- Published on Tuesday, 03 August 2010 12:47
- Written by Richard Siddle
Speaker highlights from the Top Merchants conference held in Bristol on July 19.
A total of 3.9 million people shop in independent wine merchants, declared Wine Intelligence's Paul Medder.
Independents were urged to have a decent selection of wines around £5 and £6, after research showed informal occasions will drive indie shoppers' volume. Factors such as variety, country of origin or region are of high importance to shoppers choosing wine, but staff recommendations also have an important role to play, especially with younger shoppers.
ANGELA MOUNT: YOUR STAFF ARE YOUR BEST ASSET
Former Somerfield wine buyer, now head of online wine company, Gondola Wine, Angela Mount used her experience from the "dark side" of supermarket buying to help independents understand what they should be stocking.
"My view is there's never been a better time for independents," Mount asserted, as the tough economic climate and tightening margins means "buyers will continue to put a huge amount of pressure on suppliers".
"A time is coming when producers and suppliers will say: ‘We don't want to work with supermarkets'," she said, "that's when independents will benefit."
With supermarkets trimming their ranges, independents should offer "a point of difference outside the norm", Mount said, which can be as basic as offering more unusual grape varieties.
It's also vital independents offer a premium selection and work hard to persuade shoppers they will get "so much more enjoyment if they spend £1.50 or £2 more on a bottle of wine". This is where
Mount believes knowledgeable and well-trained staff come into their own.
One of the main reasons First Quench collapsed was "dissatisfied staff", Mount asserted - and therefore "passion and enthusiasm is key".
Make sure you invest in training and foster loyalty to your store, she said, as your staff "are your single most valuable commodity".
Mount recommended giving people additional reasons to come into your shop, such as offering the lottery, stocking gifts and supporting local events.
Building a relationship with suppliers is also key. "Sit down with your suppliers and talk about a six-month plan", she said - by understanding what your suppliers want to sell, you can develop activities in the shop to get those wines noticed.
PETER HANNA, MATTHEW CLARK: WHOLESALING
Matthew Clark's Peter Hanna, sales director for Wine Studio Agency, explored the opportunities for independent merchants which are looking to move into wholesaling and supplying the on-trade sector.
For on-trade outlets, the wine list is an essential sales tool, said Hanna. "It's important to provide the consumer with a wine list that's user friendly and points them towards what they're looking for," he said.
It should be easy to navigate and offer a spectrum of varieties and prices. A blackboard is a vital point of reference for consumers, and wine by-the-glass and food and wine matching can also make it easier for customers to know which wine to choose, stressed Hanna.
BRYONY WRIGHT, PROVEN COMMUNICATION AND RICHARD SIDDLE, HARPERS WINE & SPIRIT
Bryony Wright, founder of specialist drinks PR agency Proven Communication, said it was vital that anyone looking to raise their press profile took the time to truly understand the publications or media they are looking to target. Be it looking at a magazine's forward features list to see where they could add value or comment, or spending time researching the best person on that publication to send the information to.
She urged independents to make up their own digital media pack, including key facts and separate press releases highlighting different aspects of the business. Crucially, she said, make sure you have up-to-date pictures of key members of staff and the inside and outside of your store. Also make sure you keep your website up to date, as that is where most journalists will go for background information.
A point endorsed by Richard Siddle, editor of Harpers Wine & Spirit, was that the number of companies which have the wrong information on their sites was frustrating.
He said a key way to get a journalist's attention is in the subject bar of an email. You must sell your story in four or five words to encourage journalists to open it. Never just put "press release attached", he said.
Wright encouraged merchants to get close to key journalists, offer them quotes for key features and invite local media to their store to take part in tastings. Siddle urged merchants to take on a bigger role as spokesman on key issues in their area and to see themselves as local employers who can speak out on wider topics - raising their profile at the same time.
NICK CORDINGLEY, GONDOLA WINE AND DOM LANE, BRAY LEINO: HARNESS INTERNET OPPORTUNITIES
With 40 million users, the internet is a sales tool independents should ignore at their peril, warned Nick Cordingley from online retailer Gondola Wine. "You don't have to be a huge corporate monster with a giant budget to make the internet work," he said.
Affiliate marketing - using one website to drive traffic to another - is the "primary weapon in the arsenal for Gondola", said Cordingley (pictured top right), who said the benefits of affiliate partnerships include being able to measure the actual success - or not - of a campaign. It is also based on "cost per acquisition", so the advertiser only pays for each specified action, such as acquiring new customers.
Affiliate types include "niche content and premium-interest sites", Cordingley explained, such as wine bloggers, specialist interest websites, comparison sites such as shopzilla.co.uk, or voucher websites such as myvouchercodes.com.
Cordingley advised independents to "identify sites with matching user profiles, create offers that match your business model, market your USP and don't be afraid to try new ideas". Another weapon is pay per click, where advertisers pay their host only when their ad is clicked. Using this form of online advertising will enable independents to "test the competitiveness of your offer", he said.
Dom Lane, director of creativity at PR company Bray Leino, said social media was a "much more effective way of achieving good customer service", because it enabled independents to "have better conversion quicker". It also educates customers and incentivises them to visit your shop.
Lane identified YouTube as "one of the most powerful branding tools on the web" - a great website for independents to upload amateur footage of winemakers or themselves tasting their range, "but remember to include details of your shop and website on the video", he said.
Twitter, Lane added, is a "really good, quick win" where independents can communicate short snippets of information. He also advised retailers which "can't be bothered to or can't afford a website" to set up a Facebook group to enable them to "express their knowledge and enthusiasm".
"It can be about your lives and the lives of people around you," he said. "It's the most valuable tool you've got - supermarkets cannot have [that sort of] dialogue or relationship."
SUSY ATKINS: encourage return to European wines
Making room for Old World wines was the subject of Susy Atkins' interactive tasting masterclass, which looked at how independents can attract new, younger consumers with traditional wines. "A lot of people are wedded to New World wines. Unless they come from a family with traditional wine knowledge, they don't feel comfortable with European wines."
The audience blind tasted wines from event sponsor Paternina and headline partner GIV.
Atkins described Italian Soave as a "quaffing wine" frequently drunk as a spritzer. She recommended trading customers up and talking about the wine's naturally lower abv and "food friendliness".
Red Rioja is one of the best places to start "when looking to demystify European wines for younger customers", said Atkins. It is also "food friendly" and should be promoted with shelf-edge barkers to talk up its "soft sweet flavours of real strawberries".
When it comes to Italian reds, customers should be encouraged to taste the "black fruit flavours" in New World wines, which are from more varied grape varieties in Europe, she said.
KEITH LAY, EHRMANNS : retaining your customer base
Building and maintaining customer loyalty is essential for the independents' long-term success, according to Ehrmanns' director Keith Lay.
"Studies show major businesses lose 14%-20% of their customer base each year and suggest a 5% increase in retention delivers 25% increase in profitability," he said.
To be successful, independents must "think of their business as a onion", Lay recommended, with the outer skin encompassing image and customer experience, the middle layers including customer retention strategies and new product/service development, and the inner layers spanning back- office functions, finance and team motivation.
All layers must be present, or the business will collapse.
To make sure they are following this model for success, independents should look at areas such as the team, range, ambience, marketing and web, and ask: "Where are we now? Where would I like to be? How do we get there?"
He added: "Set realistic objectives and action points."
"Chances are you won't meet them all," Lay said, but independents that set out to achieve them stand a much better chance of succeeding.