Confidence takes a knock

Independent wine merchants are an upbeat, positive and energetic bunch. But they’re not delusional. The pound’s capitulation against the euro and dollar(s), coupled with the chaos of Brexit, presents some big challenges for indies.

Our reader survey, reported in this week’s edition, reflects this. Just under 70% of respondents remain positive about increasing their trade in the coming 12 months, but this contrasts with 81% last year and 89% in 2015.

The results were compiled before last week’s 8p-a-bottle hike in wine duty, which hasn’t exactly lightened the mood. Throw soaring business rates into the equation and you have a recipe for gloominess.The Wine Merchant issue 56

But independent wine merchants are resourceful types, and experts at spotting opportunities. And if there’s an economic downturn, they’re often the beneficiaries, picking up extra business as consumers forego nights out in favour of home entertaining – in the company of better quality wine than they might previously have bought. It’s a phenomenon that Laurence Hanison, recently retired from Mill Hill Wines in north London, has experienced first-hand during three recessions.

Independent numbers grew, in net terms, by around 40 last year, bringing the total of specialist wine shops to 822 as we write. More shops are opening than closing. And the new entrants often have imaginative, wide-ranging business plans that go way beyond simply putting wines on shelves and waiting for punters to walk through the door. Take  look at the likes of Unwined in Tooting, Jaded Palates in Devon or Burgess & Hall in Forest Gate for some recent examples.

The coming year is going to be tough for many. But we’re willing to bet that the independent sector continues to grow – and thrive.

Coverage of this year’s reader survey appears in the March edition of The Wine Merchant and continues in our April issue.

Reader Survey 2017

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Every year The Wine Merchant carries out the most comprehensive survey of the UK independent wine trade.

It’s that time again and we’d love all our independent wine retailer readers to spend 10 minutes of their time to take part.

Obviously we don’t share individual responses but collectively the data we compile helps us build up a very detailed picture of the state of play in the independent trade.

Our friends at Hatch Mansfield are partnering us this year and have generously donated five cases of wine which will be sent to five respondents chosen at random.

Please click here to take part.

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Hello issue 53, farewell 2016

Where did 2016 go? We were just beginning to enjoy it – well, bits of it, anyway – and then it was all over. For The Wine Merchant, at least. This is our final edition of the year (there really is no point publishing on December 15) and so we hope it keeps you going until January.

This year we’ve set a new personal best for the number of trips, lunches and masterclasses we’ve organised for independent wine merchants and there have been memorable excursionThe Wine Merchant issue 53s to France, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and Germany.

We like to share these things around as fairly as possible so do keep an eye on our Twitter feed for details of what we’re getting up to in 2017. Many of our projects will also be mentioned in the email alerts that we occasionally send out.

We’re also on the hunt for judges in next year’s Wine Merchant Top 100. Again, we like to mix things up every year so as many independents as possible have chance to take part. Sometimes merchants worry that they “haven’t done any wine judging before” … but of course they have, as part of the buying decisions they make for their businesses. The judging process for our competition is remarkably similar to that.

The old boys’ club

There’s been a certain amount of chatter recently about the make-up of the wine trade: how women are still marginalised and the old boys’ network still persists.

We decided to see if that actually holds true in the independent trade, where plenty of women entrepreneurs have made their mark. Two of the country’s most successful indies, Corks Out and Borough Wines, are female-led, and almost every issue of The Wine Merchant includes news of women setting up shop.

It turns out that just 11% of specialist independent wine retailers are female, a figure that only rise to 15% when you include businesses that are run jointly by men and women. That’s well below what’s reported for the retail sector as a whole.

The Wine Merchant issue 51Does that mean women are at an inherent disadvantage in the wine trade, or are in some way discouraged? It’s hard to find evidence for any kind of discrimination or prejudice, though obviously child care commitments can make life pretty difficult for working mums in any field of business.

Wine shops used to be insufferably clubby and blokey, and no doubt there are still places like this. But by and large there has been a significant effort to make them more appealing to women, and a lot of the credit for this needs to go to the female entrepreneurs who have spotted the problem and successfully corrected it.

It would be surprising – and a little embarrassing – if the 11% figure doesn’t increase over the next few years. Not because the wine trade should care about quotas or tokenism. But because the current state of affairs is unbalanced and, arguably, a little bizarre.

Saturation point is a long way off

The UK could sustain another 200 independent wine shops, bringing the total to around 1,000, according to a major new study.

David Dodd, formerly of Wal-Mart and one of the UK’s most respected location planning managers, has divided the country into 19,500 districts and pinpointed the markets that mirror the characteristics of places where top-performing merchants already exist.

Forty of the top 200 locations on the list are in London, although the catchment area that tops the table is West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire, followed by Didsbury in Greater Manchester.

The Wine Merchant issue 50Fifteen locations in the West Midlands have been identified as fertile ground for new independents, including seven areas in Birmingham alone.

Scotland could sustain seven more merchants, the research suggests, while Wales and Northern Ireland should be able to accommodate two apiece – though only in Cardiff and Belfast.

Brighton, Bristol and Reading each has room for four new wine shops. But Cornwall looks to have reached saturation point and is not represented in the top 200.

The project was sponsored by Wine Intelligence and forms the basis of a new report which analyses the state of play in the independent wine trade.

Full report in the August edition of The Wine Merchant.