Independent Retailer Entry and Judging Process



These categories are open to independent and smaller-scale retailers, including those that operate independently of a parent company.

We’re looking for the very best UK independent off-trade retailers. Whether you excel in customer service, smash it out of the park on product range, run amazing events or wow your customers with great merchandising (or perhaps you’re just brilliant at everything!) we want to hear from you.

It’s free to enter! You can focus on a single category that shows off your specialism – or enter more than one if there are different aspects of your business that deserve recognition. But if you’re entering more than one category, you will need to complete a different entry form for each.

To get your awards journey rolling, complete an online entry by clicking on the category (or categories) you want to enter below. When answering the questions, focus on the aspects that you think make your business stand out from the crowd. And remember, we’re interested in learning as much as possible about your business, so try to be as concise as you can. It’s a retail competition, not a writing one! You can complete your entry in one go, or start an entry form and save it to complete at a later date if that’s more convenient. 

From the information provided, we’ll draw up a shortlist of three finalists in each category. The judging process for the final stage will be a mix of mystery shopping visits and more in-depth interviews with business owners. A panel of drinks retailing industry experts will then consider all of the information from your entry form, the mystery shops and the interviews to choose a winner in each category.

The winners will be named Oscar-style at the awards ceremony on Tuesday, February 4th, 2025. All the finalists will be invited as guests of Drinks Retailing and the awards sponsors.

That seems like a long way off, but to make the judging process thorough we need your entries now, the entry deadline is Friday 9th August 2024.

We’re looking for the independent beer and cider retailer that excels in product range, specialist knowledge, and customer service and engagement. If you’ve got the knack for sourcing great local products or exotic beers and ciders from far and wide, run great events, or can give geeks and novices great advice in equal measure (or all of these!), then this is the category for you. You might be a dedicated specialist beer and/or cider store, or a drinks retailer with a mixed product range that regards beer and/or cider as a key part of your offer.

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The judges will be looking for evidence of:

  • A product range that makes you stand out from the crowd in beer & cider
  • Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media that cuts through in your local market
  • How staff training, knowledge and passion translates into meaningful customer engagement
  • Use of great merchandising and display to enhance the customer shopping experience
  • How investment in beer & cider in the business had paid off in commercial success

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150 word limit for these questions.

  • How many beer & ciders do you typically stock at any one time?
  • What percentage of your total sales comes from beer & cider?
  • In %, by how much have your cider sales grown in the past year?
  • Why and how have you made beer & cider an important focus for your businesses?
  • What changes have you made to your beer & cider range in the past year to reflect changes in the market?
  • What changes have you made in display, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales of beer & cider in the past year?
  • What areas of the beer & cider market do you specialise in or champion above others (eg particular styles, local products, packaging types, countries etc)?
  • How have you used events, marketing and promotions to boost your beer & cider business in the past year?
  • How do you ensure your staff are equipped to advise customers on purchasing decisions in beer & cider?
  • Why should you win this award?

We’re looking for the best Champagne and sparkling wine shop in the UK. That could mean a top-end Champagne emporium, a business that excels in finding gems from little-explored corners of the sparkling wine world, or a store where great value examples of classics – from crémant to cava - are allowed to shine.

In addition to a great range, the winner should provide excellent customer service, elevate the Champagne and sparkling wine shopping experience beyond the norm and enhance customer expectations and appreciation of Champagne and sparkling wine. You might be a retail-only store or an on/off hybrid. And you could be a store where Champagne and sparkling wine is the main focus of the business, or one that excels in fizz within a broader product range.

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The judges will be looking for:

  • A product range that makes you stand out from the crowd
  • Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media that cuts through in your local market
  • How staff training, knowledge and passion translates into meaningful customer engagement
  • Use of great merchandising and display to enhance the customer shopping experience
  • How investment in wine in the business had paid off in commercial success

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150-word limit for these questions.

