They are among the oldest businesses in Barbados but local rum shops are now said to be struggling to stay open.
Founder of the Bajan Association of Rum Shops (BARS) Franklyn Parris told Barbados TODAY they have not escaped the effects of the economic downturn, and the local product is facing stiff competition from imported beverages.
“To be frank a lot of the shops have been closing and the way of the culture has changed a lot,” Parris said.
“One of the things people want to be able to do is retain some of our heritage through saving the shops. And in order to do so we have to try to see where their shortcomings are and help them to develop.”
Parris added that one of the biggest challenges is marketing of local drinks, especially among Barbadians.
“We found that locals tend to choose foreign products over the local product. And it’s amazing to see the youngsters spending exorbitant amounts of funds buying Hennessey as opposed to drinking our local rum.
“We’ve had challenges where tourists would have seen ads for Barbados rum, and come to Barbados looking to see people drinking that rum, and see them drinking Hennessey, wanting to know what’s happening,” he said.
To address the problem, he noted, BARS was encouraging upcoming bartenders to not only utilize local rum, but promote it within their establishments.
Shops are also seeing smaller profit margins, according to Parris, brought about by what he referred to as the ‘beer wars’.
“The shops don’t really make money from selling beer. The 4 for $10 is a consumer and a manufacturer asset, but not for the actual retailer as a shop or a minimart.
“If you do 4 for $10 selling beers, you generate $16 – $18 as a rum shop. And that’s if you buy directly from the manufacturer. But in selling 4 for $10 you have to buy plastic cups and ice. A pack of cups of 25 is eight dollars and change and a five-pound bag of ice is at least $11 or $12, so you already passed the $16 you generate from the sale of beer.
“So beer is really a crowd puller and you hope to engage them into buying other products,” he explained.
This is one of the reasons why BARS is embarking on a series of training programmes for new and existing bartenders, Parris said.
“If we have people behind a bar who don’t know what customer service is, or you don’t understand buying and selling processes you find that you’re not able to retain customers or be able to sell and have products on your shelf. “And where there is generally so little profit on the sale of a product, how to manage their money properly.
“So what we’ve started with is trying to educate the bartenders and the servers in understanding how to create new ways of generating revenue in the bars, and cocktails is one of them,” he said.
Despite the ongoing challenges, Parris noted that rum remained one of Barbados’ major export commodities, and the association would like to raise the profile of the local product as well as the more than 12,000 establishments that are licensed to sell liquor on the island.
“Rum is one of the biggest reasons why Barbados is where it is today. And part of our heritage is that we were one of the first countries where rum was ever referred to in the world. And if we don’t respect that we don’t respect ourselves and where we come from,” he said.
He added that Minister of Industry Donville Inniss had been very supportive of the 450-member association, encouraging BARS to collaborate with various companies to aid in its development.