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Published:  23 July, 2008

Andrew Willy, Senior buyer, wines and spirits, Selfridges, London Interview: Josie Butchart

Is Selfridges planning any new stores? Well, we've bought some land in Glasgow, but that's a fairly long-term project and we're looking at about 2007. It's a very exciting time to be working for Selfridges. We are now part of an international group and that gives you a broader outlook. London is still the largest store, but number two is now Vancouver. I think Selfridges would go down well somewhere like Barcelona, where people like innovation and theatre. That is really what Selfridges is all about now.

Will the Selfridges in Glasgow be modelled on the London store? No, Glasgow is going to be totally, totally different, as Birmingham was. The actual building in Birmingham is based on the Guggenheim in Bilbao. It's built like a spaceship, a really iconic building. I was a bit worried people would just go and gawk because it's a pretty building, but not only are they going, they are also buying, and the food and wine department is the most successful part of the store.

Are you planning any changes to the wine department at the London store? We're planning a completely new food hall and wine department for spring 2005. Galen Weston [owner of Selfridges] wants the best food hall in the world. He's not shy about saying that. We're getting more space to expand, but fortunately we are staying on the ground floor.

How much involvement do you have in the festivals at Selfridges? We get very involved. It really started four years ago with a big promotion on Western Australia that was food and wine specific. We flew over the three best chefs from Western Australia and 21 winemakers. Then we did Tokyo Life. At that time my knowledge of sake was limited - it was something you drink warm in a restaurant - but I was soon put right about that. We had several sake master brewers over and we were selling 500 bottles. Next year we are doing a major promotion on Brazil and we'll be bringing over a lot of interesting cachaa.

Are the festivals central to the Selfridges shopping experience? Yes, absolutely. It's not just about coming into a shop and picking something off the shelf, it's about really fully experiencing it. Having food and fashion right next door offers so many more possibilities. That's the beauty of a department store.

You have a very broad range. It's our hallmark, particularly in the London store. We have a more focused range in the regional stores, because of space constraints, but London is very much the international shop window. We're a destination stop, that's our raison d'tre, our point of difference. Otherwise you may as well go to a supermarket. It's about knowing your niche and understanding what the customers want.

You have an impressive Krug collection. We sell a lot of very expensive wine, and Champagne dominates - it's well over a third of our business in terms of sales. I really got the idea for an area dedicated to Krug from what the fashion people were doing. If you go into a fashion department you will see that Fendi, Armani and Prada all have their own area. I thought, why can't we do that with a really good luxury drink? It's not rocket science. So we put together the Krug collection. It's a fantastic Champagne and it is nice to offer something different.

Are sales mainly restricted to the traditional wine regions? No, Selfridges' customers like to experiment and they are very happy to take advice. We've got a really good team and that is the key to any successful business - the passion and enthusiasm of your team. I think wine can be very intimidating and what we are trying to do at Selfridges is make it more accessible and fun. I see our role as enthusing people and introducing them to new and exciting products.

How much has the wine department changed since you joined Selfridges? We had a lot more of the bigger brands when I joined seven years ago. I've brought in a number of smaller growers. But it's the way we sell now that is totally different. It used to be more traditional. We would never have had the Krug section or the Body Craze' promotion that we did last year.

What differentiates you from the other luxury department stores in London? I respect them all immensely but they are very different businesses. Harrods and Fortnum & Mason are very traditional, very British. I guess we are more similar to Harvey Nichols. They are a very stylish operation and very design led. But they are much bigger on own-label. That's the main difference; we would rather find small producers and champion them. But we are all similar in the way that we are offering something different to the consumer - in our own peculiar way.