  • Why and how have you made Champagne and sparkling wine an important focus of your businesses a whole?
  • What changes have you made to your Champagne and sparkling wine range in the past year to reflect changes in the market?
  • What changes have you made in display, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales of Champagne and sparkling wine in the past year?
  • What areas of the Champagne and sparkling wine market do you specialise in or champion above others (eg particular styles, countries, production methods, regions, producers etc)?
  • How have you used events, marketing and promotions to boost your Champagne and sparkling wine business in the past year?
  • How do you ensure your staff are equipped to advise customers on purchasing Champagne and sparkling wine?
  • Why should you win this award?

This award is for the convenience retail chain that has done the most to champion excellence in BWS and improve the profitability of its stores through alcoholic drink sales. It is open to wholesalers with franchise, fascia group and/or managed store operations, and to stand-alone retail groups that operate a chain of c-stores. 

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The judges will be looking for evidence of: 

  • A product range that makes you stand out from the crowd in BWS.
  • Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media that really helps store cuts through in BWS in their local market
  • Support given to stores in BWS staff training and product knowledge that translates into meaningful customer engagement. 
  • Use of great BWS merchandising and displays to enhance the customer shopping experience.
  • How investment and innovation in BWS has paid off in commercial success.

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales in the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. In particular, the judges will be looking at things you have done in the past year to improve the business and meet national or local market challenges. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150-word limit for each of these questions.

  • Describe your BWS range. What changes have you made in the past year? Please say why you have made these changes, if any.
  • How has your approach to buying and pricing allowed stores to remain competitive versus the supermarkets in the current tough economic climate?
  • How do you encourage stores to use displays, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales in BWS?
  • How do you encourage stores to use events, social media, other forms of marketing and promotions to attract new customers and make sure existing ones keep coming back?
  • How do you ensure stress can train and inspire staff to provide great customer service on BWS?
  • What measures do you have in place to ensure stores sell alcohol legally and responsibly?
  • What is it about the business that makes it worthy of the title Convenience Drinks Chain of the Year?

We want to find the single convenience store that excels in beers, wines, spirits and other drinks. You might have made craft beer an outstanding feature, created a sector-beating gin fixture, taken c-store wine retailing to a new level, or just be a great all-rounder. You might be a member of a fascia group, a franchisee or fiercely independent, just as long as alcohol retailing is one of the things that makes your business stand out.

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The judges will be looking for evidence of:

  • Investment in beers, wines and spirits to enhance your overall business success
  • Changes to the BWS offering that have brought positive results
  • Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media to get ahead of the game
  • Staff training to provide great customer advice and outstanding service

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150 word limit for these questions.

  • Why and how have you made beers, wines and spirits an important focus of your businesses as a whole?
  • What changes have you made to your beers, wines and spirits range in the past year to reflect changes in the market?
  • What changes have you made in display, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales of beers, wines and spirits in the past year?
  • How have you used events, marketing and promotions to boost your beers, wines and spirits business in the past year?
  • How do you ensure your staff are equipped to advise customers on purchasing decisions in your beers, wines and spirits section?
  • Why should you win this award?

For this award we’re looking for the best all-round drinks shop in the UK, with a great product range in wine, spirits and beer … and possibly more. You might be especially brilliant in some of these areas, but whether a customer is looking for cutting edge craft beer, the most boutique-y of boutique spirits, or the best quality wines for their price, your shop will be the place to go. Excellent retail standards, customer service and innovative ways to engage shoppers will all be important to the success of the business.

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The judges will be looking for evidence of:

  • A product range that provides genuine choice in wine, spirits and beer, and that stands out from the crowd
  • Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media that cuts through in your local market
  • How staff training, knowledge and passion translates into meaningful customer engagement
  • Use of great merchandising and display to enhance the customer shopping experience
  • How investment in the business has paid off in commercial success

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150 word limit for these questions.

