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Jamet Dodger

d=”standfirst”>Jeff Jamet, the man at the helm of Waverley TBS, says we are witnessing the birth of café society in the UK, and he should know. He’s French for starters, and his company distributes drinks to 36,000 customers in every corner of the land. Robyn Lewis met him for a good chinwag

It’s a while before we get onto business as it would be fair to say that Jeff Jamet is a man who doesn’t mind a natter, and as I’m the kind of girl who doesn’t mind a natter and it turns out we have rather a lot to natter about, we spent some time chin-wagging. In fact I’ve never thought I’d have so much in common with the French managing director of Waverley TBS. But then I discover Jamet spent  time in his youth hanging around some of the less salubrious bars of my own youth, in the South Wales valleys. It was, indeed, quite a surprise to stumble upon a Frenchman who could not only pronounce Merthyr Tydfil and Ebbw Vale correctly but who was as familiar with the drinking holes of those areas as I was, and a discussion about both ensued. When it turned out Jamet had ended up in Wales through his rugby playing, we really got going, and then when  we discovered a mutual appreciation for the finer points of cask ale, and his 16 years in Ireland, a country for which we share a deep love, well, there was no stopping us.

Eventually, however, some time later we did get onto the business in hand, namely the now completed merger between Waverley and The Beer Seller, which Jamet has been overseeing. “Scottish and Newcastle bought the whole Bulmers group some two years ago years, of which The Beer Seller was the wholesale arm and of which I was managing director,” he explains. “Of course, Scottish and Newcastle already had a wholesale arm of their own in the form of Waverley, which concentrated heavily on wine, by and large, and so the decision was taken to merge the two companies and form what we hope will be the UK’s number one wholesale business, Waverley TBS.”

The new company is a full composite operation, meaning that the portfolio of around 700 SKUs offers everything from wines, beers and spirits to soft drinks and mineral water. “When we merged we had about 1,400 SKUs but we took out all the duplications, renegotiated with some of our suppliers and really created a totally new list that we’ve called The Best of Both Worlds. It’s designed so that any licensed business in the country can get basically all of their wet supplies from us, we have a very extensive list because our customers are so diverse, you know, from running the Cobra pub on the streets of Maesteg to upmarket restaurants in London and national chains such as Pizza Express, so we have to cater for all that. What is very important to us is that despite being owned by Scottish and Newcastle, we want to be, and be seen to be, independent. I mean, if we want to be a genuine wholesaler then we should be able to work also with Carlsberg and with Coors and Interbew and we should not be seen to be favouring our shareholders’ products above anyone else’s.” 

Waverley TBS now supplies around 36,000 customers in  the UK, which is achieved through a de-centralised business structure, with 19 regional offices, fed by two distribution hubs. Each of those 19 local offices consists of a warehouse, a telesales team, a sales team and other backup, while the commercial, finance and HR departments remain centralised. “Most businesses in the UK are centralising, whereas we are trying to remain local to the customers we serve, so the structure we have enforces that,” Jamet says. “When you call us we aren’t taking your call from Mumbai or London, and when you place an order today we will deliver it tomorrow because we can, because of the location. That local positioning, local knowledge and relationship with the customer is very much a USP of our business, you know. We try to encourage a relationship with the customer between the salesperson, the telesales person and the crew that deliver the products, that is important. 

“We also try to have good relationships with our suppliers too, who rely on us to get their brands distributed. We see ourselves very much as an extension of the brand owner or brewery or whatever it is and we can reach part of the market that they can’t reach. 

“A lot of our business is scattered around the UK and, as you know, most of the big boys have now contracted all their distribution out, so they are not masters of their own distribution anymore, it is done by someone else. We own all our distribution, so all the warehouses and trucks and so on are owned by us and we have a really fast, efficient and cost-efficient system to move goods from A to B. 

“Supply chain is often the most difficult and most expensive part of a business and I think that of all the players in the UK we, along with Matthew Clark, are probably the only wholesaler that has genuine UK distribution. We can reach anywhere in Britain and in many instances brand owners see us as the only solution to get the brands to a certain customer.”

