Reflecting on a life in liquor retail
Over the course of his career that has spanned four decades, Shane Tremble has played a key role in shaping the Australian retail liquor industry into what it is today.
So, as he prepares to retire from his role as General Manager Group Service at Endeavour Group in 2021, National Liquor News caught up with him to reflect on the highlights of his stellar career.
Tremble first joined the liquor industry in the late 70s by working in a bar to earn himself some extra money while studying a business degree. But after realising he didn’t enjoy working until three in the morning, he moved on the get a job at the largest independent retailer in NSW at that time, Claude Fay Cellars.
In around 1980, Claude Fay Cellars was acquired by Coles and at the same time, Coles bought another chain of liquor stores called Liquorland – and so began the start of the Coles Liquor business. Tremble was picked up by Coles in the takeover and worked for many years as a relieving manager between different stores.
“It set me up fairly well because I knew the network reasonably better than anybody from the new company that was coming in,” says Tremble.
From there, Tremble was promoted to a buying role in the Coles Liquor head office and then went onto become the national buyer.
“By this time it was the late 80s and we did a trip overseas to look at the way other big liquor retailers around the world were organising their buying and we discovered a thing called category management, which up until then hadn’t been a thing in the liquor industry.”
From there, Coles developed a category management strategy and Tremble was appointed to be the first category manager in the liquor industry.
“That was pretty exciting because it was the first time that a retailer had taken advantage of its national footprint, consolidating its buying nationally. Prior to that it was all done on a state by state basis.
“It made for a reasonably dramatic power shift because it enabled us to take advantage of our national scale.”
A few years on, Tremble became the General Manager of the Vintage Cellars chain and was instrumental in its national rollout.
“It was a very big rollout – we opened around 44 stores in four years,” he remembers.
“It was a wonderful business and gave me a chance to build my network in the wine industry. I remember one of the things I loved about Vintage Cellars was that we used the late great Len Evans as a Brand Ambassador. Len used to come along whenever we opened our first store in a new state and launch the brand. We would invite all the local dignitaries to the best hotel and the best restaurant in town and serve some spectacular wines and kick the thing off with a bang. Travelling with Len was one of the great joys of my life.”
Tremble was with Vintage Cellars for around 15 years before he decided it was time for a change – a change that led him into a private label wine production business. The private label business grew and eventually had contracts with both Aldi and Woolworths. And after a while, Woolworths Liquor came knocking to see if Tremble would like to get back into liquor retail.
“I actually missed it a lot,” says Tremble.
“Woolworths was interested in setting up a private and controlled label business, which is something that they didn’t have at the time. But it was something that I had done previously at Liquorland while I was in category management and buying. So, I came on board at Woolworths and I used my network of suppliers to build a private label business.”
This private label business has gone on to grow into what is now Pinnacle.
From here, Tremble was appointed as Merchandise Manager for BWS, which at the time was a small chain of just 120 stores – there is now 1,300.
At the time, the Coles Liquor business was double the size of the Woolworths liquor business and so Woolworths, realising that they needed to open freestanding stores, started doing that by acquisition – the biggest of which was that of ALH.
“Out of that came a couple of hundred hotels and all of their attached liquor stores, which allowed us to launch the BWS brand and eventually the Dan Murphy’s brand as well.
“The Dan Murphy’s chain was of course another particularly important acquisition, it was a five store chain down in Victoria that was owned by Daniel Francis Murphy and that five store chain subsequently turned into a 250 store chain,” says Tremble.
After that time, he moved out of buying and into licensing and acquisition.
“My job evolved from there into an interesting sort of amalgam of different things. And in addition to the licensing and acquisitions, because we have a lot to do with governments regulators in that space, I came to look after the government, external piece, and compliance. And that’s how my current role kind of evolved over the years.”
When looking back to career highlights, Tremble references the acquisition of Cellarmasters, which included the Cellarmasters Wine Club and subscription business and a couple of other direct and digital operations and the production assets.
“I think that acquisition fundamentally changed the business because it gave us a fully vertically integrated business on a scale which had never been seen not just in this country but anywhere in the world.”
There are few people who can say that they’ve spent their entire career in the liquor retail space, and even fewer who can say that they were involved in so many Australian firsts which have gone on to shape the industry into what it is today.
“It’s a wonderful industry and I think that the thing I will miss the most about it is the people. It really is a tremendous industry and I couldn’t imagine having spent a more fulfilling work life doing anything else over the past 40 years,” says Tremble.
“It’s been brilliant.”