  • Why is it important for you to be a drinks all-rounder and how do you achieve balance in your offering?
  • What changes have you made to your beers, wines and spirits range in the past year to reflect changes in the market?
  • What changes have you made in display, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales of beers, wines and spirits in the past year?
  • What areas of the drinks market do you specialise in or champion above others (eg product types, regions, countries etc)?
  • How have you used events, marketing and promotions to boost your beers, wines and spirits business in the past year?
  • How do you ensure your staff are equipped to advise customers on purchasing decisions in all parts of your beers, wines and spirits section?
  • Why should you win this award?

This award will go to the drinks retailer that has used excellence in training and education to improve customer engagement and make the business more profitable. It could the impact of that your own or industry-recognised staff training has on the customer experience, helping to drive sales. Or it could be tastings, courses and other educational activity that you run for consumers that enhances their appreciation and understanding of the world of alcoholic drinks and generates extra revenue for the business as a result. It is open to any independent specialist drinks retailer that shines in this area, whether in wine, beer, cider, spirits or a combination of these.

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The judges will look for evidence of: • How staff training is structed and made relevant to the knowledge levels and requirement so individual team members

  • The impact that staff training has on career paths, team morale and the customer experience
  • Positive feedback from customers who have been involved in tastings, courses and other educational activity
  • How customer education translates into commercial success
  • The overall impact of training and education on the profitability of the business

You will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. In particular, the judges will be looking at things you have done in the past year to improve the business and meet market challenges. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150-word limit for each of these questions.

  • Briefly outline your staff training programme, including any involvement from WSET or other bodies? Include how courses run, drinks categories covered, who delivers them, where they take place, whether funded by the business or individuals etc.
  • How do you tailor training to individuals’ needs … or is it a one-size-fits-all approach? Are there any particular success stories the judges should hear about?
  • How do you measure the success of training and its impact on the commercial success of the business?
  • What events or courses do you run for consumers? Outline how they are run, who by, where they take place, some examples of themes or drinks involved etc.
  • How do you monitor the effectiveness of consumer educational activity? Provide evidence of how it enhances the commercial success of the business?
  • What is it about the business that makes it worthy of the Excellence in Education & Training award?

We want to find the business that combines elements of off-trade drinks retailing and hospitality in the most exciting and innovative way. It doesn’t matter if you’re a specialist in wine, spirits or beer – or great at doing all three – just so long as you have a great product range, a friendly vibe, great customer service and that the off-trade and on-trade elements complement each other to bring commercial success.

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The judges will be looking for evidence of:

  •  Both a strong drinks retailing package and a great drink-in experience for customers 
  •  Investment in the business that has paid off in sales and profitability 
  • Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media to engage with existing and potential new customers 
  • High levels of staff knowledge about the products you sell 
  • Outstanding customer service 
  • Ways the on-trade and off-trade elements work in tandem to enhance the all-round package

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150 word limit for these questions.

  • Why and how have you combined off-trade and on-trade elements of retailing to create a successful business?
  • What changes have you made to your drinks range in the past year?
  • What changes have you made in display, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales in the past year?
  • What areas of the drinks market do you specialise in or champion above others (eg particular categories, styles, countries, production methods, regions, producers etc)?
  • How have you used events, marketing and promotions to boost your beers, wines and spirits business in the past year?
  • How do you ensure your staff are equipped to advise customers on purchasing decisions in beers, wines and spirits?
  • Why should you win this award?

We’re looking for the best top-end alcoholic drinks retailer with a bricks-and-mortar presence in the UK. That could mean an amazing Champagne emporium, a business that excels in finding gems from classic wine regions or little-explored corners of the wine world, or a store specialising in hard-to-find spirits … or someone that does a bit of all these and more.

A great range should be a given, but the winner should also provide excellent customer service that elevates the drinks shopping experience beyond the norm. That experience should amplify customer expectations and appreciation of top-quality alcohol, with an emphasis on genuine luxury that can’t be found in mainstream retailers.

