Late payments and bad debts are the bane of any business person’s life. They are the reasons why many independent retailers are reluctant to wholesale. But some suppliers say they are having exactly these problems with independent wine merchants.
Why should that be the case? There are various theories. One is that indies are feeling the pinch in an uncertain economic climate. Another is that, as merchants tie up increasing amounts of cash in direct imports, they are finding it harder to pay their UK suppliers on time.
It’s a thorny issue and one we look at in depth in the September edition of The Wine Merchant.
There’s a lot of chatter these days about independents importing direct (yes, we’re responsible for some of that). But what’s less reported is the decision of a small but growing number of indies to sell their own exclusive brands.
The August edition of The Wine Merchant focuses on three merchants who have gone this route, in their own way.
There’s Aimee Davies, of Aimee’s Wine House in Bristol, who has installed a microbrewery in one of her two shops. Sounds expensive and fiddly, but the kit is paying for itself and Aimee reports that brewing beer is nothing like as complicated as she’d been led to believe.
We also talk to Toby Peirce of Quaff, with stores in Brighton and Hove. He’s just launched an exclusive beer brand called Lost Pier, which creates a nice point of difference in store and may also boost his local wholesale business.
Finally, we hear from Archie McDiarmid at Luvians in St Andrews, whose team have been working with local distillers on bespoke whisky and gin projects. Beer is the next project on the horizon.
He describes the activity as “a natural next step” for the business. There will be plenty of independents who feel the same.
Crowd funding is a useful way for small businesses to raise a bit of extra cash. In the wine trade the money might be channeled into a new sampling device, or perhaps a second branch. Those who make donations get a nice thank-you and an invitation to the launch party, but often not much more.
Taurus Wines in Surrey has gone a step further, raising £275,000 via Crowdcube to finance a move to larger premises and to open a second branch. The benefactors in this case have become shareholders in the business, with a combined stake of 10%. In time they will probably receive an annual dividend of 6% and even be able to trade their shares.
It’s an interesting business model and one that could work for dozens of independents who are looking at expansion plans. Read all about the Taurus experience in the July edition of The Wine Merchant.
We’re delighted to confirm this year’s Wine Merchant Top 100. We had a record entry this year of just under 700 wines which meant it was tougher than ever to be a winner. Congratulations to all the producers and suppliers who made the cut.
All of the wines are available to taste this week at our stand (V76) at the London Wine Fair. Competition director David Williams and Wine Merchant editor Graham Holter will be happy to discuss how the competition works and what the judges – a panel of 18 independent wine merchants – were looking for in the winning wines.
Look out for our winners supplement, which will feature profiles of all the winning wines and a run-down of our Highly Commended wines too.
Meanwhile, all this year’s Top 100 appear below:
The April edition of The Wine Merchant contains part two of our reader survey. How important are on-premise sales to independents? Or dispense machines? Or food? The answers may surprise you.
By and large we’re detecting a slightly more conservative streak among indies this year, perhaps not surprising given the price increases that are providing a jolt to the system, and the uncertainty surrounding Brexit’s effect on the economy.
But there’s a definite surge in interest in direct imports. Almost half of respondents plan to increase the amount of wine they source directly from producers in the coming year, with around a quarter expecting to buy at current levels.
Just under 21% say they will continue to buy all their wines from UK suppliers.
Direct importing is often not as complicated as novices fear it might be. But it does leave merchants exposed to currency shocks, and it creates admin that many find fiddly and time-consuming. Logistics and storage can be a headache. Many who go down the direct-import route say they only really appreciate the value of the service provided by agency businesses when they try to do the job themselves.
Most merchants have no intention of importing 100% of their wines. But the proportion of what they do buy in this way looks certain to rise.