Ryan Hill, Director, Asia Travel Retail, The Edrington Group & Board member of APTRA
This month we put the spotlight on The Edrington Group Director of Asia Travel Retail, Ryan Hill. Ryan was elected to the board of APTRA in 2012 and has been actively involved in the advocacy committee, taking part in discussions on APTRA’s role in this sector to help develop this core mission for the association.
Ryan, how long have you been in the duty free industry and with The Edrington Group?
RH: I’ve been in the industry since 1998, so 15 very enjoyable years now and the last 7 of those with Edrington.
Where were you working before?
RH: After travelling around India and Asia for a year, I spent 6 years at Paton’s in Melbourne Australia,(working for one of my best mates – Rob Paton), responsible for developing all domestic and duty free business outside of Asia. It was a tremendous learning curve, building an export business from almost zero.
How did you get involved in duty free initially?
RH: I was thrust into the world of duty free via an American gift company called Russ Berrie, looking after export markets in Asia, the Americas and North Africa. One of my first duty free shows was exhibiting Chinese manufactured soft toys at a convention in Beijing (some people will remember the first china duty free conference) and selling them to the 150 outlets direct from Southampton in the UK!
How does the duty free industry compare to other sectors you have worked in?
RH: Duty free is a great business to work in. There are some wonderful people from all walks of life with many tales to tell and songs to sing. There is a genuine tangible energy about the industry when it gets together – it’s like having a big extended family. The industry has also proved to be incredibly resilient, pulling through tough times such as 9/11, SARS and abolition in Europe to name a few.
Tell us a bit about your family and personal life. How do you balance life in the industry with home?
RH: Like most people in this business I travel a lot, in fact right now I’m in the back of a taxi on the way home from the airport in hong kong having been in Australia and New Zealand all week. Weekends are all about maximising time with the family, watching the kids play rugby, exploring Hong Kong and going trail running whenever I get the opportunity to exercise (which is never enough). My job has allowed me to quench my thirst for travel as well as raise money for a couple of charities recently – the industry is amazing at giving back.
The company, in brief
Can you give us some background on The Edrington Group, the company’s history in duty free and its development in the Asia Pacific region?
RH: Although we operate like a public company, Edrington is privately owned by the Robertson Trust. Every year millions of pounds are donated to charities in the UK and around the world. Currently 60% of our approximate 3,000 staff are now employed outside of the UK, 2000 of which are in the Dominican Republic working at Brugal, a company which Edrington acquired a majority shareholding in, back in 2008. Brugal is a leading producer of Golden Rum in the Dominican Republic.
The origins of the company go back to the mid-nineteenth century, when William Robertson founded the Robertson & Baxter Company in Glasgow. The Robertson family also founded Highland Distillers in 1887. In 1999, Edrington acquired Highland along with its iconic brands Famous Grouse, The Macallan and Highland Park.
The acquisition of Brugal in 2008 diversified the company’s portfolio Beyond Scotch Whisky for the first time and so we now have access to one of the fastest growing global spirit categories. In April 2010, Edrington acquired the Cutty Sark brand from Berry Bros & Rudd, with whom we already had a long trading relationship.
Duty free is an area of rapid growth for the business as we are fast developing our distribution in the emerging markets of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America. I am proud to say that our India and Asia Pacific business has evolved into the company’s number 1 duty free region.
Which are the key markets in duty free and travel retail for the group’s brands ?
RH: The Famous Grouse core market is Europe, whereas, The Macallan is Asia Pacific.
What initiatives has the company undertaken in terms of marketing/product development that is specific to duty free and travel retail and have these been successful?
RH: Edrington has been very innovative over the years and recognises the importance of the duty free channel for brand building. For example, both Highland Park and The Macallan have duty free exclusive product ranges, which have proved extremely popular with consumers and retailers.
What are your ambitions for the Edrington Group in the duty free industry today?
RH: To keep growing, trying new ideas, learning and keeping the channel exciting for all consumers.
What do you perceive to be the key challenges to the duty free and travel retail industry today and specifically to liquor category?
RH: Strict government restrictions are already in place on alcohol and tobacco in many countries globally. The anti-corruption campaign in China demonstrates that luxury brands are also now very much in the spotlight. Many purchases happen in the duty free channel across multiple categories – watches, accessories, fashion and liquor.
How can brand owners help address these challenges?
RH: It is very important for all brand owners to join APTRA so that we have a cohesive voice and meet the challenges that we’re presented with. There will always be challenges to the industry.
What other services to the industry do you think APTRA and the duty free & travel retail associations can provide to further develop and protect the interests of the industry, beyond advocacy, training, research and conferences?
RH: A mobile app of course!
Finally, how do you see your role as a board member of APTRA? What are your ambitions for the association?
RH: Our duty as board members is advocacy for both the association and the global duty free industry. We must convince the skeptics on the relevance the channel plays in the global commercial marketplace. We should also ensure we work towards a broader industry Code of Conduct, constantly driving to ensure we’re operating fairly, consistently, transparently and with the utmost integrity.