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The judges will be looking for:

A product range that makes you stand out from the crowd, including exclusives and personalisation.

Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media that cuts through in the top-end drinks market. 

How staff training, knowledge and passion translates into meaningful and personalised customer engagement.

Use of great merchandising and display to enhance the customer shopping experience. 

How investment and innovation in alcoholic drinks has paid off in commercial success.

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales in the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. In particular, the judges will be looking at things you have done in the past year to improve the business and make it even more luxurious than before. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150-word limit for each of these questions.

  • Describe your drink range. What changes have you made in the past year? Please say why you have made these changes, if any.
  • Are there any areas of the drinks market that you specialise in or champion above others (eg particular styles, categories, countries, types of producer/production etc)? If so, why?
  • How do you use displays, merchandising or in-store features to drive drinks sales?
  • How do you use events, social media, other forms of marketing and promotions to attract new customers and make sure existing ones keep coming back?
  • How do you personalise products or service to offer something customers can’t get anywhere else?
  • How do you train and inspire staff to provide great customer service?
  • What is it about the business that makes it worthy of the title Luxury Drinks Retailer of the Year?

The Newcomer of the Year award is to reward the best start-up business in the UK off-trade. It’s an award that celebrates genuine innovation and entrepreneurial endeavour in drinks retailing – and we want to find the businesses that have brought something fresh and exciting to the industry. Whether you’re a shop or hybrid, dedicated wine store or spirits specialist, beer emporium or great all-rounder, this award is open to you. The only qualification is that you must have a physical retail space and have started trading on or after August 1, 2023

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We’ll make allowances for the challenges of starting a new business, but the judges will be looking for:

  • A well thought-out approach to financing, location and branding the new business 
  • An interesting and exciting product range 
  • Effective use of marketing, promotions, social media and events to recruit customers 
  • Great customer service and engagement 
  • Businesses that have successfully connected with their local community and brought something new to the market 
  • How challenges have been successfully met during the life of the business so far

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150 word limit for these questions.

  • How did you go about choosing the location, name and branding for your shop?
  • What did you set out to achieve in building your drinks range (eg, in terms of pricing, variety, balance of different product types, target customers, suitability for the local market etc)?
  • Which categories within drinks have you placed particular emphasis on (eg, beer, whisky or wine … or particular countries, styles or regions etc)?
  • What approach have you taken to design, display, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales?
  • How have you used events, marketing and promotions to build business?
  • What changes have you made as you have gone along to fine-tune your offering?
  • Why should you win this award?

We’re on a mission to celebrate small or medium independent online drinks retailers. You could operate online only or have a bricks and mortar operation. The essence is how you’ve made the benefits in range and service of shopping with an independent available nationally (or internationally!), while retaining the personality of a small or medium-sized business. 

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The judges will be looking for:

  • Great web design: sites that are attractive and easy for shoppers to find their way around and add value to the online experience 
  • A product range that sets you out from the crowd 
  • Innovative investment in successful customer recruitment 
  • Evidence of high fulfilment standards, including accuracy of orders and punctuality of deliveries 
  • Positive measures of customer satisfaction 
  • Effective processes in place to avoid under-age sales

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150 word limit for these questions.

  • Why do you believe you are the best online retailer in the drinks industry?
  • What sets you apart from your competitors?
  • Can you provide sales data from the past year?
  • Is the business in growth and profitable?
  • What is your approach to building the range? How has it improved over the past year?
  • How have you gone about recruiting new customers?
  • How do you hang on to existing customers?
  • How have you encouraged higher basket spends and repeat purchases?
  • How quickly and accurately do you fulfil orders?
  • Have you succeeded with any innovations over the past year?
  • Why should you win this award?

The most ambitious and successful independents often go on to open additional stores in their city or region. With this award, we’re looking for the drinks retailing chains that have successfully translated their offering to new locations, with great ranges and top quality customer experiences.

