Delivering International Beers to the Local Market – Interviewing Jerome Le Louer, Wishbeer
Wishbeer aims to deliver premium beers to everywhere in Thailand at a fair price and without hassle. Wishbeer is continuously expanding their premium beer selection. We had a chance to talk with Jerome Le Louer, the founder of Wishbeer.
How the idea was created (why a beer delivery service?)
In 2007, I lived 6 months in Lille, in the North of France, where I could enjoy many of best Belgian beers because Lille is next to the Belgium border. After a few years in Thailand I started to miss these great beers, and I was thinking about starting to drink something different from the classic Leo or Singha.
I started to contact local importers and tried to get cases of imported beers, but it’s not really convenient as you have to order by case, and importers are not really interested in one-off sales to retail customers as they have big customers to take care of like bars and restaurants.
So last year I thought: Why not create a platform that is going to be a link between importers and retail consumers. This is how I started to build a kind of simple website.
I just wanted to make it all easy for people.
I started to meet up with all the importers, presented the idea of an online shop, and most of them were quite receptive as it was a channel of distribution that didn’t exist yet in Thailand. The only places you could find all these imported beers until now were bars, restaurant, and a few retail shops.
I’ve started to work on this project in mid-2012, but you know how it goes. You want a perfect website, and it never happens.
So I’ve decided to just launch something, early February. The website was far from being perfect, minimum quantities for order were high, but we adjusted this after a few weeks. We launched a facebook page at the same time.
I just wanted to start something, and see how it would go, meet people, get a new experience. The team I’m working with to make it happen is fantastic, and I couldn’t have done it by myself. We’re now 4 people working on Wishbeer part time. There’s Than, who’s working on the technical side of the website, and design. Rob is writing weekly articles about beer, Marine is taking care of the business development, and Bom is doing our deliveries. And there’s the logistics team who’s taking care of our stock.
About the product and target audience
I think the main target are people who don’t have the time or the possibility to go get these beers at local bars. They might have a family to take care of and don’t go out that much anymore, or live in remote areas where there are no such beers. And of course, party people who like to enjoy their favorite beer at home from time to time!
If we are talking about customers’ profile, it’s a 50% expats, 50% Thais. And we have 2 types of behavior. On the one hand, people who order the beers they like and know, and on the other hand people who always want to try the newest beers. Thais tend to be more curious about new beers coming on the market. And to be honest, I didn’t have the time to try all the beers yet myself, as new beers keep coming every day! We have now over 200 different beers in our online shop. And most of them have been imported to Thailand over the last 6 months.
The beer market is booming in Thailand, probably like wine about ten years ago.
Really, it’s even difficult to keep my website up to date with all the beers available as there are more and more beers coming into the country. Until a few weeks ago I was “Oh my God! New beers are coming… I need to update it all again on the website.”
Regarding the most popular beers, it’s difficult to say. I have only been a few month active, and my customer base is growing, as well as the beer assortment. Of course, beers that are already popular in Thailand are working well, like Hoegaarden or Leffe.
I want Wishbeer as well to be more than a beer shop, I really would like to create a community around beer, give some insights on what defines great beers, and give access to the best beers available to anyone in Thailand. And to be honest with you, we’re not working with high margins so Wishbeer is more about sharing a passion than making money.
About promotion on Facebook
My strategy at the beginning was to get some visibility on Facebook, as Thailand is one of the top Facebook countries in world. I’m doing advertising to collect likes, to increase Wishbeer’s visibility, and of course to try to get more customers. Facebook is great as it brings traffic to the website. We have now over 25,000 likes, and hopefully we can convert some of these likes to customers. But at least these likes create a momentum and gives credibility to the brand.
A few website owners and bloggers that were happy with our service did refer us for free on their website. That’s awesome!
For now I’m not really considering advertising by other means than Facebook.
Advertising is generally expensive, and sometimes it’s really hard to measure the return on investments. We are a startup, and I prefer to start with small things, measure the result and choose the most efficient methods.
For instance I have tried AdWords, but as Google doesn’t allow alcohol related ads, it’s almost impossible to bring people to the online shop. I had created an ad that brought people to the blog – hoping they would go to the online shop afterwards, but then the bounce rate was so high that it was very expensive and the result was not there.
Our current focus is on the blog. We want to create content that will naturally drive people to the website. We are publishing one article per week about the beer market in general, the way beer is made, etc., in both English and Thai. I think it will greatly help with SEO, and traffic.
Word of mouth is working well too. When we join networking events, there’s maybe half of the people we talk to that have already heard about Wishbeer somehow. That’s a good surprise to see that people talk a bit about us.
About logistics, and how delivery works
We’re outsourcing the storage and picking of the orders, which avoids having full time employees. The delivery is done by a friend, so it makes everything easier. On the payment side, we’re doing only prepayment to avoid having to carry cash on the road, and to make sure that the commitment from the client is real.
We basically start to prepare the beers and schedule the delivery once it’s fully paid to avoid orders changes or cancellations.
The other thing is that beer is heavy and the delivery is not as easy as delivering a sandwich. So if we didn’t do prepayment, we would take the risk to have nobody home, and would have to maybe take the beers back to the warehouse which is time consuming.
For the delivery outside Bangkok, we’re using a third party shipping company who knows how to handle beers. We don’t do anything by post, as we want the beers to be handled with care.
One the timing of the deliveries, we have chosen to under promise and over deliver. We’re not doing express delivery yet, and we promise 3-5 days on the website, but actually it takes only 24-48 hours to make a delivery. We even have same day deliveries sometimes in case of thirsty customers ! Of course, it takes a few days for deliveries upcountry.
About customer service and complains
I’m glad to say that we didn’t have real complaints. Our focus is on customer service, and though we’re not perfect – mistakes happen – we always try to be transparent and communicate quickly so customer know and understand what’s happening.
We had one issue that is quite amusing to tell. Well, it was not amusing at all when it happened! A few days after the deliveries, I send a satisfaction survey so customers can give their feedback, which is by the way a great way for us to know where to improve. This one customer answers the survey saying: ”I didn’t get the beers”. What??? I had to contact the shipping company as it was 10 days already after we had shipped it upcountry.
Finally, the shipping company told us they could not contact the customer and his address was incorrect, so that’s why they didn’t deliver the beers. After a day, that customer received the beers, and filled the survey again. He gave us a 5 stars, and said: “Great service mind – When there was a problem with my order, they identified and tracked my issue closely and gave me updates all the time until I got my beer.” It’s been the best feedback we had ever.
About long-term plans of Wishbeer
Of course, I want Wishbeer to keep growing and be seen as a great service. We have awesome beers, and we try to have a service as awesome as our beers! We are working on several projects, and some will work, some won’t, but that’s OK, we’ll learn from them. We’re a new kind of player in the beer market, and though it’s a tough market, I’m confident there are plenty of opportunities that can be grabbed in the near future. We’ll see…