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Heading off on holidays? Spare a thought for wine merchants

Published:  10 August, 2012

Independent wine merchants running a tight ship can find getting holiday cover sorted a major hassle.

Although trade is generally quieter as customers head off on their summer breaks too, some merchants told Harpers they themselves working around the clock to cover absent staff.

Jane Cuthbertson, owner of Barrica Wines in Preston, says the holiday season make things difficult when trying to keep overheads down. "As we are open seven days a week, it is usually me that ends up covering, rather than blow money on extra staff. I actually can't remember the last time I worked a 40 hour week, it's more like a 90 hour week currently. When you're self employed you have to be prepared to take up the slack and cover any gaps."

James Baker, retail sales and events manager at Nickolls & Perks in Stourbridge in the West Midlands, said: "We have 12 members of staff, so if one or two are on holiday at the same time, things quickly back up. Communication is the key, you have to talk to each other and look medium to long term regarding holidays. We have in the past few months seen the need to extend our opening hours and we are now looking at opening seven days per week.

"Although a recession affects everyone in the wine trade, being a family-run business I think we are ideally placed to cope with people taking time off. We make sure that there is always someone here to cover. Even if it is not necessarily your role, we like to think of our selves as the Dutch footballers of the wine trade in that all staff have the ability to cover different roles other than their own.

"I feel to be too rigid in this day and age is bad news. There are no prima donnas, no one saying 'that is not my role', it is sleeves rolled up and get in there and get the job done. That can be a very satisfying way of operating. Sometimes a change of role for a few days in quite refreshing."

Rupert Pritchett, owner of Taurus Wines in Surrey, said: "We find everything comes to a grinding halt as son the posh schools break up - The Surrey Hills 'Boden brigade' seem to migrate to Tuscany, Provence or if they are feeling the credit crunch, Rock. As a result we take less money in August than in January.

"This actually is a good thing and allows us to have a tactical pause to stocktake, staff to take holiday etc and being based on a farm the harvest is coming in at the moment so there is an element of chaos caused by that. Therefore keeping our inbound deliveries to a minimum is a good thing.

"However, the Olympics has encouraged people to stay around this year for an extra couple of weeks or so which has extended the summer season a little and is giving us a chance to clear rosé over-stocks caused by the grotty weather."

Jamie Hutchinson, co-founder of the two Sampler stores in London, said: "Generally trade in July and August is a bit softer than the rest of the year  - we have a lot of middle class customers who go away during the school holidays. That means we don't have to have as many staff in stores.

"We often have three staff on in each store, but not necessarily during the summer - that makes it easier to cover. Dawn (Mannis, fellow company founder) and I tend to take our holidays outside of that time."

Toby Peirce, owner of the two Quaff stores in Brighton, escaped for four days to the Isle of Wight, saying staffing pressures made it difficult to escape for longer. "We used to find it easier to cover holidays as we used four staff, two part time, but now we have just three staff, all full-time, all with holiday entitlement, we find there is a lot more juggling and we do go short-staffed on some days.

"I guess we are chronically slightly short-staffed. The problem is that you want a good part-timer to cover holidays when you have them, but then you have no work for them whem everyone is here, and no-one who is any good at all will work on that basis, understandably," he said.

If you'd like to share your experiences of covering the holiday period, email us here.