The winner might have retail-only or hybrid formats, specialise in one or more categories in BWS, or be a genuine all-rounder. The important thing is how the concept has been adapted to suit different locations while retaining an independent personality.

To enter you must have between two and 10 physical stores as of the closing date for the competition.

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The judges will be looking for evidence of:

  • A product range that that stands out from the crowd
  • Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media that cuts through in the local market for each store and the business as a whole
  • How staff training, knowledge and passion translates into meaningful customer engagement
  • Use of great merchandising and display to enhance the customer shopping experience
  • A strategic approach to adding new sites and managing existing ones
  • How investment in the developing the chain has paid off in commercial success

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150 word limit for these questions.

  • How have you made beers, wines and spirits an important focus of your businesses a whole?
  • Provide details of the location of stores and how you tailor your range and service to suit different locations.
  • What changes have you made to your beers, wines and spirits range in the past year? What changes have you made in display, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales of drinks in the past year?
  • What areas of the drinks market do you specialise in or champion above others (eg categories, styles, countries, regions, producers, local products etc)?
  • How have you used events, marketing and promotions to boost your beers, wines and spirits business in the past year?
  • How do you ensure your staff are equipped to advise customers on purchasing decisions in all areas of beers, wines and spirits?
  • Why should you win this award?

Have you got an unrivalled gin range? A whisky line-up that ticks boxes for both connoisseurs and the curious? Or perhaps a rum range that takes customers on an exciting and exotic journey? Then this is your category. The category is open to shops that excel in range, service and expertise in spirits across the board, or those who specialise in a single segment of the market.

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The judges will be looking for evidence of:

  • A product range in that makes you stand out from the crowd in spirits
  • Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media that cuts through in your local market
  • How staff training, knowledge and passion translates into meaningful customer engagement
  • Use of great merchandising and display to enhance the customer shopping experience
  • How investment in spirits has paid off in commercial success

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150 word limit for these questions.

  • Why and how have you made spirits an important focus of your businesses a whole?
  • What changes have you made to your spirits range in the past year to reflect changes in the market?
  • What changes have you made in display, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales of spirits in the past year?
  • What sub-categories of the spirits market do you specialise in or champion above others?
  • How have you used events, marketing and promotions to boost your spirits business in the past year?
  • How do you ensure your staff are equipped to advise customers on purchasing decisions in spirits?
  • Why should you win this award?

We’re looking for the best wine shop in the UK. That could mean a top-end fine wine emporium, a business that excels in finding gems from little-explored corners of the wine world, or a store where great value examples of classics are allowed to shine. In addition to a great range, the winner should provide excellent customer service, elevate the wine shopping experience beyond the norm and enhance customer expectations and appreciation of wine. You might be a retail-only store or an on/off hybrid. And you could be a store where wine is the main focus of the business or one that excels in wine within a broader product range.

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The judges will be looking for:

  • A product range that makes you stand out from the crowd in wine
  • Use of marketing, events, promotions and social media that cuts through in your local market
  • How staff training, knowledge and passion translates into meaningful customer engagement
  • Use of great merchandising and display to enhance the customer shopping experience
  • How investment in wine in the business had paid off in commercial success

Along with providing information about your turnover and growth in sales the past year, you will also be asked the following questions during the entry process. You may wish to prepare your answers offline before you complete the online entry process. There is a 150 word limit for these questions.

  • Why and how have you made wine an important focus of your businesses a whole?
  • What changes have you made to your wine range in the past year?
  • What changes have you made in display, merchandising or in-store features to drive sales of wine in the past year?
  • What areas of the wine market do you specialise in or champion above others (eg particular styles, countries, production methods, regions etc)?
  • How have you used events, marketing and promotions to boost your wine business in the past year?
  • How do you ensure your staff are equipped to advise customers on purchasing decisions in wine?
  • Why should you win this award?