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Interview: Southern Glazer’s CEO Wayne Chaplin On The Reopening Of The On-Premise

June 3, 2020

As bars and restaurants begin phased reopenings across the nation after the Covid-19 lockdowns, on-premise operators are mapping their forward strategies. Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits (SGWS) is the U.S. market’s leading wine and spirits wholesaler, with annual sales of $19 billion and a footprint covering 44 states and Washington, D.C. With its scale and reach, SGWS is working closely with its on-premise customers in this reset, with an eye toward helping restore an industry that’s arguably been hardest-hit by Covid-19. SND editorial director David Fleming recently caught up with SGWS CEO Wayne Chaplin for an update on progress.

SND: What’s the overall mood in the on-premise about reopening? Is there any sense of optimism or anticipation, or is it way too early for that?

Chaplin: I would characterize the mood as a combination of anxiety and cautious optimism. The unknowns are many in this environment. What will the customer count be? How will we be impacted by limited capacity rules? How many seatings can we manage per evening, and what will be the impact of having no bar seating? Added to the uncertainty are the tragic and heartbreaking events unfolding across the country as part of the civic unrest over the George Floyd case. Despite those challenges, our sales teams are working with the on-premise to ramp up their businesses as quickly as possible. The categories we represent are a terrific profit center. We’re providing accounts with creative ideas in the new environment—brand features, wine and food pairings, and digital cocktail lists, to name just a few.

SND: As this process unfolds, has SGWS been reorienting some of its resources back toward the on-premise?

Chaplin: We’ve maintained an on-premise task force since the pandemic’s inception, to service the accounts that remained active in the marketplace. Our teams have been focused on helping accounts stand up their to-go businesses. We’re currently planning for many markets to fully reopen in the on-premise July 1, and our sales teams are being applied to active accounts as they open.

SND: What skills does SGWS bring to the table in terms of helping the on-premise get restarted?

Chaplin: The 25%-50% capacity restraints are bringing new challenges, and we’re working to assist customers in the new environment—consulting on SKU and inventory management, drinks menus, and wine by-the-glass offerings. We’re also providing Proof Commerce, our online ordering platform at sgproof.com, as well as our dedicated customer service solution, CS 360, for ease of use in the ordering process. Early on in the pandemic, we established an online Covid-19 information hub for customers at sgwscustomercare.com. That site has links to financial relief and industry resources, as well as articles that share tips and strategies to help on-premise customers operate now and through the post-pandemic recovery phase.

SND: What are the main stumbling blocks you’ve seen?

Chaplin: The overarching issue is the financial burden caused by the pandemic. The strain that on-premise accounts have endured over the past 90 days is unprecedented. Now, with the capacity constraints and other restrictions during reopening, those financial pressures persist. Our goal is to be there for our customers—and assist in any solutions that provide relief so they can build back to business continuity. In addition to helping them overcome all the operational and reopening challenges, we’ve established initiatives to provide much-needed financial relief to restaurants. That’s being done through our South Beach and New York City wine and food festivals, with initiatives including the South Beach Wine and Food Festival & Florida International University Chaplin School Hospitality Relief Fund, which has raised more than $1.6 million for grants to restaurants and bars in South Florida, and the New York Wine and Food Festival at Home program, a campaign to support the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) Restaurant Employee Relief Fund.

SND: Many upscale wine and whiskey-oriented venues sold off their stock during the crisis. Has that provided any opportunities in terms of the need to restock? What’s the restocking situation in general?

Chaplin: The restocking, no matter the price point, category, or brand, will be a slow build in the on-premise. Costs are rising as operators adapt to the new expense of doing business in a post-Covid environment. Additional costs related to cleaning, safety, and other things are providing new challenges, and that’s impacting purchases across all items in the on-premise.

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