A winning mix

With a focus on creating the ultimate consumer experience, innovative retailer LCBO topped up its performance in 2007. Thank Nancy Cardinal

With a focus on creating the ultimate consumer experience, innovative retailer LCBO topped up its performance in 2007. Thank Nancy Cardinal

Complacent? Not this government agency.

Last year, the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LCBO) delivered a record high $3.9 billion in net sales (up from $3.66 billion in 2006). Its Food & Drink magazine reached 2.2 million readers, the highest readership levels ever. And in-store promotions – which highlight a country or region, category or entertaining theme – hit home run after home run, sparking respective sales increases of anywhere from 44% to 100%.

A decade has passed since the Toronto-based LCBO opted to shed its stodgy, bureaucratic image with the aim of becoming a modern, innovative, world-class retail brand. Since 2000, when she was promoted to the position of VP marketing and customer insights, Nancy Cardinal and her team (now numbering 63) have ensured it stays that way.

‘We benchmark ourselves against the best in the world,’ says Cardinal. ‘When we sit down to plan, we spend most of our time in the research phase, finding out what our customers are looking for from us. Then we turn our gaze globally, to find out who is best-in-class in their area, who’s connecting with customers and how we can learn from them and incorporate that into what we do. It’s the mindset of the company and it permeates everywhere, not just marketing.’

Responsible for everything from the overall brand vision to customer insight research, store design and signage, Cardinal is credited with helping to bring the new-style LCBO to life.

‘All the things she’s doing currently build on successes that she created before, basically from scratch,’ says Alan Gee of GJP, the LCBO’s AOR. ‘Every single touchpoint Nancy’s involved in, she sweats the details. That’s her hallmark.’

Cardinal and her team operate on a 13-month cycle that has pushed out a new promotion every four weeks since 2003. Last year’s promotions built on previously established successes like the annual October whisky promotion, which this year debuted a consumer photo contest that resulted in 20,250 online entries, twice the anticipated number. To support the campaign there were also more than 1,000 tastings in all 602 LCBO locations and an Ultimate Whisky Bar Chef Challenge, which took place at Toronto’s Metro Convention Centre.

Last year also saw new initiatives like podcasts, including one for the summer Hot City Cocktails promotion that became the most-visited podcast in the Entertaining section of iTunes for two straight weeks. And the Latin Fever promo in the spring combined in-store displays, radio, print FSIs and special events, increasing sales of featured Central and South American wines by 100%.

Another success story was the overhaul of the Vintages circular to attract a broader consumer base. ‘In the past it had been designed to appeal to customers who had a very solid understanding of the world of wine,’ says Cardinal. ‘We felt there were so many newcomers who wanted to step into the Vintages [area of the stores], but we had to put out the welcome mat for them and get the kind of content and look and feel that wasn’t intimidating.’ The result contributed to double-digit growth for wines sold under the Vintages brand.

Up next? A new five-year strategy focusing on discovery and learning is rolling out. ‘A lot of what we’re trying to do through our promotions and marketing is to demystify beverage alcohol and get customers feeling comfortable with it,’ says Cardinal. That will mean a multi-channel approach, including a major redesign of lcbo.com to include more podcasts and new streaming-video tutorials on topics such as wine etiquette.

The LCBO will also venture into e-commerce for the first time with Vintagesshoponline.com, where oenophiles can order bottles from smaller batches that don’t make it to stores.

The store planning department brought Nella Fiorino of Toronto-based Fiorino Design, the award-winning designer of the Summerhill LCBO location, on board to develop the retail experience. Enhanced fixtures and lighting will turn aisles into ‘fashion runways’ to make featured products easier to find. And expanded tasting centres called ‘discovery bars,’ where experts will present short lessons and samples to larger groups, will be piloted in two stores in Toronto and Oakville in the fall.

‘There’s been a consistency in the marketing efforts of the LCBO for the past few years,’ says Steve Mykolyn, ECD at Taxi in Toronto, one of the 15-odd agencies in the LCBO’s design pool. ‘Nancy has a real vision, and there’s a high bar set to meet that vision. You’re always working towards something.’

Team size: 63

Years at LCBO: 18

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