereign Beverage Company. It was thanks to this conversation that I realised that the brewery in question had an untapped route for sales in the form of global export, but they had no infrastructure and the risk was too high for them to do it for themselves. So after talking to many breweries and importers, I saw that there was a huge gap between product availability and global demand, as the breweries lacked the supply chain knowledge, time and other resources to manage their exports.
Two years later in 2008 – during a recession no less – we launched Sovereign Beverage Company and we’ve never looked back!
What are your brand values?
We believe the customer comes first. We pride ourselves on offering our clients and partners a premium quality service at a competitive price. In addition, we are always looking to evolve and innovate our product offering and service provision.
Do your values define your decision-making process?
Of course. At SBC, we are dedicated to making importing-exporting effortless and building a strong rapport with our customers and suppliers alike so that we can put their needs front and centre. Our mission is simple, we are here to help all of our clients maximise sales growth and help reduce as much of the complexity and risk as possible.
Is team culture integral to your business?
From the get-go, we’ve always taken team spirit and culture seriously at SBC, but over the past two years, we’ve had to examine what we mean by ‘culture’ as we’ve shifted our workforce to fully remote working. Our bricks and mortar offices are in Blackburn, Lancashire, but our team works remotely and so we’ve had to work hard during the transition to remote working on fostering that team spirit that you have with physical interactions. This has meant we have been committed to creating ways of replicating that camaraderie you can miss when you no longer have physical interactions among people.
We have regular video meetings, so everyone involved with the business has a clear focus and access to support channels should they need help and assistance. We’ve also conducted several remote social events – quizzes, get-togethers and drinks events. It’s safe to say those water cooler moments haven’t been lacking even though we work remotely!
As team culture is integral to your business, what do you do to go the extra mile to show your team you appreciate them?
We find as many ways as possible to do this – we regularly review pay and incentives and whenever we can we promote from within. We also put the team through training and CPD where possible, encouraging suggestions from each team member as to what would be the most beneficial. For example, our leadership team has all recently been offered business mentoring, and when we brought on a new cider supplier, the sales team were all put through cider product training.
What’s your take on inflation and interest rates – are you going to pass that on to your customers or let your margins take a hit and reward customer loyalty in these tougher times?
Looking ahead, we think higher interest rates are unfortunately here to stay. We are seeing increases coming through from our suppliers, and while we don’t benefit from those price increases, we are having to pass them on to our customers. It’s a global situation and our customers are understanding. As the products we export are premium, we do anticipate that the end customer might look to budget by downgrading the brands they choose, however we haven’t yet seen that happen in practice. Where we see price drops (which do happen with changes in export logistics and packaging), we also pass these directly on to our customers. We also seek to support our customers in other ways, for instance with point-of-sale assets such as barware, glassware, and signage.
How often do you assess the data you pull in and address your KPIs and why?
We review our data weekly, quarterly, bi-annually and annually.
The sales team meets for weekly video calls so they all have a clear focus and we can ensure they both understand their KPIs and are on target to meet them, plus offering the support they need to do so.
We have quarterly reviews with each member of the business, from operations to admin to sales, so they are always aware of their performance, areas of success and opportunities for improvement. The leadership team also meets monthly to sense-check the current business objectives and achievements against the wider company vision and goals.
As a strategy we try not to have too many KPIs. There are five key areas which we really monitor and review constantly, and if they need to be altered we can do so in good time.
Is tech playing a much larger part in the day-to-day running of your company?
Tech touches every part of our day to day business, as a UK exporter dealing with customers in over 60 countries we’ve managed to leverage the current technology stack to help streamline and improve efficiency in every facet of our business. After our current system was implemented, we managed to reduce the manpower on order processing by 66% and back office functions by 33% due to a slicker end to end order process utilising a single system.
The introduction of video conferencing tools has reduced our commuting, global travel and subsequent carbon footprint. These tools have improved the customer service and account management we can offer whilst keeping a lid on potentially expensive communication bills to all four corners of the globe. The reduction in international travel and day to day commuting cannot be underestimated.
Reporting and Business Intelligence reporting now form the kernel of our day to functions and all business activities feed from this information. It better powers our decision making processes ensuring we do the right things to keep us heading towards our goals.
All in all, this has resulted in a streamlined, agile workforce and business that can work from anywhere in the world. This opens up the job market to a broader set of candidates thus allowing us to recruit better on top of the benefits already highlighted.
What is your attitude to your competitors?
We welcome competition. Competition keeps us on our toes and ensures we are offering our customers the premium service they deserve. We also know that we are the best out there!
Do you believe in the 12-week work method or do you make much longer planning strategies?
We all start with a vision, and it’s key to break that down into bite-size chunks. Two years ago I announced that it was a goal of SBC to export 100,000 hectolitres a year – and I think the team initially thought I was going batty! However, when we set a five year target on that goal, and then broke it down into an annual budget and then quarterly KPIs, it became much more realistic and achievable, and we are already more than halfway to achieving that goal.
For me as a business owner it’s key to have that long term vision and strategy, but for the team and review purposes, the 12-week work method is ideal – short sprints rather than long marathons.
It can be a lonely and pressured place to be as the lead decision-maker of the business. What do you do to relax, recharge and hone your focus?
I like to focus on my physical health, travel, and humanitarian work, combining all three where possible!
I’ve recently returned from South America where I joined a four-day charity cycle ride with The Truants Foundation, part of raising a targeted £300,000.
I ensure I take time to relax, usually with some form of exercise! The area I live in is stunning, and so I get out for a walk or a cycle daily, which allows me to focus on my mindset and positivity, as well as giving me a clear head and keeping me fit! I spend a lot of time in the Lake District for the same reason, trying to see more of the UK while indulging in my hobby.
In terms of honing my focus, I make sure I have consistent time to work on the business, as I’ve built a supportive team which has freed me up to do so. I also work regularly with a business mentor, zooming out of the day-to-day and focusing on the overall vision.
What three things do you hope to have in place within the next 12 months?
Firstly, we are always focusing on strengthening our team, as people are key to the success of our business. We look at a combination of self development, personal development, and business development, and my personal ethos is that every single person in the company, myself included, should be able to take two steps forward within their role. I intend to support the entire company with that through upskilling, additional training, and expansion. Though we have just grown the sales and operations teams, we want to further expand the sales team and also start building a product and marketing team.
Secondly, our year-on-year export operations have recently grown by over 20%. Over the next 1-2 years we hope to build on that growth. We currently sell 55,000 hectolitres of product annually, and our goal is to increase that to 100,000HL by 2025. We plan to drive that through our existing suppliers and bring on some new suppliers in key categories. We know that 80% of our customers can take on additional lines, so we will focus on increasing their listings over the next couple of years.
Thirdly, we are currently focused on beer and cider, but in response to demand, we are considering adding health drinks and non-alcoholic beverages to our product portfolio over the next year. For instance, we are now looking to expand our product range to include alcohol-free beer and cider to meet the demands of our customers in the Middle East region. The growth of low/no products is huge and we intend to support our customers with the development of this category.