So how are independent wine retailers doing? What do they need from us? Do they prefer to ship direct or deal with UK suppliers? Is the internet a big deal for them? How many of them sell cheese?
These questions are asked with almost monotonous regularity. It’s not surprising that there should be so much interest in a sector that just keeps on growing, despite all the whispers that “these people really aren’t making any money” and “lots of them are going to have to close”.
Such dire predictions have been circulating for at least a decade, in which time the population of independent specialists has gone from below 500 to almost 700 now. True, the number of millionaires this has created is approximately zero, but that’s hardly the point. It is possible to make a living running a wine shop, especially if you have enough time and imagination to bolt on a few extras: some wholesaling perhaps, tasting events almost certainly, some specialist food retailing, an area for morning coffees, a regular wine school. (This list is by no means prescriptive, or exhaustive.)
The Wine Merchant has carried out its first reader survey and the results are published in the April edition. It is probably the widest-reaching survey of the sector, and it reveals much about the health of the independent wine trade.
The financial side of things is particularly revealing. The average turnover of an independent wine specialist is £864,553. If that sounds a little high, bear in mind this is the figure for the business as a whole, and that business may well have more than one shop. In fact we calculate there are 689 specialist wine shops in the UK, run by 487 operators. That’s about 1.4 shops per business.
In other words, each shop is turning over an average of £617,537 and the independent trade in its entirety is worth around £421 million.