We continue our Onwards & Upwards series, that is looking to help anyone in the drinks, retail and hospitality sectors looking for a new role, with an interview with senior grocery wine buyer, Michelle Smith, formerly of Sainsbury’s, who is moving on from her role as head of wine at South African supermarket chain, Pick n Pay. The Covid-19 crisis continues to impact all our lives, right around the world, but it is also shaking up the status quo and opening up new opportunities for people. Here we talk to Michelle Smith about her career to date and the skills she believes she can offer in her next role.
The Onwards & Upwards series hopes to give people who have lost their jobs, or are looking for new roles, a platform to share their experiences.
We’re delighted to say that Jon Clement, who kicked off the series on leaving The Big Table Group, received a huge response to his story he shared on The Buyer earlier in the month and has now secured a new job with Freixenet Copestick as senior buyer and innovation manager. If you would like to take part then contact Richard Siddle at email@example.com – which is exactly what Michelle Smith did. Here’s her story…
Can you give us a brief background to your career?
I studied Marketing and Business Management and whilst completing my studies I travelled extensively throughout Israel and Europe. On returning to South Africa I worked in hotels and hospitality before travelling and working in Australia and New Zealand.
I moved to London in 19 99 where I worked in internal communications and business change management in Sainsbury’s/Accenture’s IT division. After another stint travelling through Asia I returned to Sainsbury’s and worked initially in a supply chain role. before joining the wine team as an assistant buyer.
How did you get into wine specifically?
I joined the Sainsbury’s wine team as an assistant buyer and then became a senior wine buyer in 2005 after completing my WSET Diploma. I initially bought the bigger volume categories – Bag-in-box, bulk wine, contract packed wines – before moving on to premium wine categories over the next 11 years. I specialised in Italian, South African, French, all fine wines – as well as Spain, Chile and Argentina.
It was impossible to pick a favourite country to buy wine from – as in each place I travelled to I got to meet the most passionate and amazing wine people, plus had the opportunity to learn “on site” about viticulture and new winemaking techniques from the winemakers.
Any career highlights?
The highlight of my career was becoming a Chevalier du Tastevin. The Hospice de Beaune weekend was hosted by the Boisset family – with whom we had a truly unforgettable dinner inside Château du Clos de Vougeot. The rest of the weekend was spent tasting some truly special and rare Burgundy wines from across each appellation – and also attending the charity barrel auction.
How long have you been in working in South Africa?
I was offered a job heading up the wine department at Pick n Pay and moved to Cape Town in March 2016. As wine category manager and senior buyer I was responsible for an R1.5bn category with around 950 wines sold in over 500 liquor stores and licenced supermarkets. Along with my team we were responsible for developing and managing the pricing, product, marketing and customer strategies.
What changes did you introduce during your time at Pick n Pay?
I managed the supplier relationship strategy and we moved towards the “UK retail” Joint Business Planning model, enabling greater information sharing to deliver a profitable business plan for both parties.
I also looked at our product strategy, introducing exclusive and private label products to offer a retailer “point of difference” and increase customer loyalty.
Then there was the merchandising and ranging strategy which involved introducing “store specific’ micro space planograms – flexed for both store size and affluence.
Alongside that we rolled out a customer marketing plan by utilising customer market data combined with local and international trends, competitor activity, customer shopping behaviour and data. By doing that we were able to build up a truly customer centric marketing strategy.
You were also involved in introducing more consumer focused events?
That’s right. We looked at what we called ‘wine experiential marketing’ which started with wine festivals in-store, which we then expanded into food and wine events. This ended up with over 50 wineries sampling wines, chef’s food pairings and live music. These attracted younger wine customers into the category and also helped our existing customers expand their wine drinking repertoire.
Alongside that we developed a ‘Customer plan’ and launched a PnP Wine Club which really engaged with customers by giving away amazing experiential prizes -including winemaker dinners, winery tours etc. The club now has over 150, 000 members who access discounts and exclusive wine events.
How did you work with the South African wine industry in your position?
Part of my role was also involved working with wine industry marketing bodies. We created “destination Constantia and Stellenbosch areas” in our premium flagship stores – as well as running marketing campaign led “wine focus months” in our stores. e.g. Pinotage month in October which involved in-store tastings, promotions and a national marketing campaign showcasing our wide range of Pinotage wines.
What kind of job are you looking for going forward?
I am open to a full time role or also fixed term contract work – ie if there is a “project” or short term objective that a company needs some additional once off support with. I am more than happy to help anywhere where I could add value.
Are you looking to stay in South Africa or happy to look at opportunities in other countries?
I am fairly settled in Sea Point – lots of sea views & blue skies – but I would be open to doing a fixed term contract overseas. Currently we can only fly to meetings on Zoom – so WiFi is the only limit!
What would you say are your key skills and experiences that you can offer?
Product development, marketing strategy, range analysis and execution (e.g. planogram work), gap analysis and pricing strategy. Also creating a “product pitch” by utilising my 20 years of buying experience within the retail and liquor environment.
I have experience and knowledge of the distribution models of both the UK and South African market. I could also offer insight into tailoring a supplier or retailer’s product mix to ensure it was targeted at the relevant market – as well as offer guidance on selecting an appropriate distributor.
Anything else you would like to add?
The past year has thrown up both personal and professional work challenges for all of us in the industry – especially in South Africa with the government banning alcohol. However, now we have crested the wave, this could be an exciting time for us all to reflect on how we can move forward, break new ground and challenge the way we did things in the past.
The wine business will always remain a passion for those working in it – and now is the time to work together to emerge as a stronger industry – working together.
- If you would like to contact Michelle about any opportunities then you can contact her on email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you would like to share your story and what sort of new role you are looking for then please contact Richard Siddle on email@example.com.