Brands are becoming an increasingly important business for Waverley TBS, not only because of its own brand development arm, home to Cape Promise, Moondarra and Oliver & Greg’s, but also because, as Jamet sees it, the on-trade market for wine in particular is becoming more and more branded. 

“Wine is increasingly important to the on-trade, on the back of the New World I think. The big move in the sector is toward big brands, to the Gallos, Beringer Blass and Concha y Toros and that has been accelerating over the past few years until it has reached the stage now where it is an important part of the business.

“These days if you don’t carry the big branded wines then you can’t satisfy your customers, so I think that will be an area that will really grow over the next few years. Wine is a really important category for us. 

“Cask beer is also important as The Beer Seller was one of the best cask beer distributors in the country and we intend to keep that reputation. We are still the only company in the UK to be approved by Cask Marque and every one of our 19 locations around the country has that Marque. That means we dispense and service those cask beers in the best possible condition and that’s a big element of our business. We see it very much as a door opener and off the back of it we do get quite a lot of business, because most pubs will have cask beer, so to be a key supplier there is important, and we try to maintain that position.  “We spend a lot of time trying to educate people about cask beer how to store it, serve it, and so on. We do an enormous amount of training and educating too, just as with wine, where our wine advisers are in place to inspire and educate customers about wine.”

If you were to break the business into sections, Jamet says, a third of the business would be wine, a third beer and the final third spirits and the rest. The biggest growth areas are wine, mineral water and also spirits through cocktails, which is a trend Jamet believes to be accelerating as it spreads around the country. It isn’t all good though, as bigger issues encroach onto business. Issues such as shipping, rising petrol costs, the smoking ban, 24hour licensing and binge drinking all have an impact on the company, Jamet says.

“Of course those big issues affect us. Just because we aren’t a brand owner doesn’t mean we are exempt from these things. We are under the same constraints and have the same concerns as anybody else in this market place. I am not kidding you when I tell you that here in London we spend £100,000 in parking fines every year and that is from trucks pulled up outside a pub delivering and the warden comes and says, ‘Sorry, here’s a ticket,’ and that happens absolutely every time, so that’s an added cost onto our business. Think about petrol, when petrol costs go up it obviously affects our distribution costs. 

“The other thing that is of great concern to us is all these things you see in the media now about binge drinking and under-age drinking and all of that. Suddenly the finger is being pointed and the industry is the bad guy and I think that is putting pressure on the drinks industry as a whole. We are all part of the Portman Group and we follow a specific code of practice and I believe that, on the whole, we are operating as an industry with due care for customers and consumers. 

“That media attention does turn the spotlight on us even though, in my opinion, the UK industry is pretty well regulated and it is a market that is changing. I’ve only been here three years and before that I lived and worked in Ireland [where he was managing director at Guinness Northern Ireland] and Ireland is a great example of a market that has changed over the past five years. The typical business was built on the pub and the centre of the pub was the pint. Now it has really moved to café society and if you go to Dublin now it is really a continental style of drinking and that same thing is happening here. You have such a variety of choice in this country, good restaurants, good pub businesses and that is crossing over now, with more food with drink.”

What effect does he expect the new 24-hour licensing law to have on business? 

“Very little really, in the end. Personally, I believe that at the end of the day an outlet should be able to choose the time it wants to operate. I don’t think to supply alcohol 24 hours a day is that great a thing, but it is nearly 24-hour drinking as it stands already, when you think about it, so I don’t think that with 24-hour licensing you will suddenly have an explosion in alcohol consumption. I don’t think people can drink more. I don’t see people at 5am saying, ‘let’s go for a beer.’ But I think the freedom for outlets to operate within a 24-hour cycle is probably good. Most of Europe operates like that and I think to give that freedom is OK, as long as you control it and make sure people don’t abuse it, and I think that this country in particular is well placed to do that. It is very proficiently run in terms of the licensed trade.”

And that thought seemed as good a place as any to end it. I could go on. There remains much un-transcribed tape meandering over such diverse subjects as the consolidation in the sector (to continue for a while, Jamet says), the chances of Wales winning the Grand Slam (no need to expand on that), and the merits of cups of tea. As I say, we did have rather a good natter.

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