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Convivial vision: Diana Hunter talks business

Conviviality boss Diana Hunter shares her vision for the new mega-wholesaler with the drinks business.

1302050_Diana_Hunter_Bargain_Booze_bossIt’s been a busy week for Hunter following the completion of Conviviality’s £200m deal to buy Matthew Clark deal last Wednesday. In the last week, the chief executive of the drink industry’s new mega-wholesaler has criss-crossed the country meeting the teams across the Matthew Clark business, from Bristol to Newcastle.

“It’s been a very busy time. People think it’s all about the deal but you really learn about the business once the deal has completed,” Hunter told the drinks business in an interview this week.

The deal has created a drinks wholesale giant with a combined turnover of £1.1bn, covering the on- and off-trade from local off-license franchises to specialist wines stores, from pubs to upmarket restaurants and hotels. Matthew Clark has around 600,000 customers serving 17k outlets which Hunter insists is a good fit with Conviviality’s wholesale and franchise model, as both have a similar spread of end customers.

“Our business has always been as a wholesale business but it is a wholesaler to franchisees who then retail – So effectively the Conviviality business has always had to stand in the shoes of wholesalers and retailers,” she argues. “You’ve got similar demographic profiles across Matthew Clark’s customers base, with regular drinking venues right the way through to some of the more premium restaurant and hotel groups as well.

Conviviality will operate its two businesses – the former Matthew Clark business serving the on-trade and Conviviality Retail (the retail and franchise part of the business) serving the off-trade consumers – as stand alone, but working in tandem.  “The opportunity here is about leveraging the best of both” she argues.

Their combined heft also give its it a unique set of “touch points” with consumers that can be used to benefit not just the business, but also the wider industry, Hunter points out.

“Under the umbrella brand of Conviviality, we’re in a stronger position than ever to really understand consumer drinking and shopping habits, as well as where they like to go out to socialize, drink and eat, and the different, changing behaviour depends on those occasion and circumstances are,” she says. “It gives us a real, unique insight into the consumer. And our suppliers understand specific insights about the products and the brands they are aiming to service, so it’s about joining the dots and all of that information around our consumer base.”

Conviviality first revealed it was in talks to buy Matthew Clark in July (Photo: Matthew Clark)
Conviviality first revealed it was in talks to buy Matthew Clark in July (Photo: Matthew Clark)

Her job, she says, is leverage the expertise, passion and knowledge of the drinks industry from both parts of the business so that everyone can learn from each other. “They are strong businesses in their own right, both have really good growth plans, and both businesses have fantastic opportunities to learn from each other, We want to get the Matthew Clark team and the Conviviality team working well together – that is my primarily objective. But it doesn’t mean it will stop there,” she says.

One of the first steps is to bring suppliers together from across both businesses for a massive supplier conference next month – and she is clearly relishing the opportunity to get them all in one room talking about the future and how they can work better.

And according to Hunter, this cross-fertilisation of ideas has already started.

But it’s not only insight that Hunter wants the two wings of the business to share – she is working on is how it can maximize distribution across the different brands and products across those different channels. The wholesale and retail arm now has access to 14 distribution centres, with its own fleet of nearly 300 vehicles and while that may not mean that Matthew Clark’s vehicles deliver to Bargain Booze stores, Hunter is determined to look at how existing routes could be reimagined.

“It’s a huge opportunity for us,” Hunter concedes. “The Conviviality Retail business is intending to grow further into the South, Scotland, the North East and Yorkshire – and optimizing that network is a key part of the strategy.”

But Hunter is not one to rest on her laurels and having followed an ambitious acquisition plan in the last two years, Hunter is open to bolstering either business, both geographically or strategically.

“For the right acquisition, we will always look at the right opportunity for the future,” she says. “We have always said we will consider complimentary strategic acquisition – and that applies to Matthew Clark as well. The drink market, convenience market and wholesale market are all full about opportunities, it is about selecting the right opportunity at the right time for the health of the business and we will continue to do that.”

Conviviality is set to progress its existing growth plans and is planning to open around 50 stores every years across Bargain Booze select Convenience fascia and Wine Rack stores in its key target areas. As Hunter points out, “There is plenty of room for growth out there, especially for destination off-licenses.”

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