Subscriber login Close [x]
remember me
You are not logged in.

Andrew Firth, Managing director, Playford Ros, North Yorkshire

Published:  23 July, 2008

Why did you decide to set up a new agency business?

I got fed up with having to buy our New World wines through UK companies that employed poor-quality sales people and distributed the wines to most of our local competitors. We would be selling 800 cases of a certain wine and the agency house would supply retailers down the road with five or 10 cases, then be surprised when I was miffed. So we have set up a completely separate business, Playford Ros Prestige Agencies, to supply small producers nationally to the premium sector. About two months ago we signed up Dalwhinnie, which produces between 4,000 and 6,000 cases of premium Victoria wine annually, and we've also got Caiquen, which is Montes' winery in Argentina. At the LIWSF we signed up Marklew Wines, from the premium South African region of Simonsberg, and boutique winery Kingston Family Vineyards from Casablanca in Chile. This is all coming together for the launch on 29 June at The Capital Hotel in London.

How many producers are you planning to represent through the new business?

Eight, all from the New World. It's a selection of what we believe are the top agencies from each region. All the wineries are fairly small, producing between 4,000 and 8,000 cases a year, and we are looking for 500 to 1,500 cases per brand each year, so the arrangement suits us both.

What type of outlet will you sell to?

We have a regional network of friendly wholesalers in the west country, Scotland and Cheshire that have all been very receptive to the new wines. We've also had interest from Harvey Nichols, which has shops in Leeds, Manchester, London and Edinburgh. We want to get these premium products into premium outlets. We will also be supplying top restaurants directly.

Are you going to supply any national retailers?

I am talking to some national retailers at the moment. There are a few with fine wine shops that are very interested.

Have you had to make any changes to your distribution for this new venture?

We were already pretty organised on the distribution side, but we may well take on our own vehicle. There is a big fear about distribution in the agency business, but there shouldn't be it's basically just a man in a van.

How will you promote the new agencies?

We will be using selective selling and launching a separate PR campaign for each agency. On the sales side, I've lined up two guys who are nationally known in the agency business. It's a bit like the Chelsea FC situation: Roman Abramovich went in there and tried to employ the best manager for the team. That's what we are trying to do.

Why did you choose to concentrate on New World wine regions?

Because it is fairly easy to buy French, Italian or Spanish wines you can get there on Eurostar in half a day and everybody has already got those on their lists. It's not quite so easy to get to the New World. There are also more emerging top producers. The best Sancerre producer of 20 years ago is still the best Sancerre producer; the best South African producer is not.

Which regions do you find most exciting at the moment?

I really fancy selling wines from Oregon, but when I sent an e-mail to the trade organisation I didn't get a reply until two months later. It said: sorry for the delay in replying and yes we could do with a bit of a lift in the UK. Well, answer your e-mails quicker then! But I think the US is the most exciting place. The Americans are fantastic at business. They are switched on, go-ahead people, and I think that is going to be the most exciting country in the next 10 years. They are certainly going to expand their volumes. At the moment everyone attributes the increase solely to Blossom Hill, but I think they really have potential.

Are there any advantages to being a regional, as opposed to a national, wholesaler?

Yes, we understand the local market and have an established regional presence. There are at least 55 other operators in our territory, from all the big nationals down to one-man-bands, but we offer consistency and local knowledge. For instance, we actually use the local venues: I eat in the local restaurants and play golf at the local golf club. On the wholesale side, we will only ever be a regional business: we are not going to expand from that position.

How is the wine market in Yorkshire?

This year our business grew by 20%. When I moved back to Yorkshire in 1989, I saw people in restaurants drinking pints of bitter with their dinner. Now they will have a bottle of wine instead. It has changed enormously. But it's quite sad, in a way, that we have lost that tradition.

Playford Ros, Middle Park, Sowerby, Thirsk, North Yorkshire YO7 3AH; Tel: 01845 526 777

Andrew Firth and Nigel Munton (the former managing director of Yorkshire Fine Wines) founded Playford Ros in 1991. The company is now solely owned by Andrew Firth, who started his career at Stones of Belgravia in London. He went on to work for John Harvey & Sons of Bristol in Pall Mall, re-establishing its retail outlet, then looking after prestige accounts and selling to national accounts. Firth then worked for Maisons Marques et Domaines before joining Yorkshire Fine Wines in 1989.