Sometimes the best way to solve a problem is to take a step back and have a think about it.
And that’s exactly the approach taken by Corby Spirit and Wine Limited as it undertook what the company calls “a sequential maturity journey”.
It wasn’t that there were a multitude of issues needing to be solved but some of those working at the beverage alcohol manufacturer, marketer and distributor just felt that things could be done a little bit better.
It’s a feeling which was very much shared by the company’s Vice President and CFO Antonio Sanchez, who believes adopting such a patient and methodical approach has been vital in terms of Corby arming itself for the future.
He says: “It’s not been a crazy journey, it’s been a sequential, purposeful journey.
“We’re a company that has multiple stakeholders, we are affiliated with Pernod Ricard and we are also publicly-listed so we can’t just be shooting from the hip.
“We’ve always walked before we ran. We made time to identify our purpose and core competencies first and then we looked at strategy.
“If you just jump straight into strategy before you know your capabilities and competencies, and the ones you lack, most likely you will fail to execute.”
A peaceful retreat
The journey he speaks of began at a company retreat outside of Toronto back in the autumn of 2015, where the company’s executive team gathered having made “a conscious decision to move away” from their daily operations.
That meant no access to mobile phones or technology of any sort and after isolating themselves they began to talk about frustrations and issues between each other, acknowledging them, and then trying to think about those challenges and how they might affect daily operations.
Sanchez explains: “What we have done in the last year is really soul searching, asking ourselves ‘what is our purpose?’ and looking for the ‘why’ - why do we turn up to work? Why should we be chosen by our consumers, customers or employees?”
“The first thing we did was a very simple thing: our management teams agreed to make time. Make time for strategy, make time to think, as opposed to just dealing with the day-to-day.
“That was the starting point, and then we kicked off our first strategic workshop and there we really isolated what were the procedures and the areas we could improve on to really allow us to think strategically about our work and look for future growth.
“We then assessed our core competencies and considered the gaps in those core competencies, because we knew that, knowing what we were strong on and what we needed to work on would be the basis for defining the strategy moving forward.
“After that, we said ‘okay, now we need to find our identity’. We really distilled it down to the point that we defined it in a limited number of words which made sense.”
A new approach
By looking at the key differentiators, and identifying the company’s true purpose, they hit upon a formula for success, adopting a new company philosophy of “creating win-win memorable experiences”, for the company, shareholders, customers, consumers, and all other stakeholders.
Sanchez passionately believes in that mantra and broke it down for us. He says: “‘Creating’ has two meanings: there is the action of creating which is a call to action, and creating also refers to creativity, so something new, something different. ‘Win-win’ means that, in everything we do, we should be showing empathy, so there should be a win for Corby but it should also be something useful, a win for our counterpart, whether it is a negotiation with a customer or a vendor, or even this conversation we are having, we aim to make sure that the other party gets value out of it.
“‘Memorable’ means that in anything we do, we should try to make it memorable for the other party, maybe by making it a little bit different. Obviously when you are in marketing, making something memorable can be something very impactful like a creative advertising but even small things, like really exceeding internal customer service expectations in the finance department, for example, can make a big difference. And ‘experience’ refers to the fact it should transcend the product or activity, the experience should be tangible and that’s really what adds to making it memorable.”
The words obviously have a strong meaning and resonance, but how can you then embed that into the company’s practices?
Sanchez continues: “Just as important as our purpose is that we have four behaviors that we’re actively embedding into the organization, and each of those behaviors really underpins the purpose.
“One of them is collaboration and it is expected to be displayed by every employee. So whether it is collaboration between sales and marketing to make campaigns more impactful or collaboration between finance and sales to provide the most insightful decision support. It’s all about collaboration and breaking the silos.
“Another one is empathy, knowing what is important to the other person. We also have creativity and we really look at how we can do things with a different approach, in a different way. It’s something that’s very much embedded in the company’s DNA.
“And finally boldness, because it’s only through boldness that we will make big changes and be able to be creative. And thanks to this boldness, for example, we were able to go out and make an acquisition last year, something that Corby had not done in many, many years. Each of those behaviors are very important to our purpose.”
The acquisition that Sanchez speaks of was the company’s decision to purchase the spirits assets of Domaine Pinnacle, maker of Ungava premium gin for $12m last year, and Sanchez says that the company is excited by the significant growth potential of this young portfolio of genuinely Canadian brands.
The next step for Corby is to maximize that potential and build on its position as the second largest player in the Canadian spirits market behind Diageo.
The company posted net revenue figures last year of $140m and, through its affiliation with Pernod Ricard, manages one of the largest distilleries in North America, the Hiram Walker & Sons facility in Windsor, Ontario, but Sanchez is also quick to acknowledge Corby’s strategic partners who have helped them map out the road moving forward.
He adds: “We don’t see it just as a single standalone formula for success, but also recognize there are a number of enablers and working practices which have to go along with it.
“One of those practices is to have collaborative and integrated business planning, and to help us with that we engaged Clarkston, a boutique consultant.
“Along this journey, we upgraded our route to market capabilities, we have implemented a customized CRM system. As well as that we created a trademarking department, we enhanced our wine expertise and we built what we think is the most extensive network of brand ambassadors in the industry in Canada.
“As well as that we have upgraded our marketing capabilities in general. We added a consumer and shopper insights group, we added an innovation group, we added digital marketing expertise, we implemented segmentation tools and we are implementing a promotional effectiveness tool: Exceedra.
“What Exceedra has given us is the ability to measure return on investment on these promotional efforts and we are able to choose the most profitable ones and eliminate any that don’t work as well. We are also able to become more accurate in our sales forecasts, which leads to better cash management.
“All of that gives us what we feel is the edge and there are not many companies that have that level of sophistication,” Sanchez concludes.
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