Virgin Wines on expansion drive

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Virgin Wines is on a mission to recruit 100,000 customers in the next year in a bid to swell its 250,000-strong membership even further.



“We are still growing really rapidly,” said managing director Jay Wright, with 100,000 customers signed up in the past year – the same amount Wright would like to grow by in the next 12 months.



The online retailer sells over 750,000 cases a year, with the list currently encompassing 600 wines from all over the world. Wright identified Australia as its biggest-selling country of origin, “especially the reds”, followed by France and Spain, which is “still very popular”.



Behind them is Chile, Italy, South Africa, Argentina and New Zealand, he said. However, according to Wright, the “taste profile” of a wine is more important to Virgin Wines’ customers than where it is from. “People try lots of different wines from lots of different places, it’s more about the style,” he said.



Wright listed Spain, Germany and Chile as countries where Virgin Wines has “untapped areas” it would like to source more wines from. In Germany, he particularly highlighted Riesling and Pinot Gris as varieties he would like to see more of on the list. He added that Portugal has “some wonderful wines we’d like to do some more of”.



Virgin Wines’ Chilean range has seen a big leap in quality and prices in the past five years, according to Wright, with the wines now sitting in the the £8.99-plus price category. This demonstrates the country’s increasing ability to offer premium wines, compared with the more entry-level offerings a few years ago, Wright said.



Virgin’s best-selling variety is currently Pinot Grigio from Australia, he added, with Virgin “selling more Australian Pinot Grigio than Italian”.



At yesterday’s Winter Press Tasting, Wright attributed Virgin Wines’ current success to giving “exceptional customer service” and being “the best we can be”.



“It’s about giving people lots of different ways to get their wines,” he said, and being a “multi-channel operator” is key to that. “We still do paper-based mailing and over-the-phone orders. Online is important but it’s important to be able to talk to people and give people a whole range of ways to buy wine and make it easy.”



Its newest initiative is called Fabulous and offers customers the chance to host their own wine-tasting parties, overseen by an advisor who supplies the wines and can talk about the range.



Virgin currently employs 40 advisors, dotted around the country, but it has plans to grow the concept and is “looking for a lot more advisors to come on board”, Wright said. He described Fabulous as similar to a franchise model, with the advisors encouraged to treat the initiative like “their own small business”.



In 2012, Virgin Wines held 35 consumer tastings, Wright added, with its latest at the Waldorf Hilton Hotel attracting 1,400 customers.



Customers are also getting on board with its WineBank Plus scheme, which offers 25% instant interest on wine savings. For every £5 payment a customer makes, Virgin Wines gives an extra £1 interest which can be spent on wine. The scheme currently has 30,000 active users, according to Wright.



Virgin Wine currently employs 150 people, including its customer service team and distribution personnel.

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