Every month we celebrate the ingenuity of independent merchants in our Bright Ideas column, sponsored by WBC.
Tell us about a bright idea that’s worked for your business and you too could win a WBC gift box containing a some premium drinks and a box of chocolates. Email email@example.com
reach out with refills
Duncan Murray Wines, Market Harborough
In a nutshell …
Businesses specialising in refill household and food stuffs are popping up all over the UK. Make friends with one in your neighbourhood to open your own concession. The rewards are plentiful.
Tell us more.
“Eco-Village is run by Beth and Beth. They contacted me in January last year and we met up at the site, which had previously been a plumbing supply place, and they told me their plans. For them it’s all about taking cans or bottles or jars to be refilled. I’d already had a chat with Moreno Wines and I thought their refillable bottles were perfect. First and foremost they are fantastic wines.”
Describe the range for us.
“We have limited space so everything has to really earn its place on our shelves and we are experimenting month by month to see what works.
“We offer the Sea Change wines – there are lots of bright ideas behind that range. For example, there is less glass per bottle and the labels are partly made out of grape waste. David Attenborough is a big fan of Sea Change and it’s ticked lots of boxes for Eco-Village.
“We also stock a locally produced gin and vodka, a few ciders and beers but the thing that works the best is the refill bottles. Customers can either buy a half-litre or a litre bottle and fill it up or they can bring a wellington boot as long as it’s marked on the side how much is going in. If you’re Cinderella, bring a glass slipper.”
Let’s talk about the money.
“You pay a commission of around 5% or 10% depending on what it is. Anything bar-related is a bit more, so for example we are doing a wine bar with them soon and because there is more margin, the commission to the Eco-Village will be 20%.
“What’s really nice is that it’s manned or womanned by other people who have stalls there. We use exactly the same price labels that we use in the shop which come off our EPoS system. All the information is on those labels such as the name of the product and they show the alcohol percentage plus a bit of blurb about it and what food it goes with. But if a customer needs more help, my shop is just a five-minute gentle stroll around the corner.”
It sounds like indie nirvana!
“The Eco-Village set up is fantastic. There is so much going on and it’s so nice to be part of it. Personally, I shop there all the time. It’s not just household stuff – they’ve just started selling refill Greek olive oil, which is amazing, and you can get toothpaste pills in a pot.
“I did an event there a couple of Saturdays ago and there’s a real community feel and a great vibe. People were sitting outside the café and enjoying their lunch and I was going over and offering them a free taste of wine and that worked really well.
“The website is brilliant too. They used a professional photographer and they put together all the copy about each of the concession holders.”
We noticed the Bearded Persian selling Kombucha and the Bearded Beekeepers with their honey and there you are with your marvellous moustaches. Do you need to have face furniture to fit in?
“The ladies don’t have any. But I might suggest they grow some!”
host online q&As
In a nutshell …
Using social media, invite questions on all things wine related, gather up the best ones and address them in a series of online videos. It keeps existing customers engaged, reminding them you’re open for business, and attracts potential customers too.
Tell us more.
“More than ever, you have to find new ways of reaching the customers,” says Bob. “Pre-Covid we had already decided to focus on e-commerce and the shop side of the business and our brand new website went live in November. I found the hardest thing about being online is getting your personality across, so we have categories like Box Set Bingeing, Date Night and Lockdown Survival Kit. So this idea is about interacting with people and having a bit of fun. I think everyone has got a bit more time at the moment to watch this kind of thing.”
What sort of questions have been asked so far?
“How long can I store a bottle of port once it’s open? Why are sparkling reds not more popular? Should you chill orange wine? If you put a spoon in a bottle of sparkling wine, does it stop it going flat?
“I think those questions reflect the broad range of our customer base. We have a lot of hipsters wanting natural wines and cool labels, so with the sparkling reds question I will probably take the opportunity to mention pet nats.
“Someone did ask a pretty open-ended question, which I may have to serialise: what makes a wine bad? That’s a good one!
“We’re keeping the videos short and sweet – about 90 seconds. There’s only so much information you can put across in that time and we want people to be able to relate to it. I don’t want to start talking about TCA and that kind of stuff.”
Have you had to invest in any special equipment?
“No, we’re just filming on an iPhone and posting it on Twitter and Instagram.”
When your bar reopens, will you continue to focus on these kinds of initiatives?
“Normally about 75% of our sales are drink-in and Manchester has been under much stricter restrictions since the summer anyway so we were kind of treading water.
“Having to shut the bar, we’ve got rid of all the tables and chairs but that’s made room for more retail display, so we’ve picked up new customers who didn’t realise we were a shop. Moving forward when the bar reopens it’ll be interesting to see how much of the retail we can hold on to and how that drinking-in and retail split will play out.
“We’re in the business district, so historically we’ve done really well with after-work drinkers and commuters so without really realising it we’ve not been very good at tapping into the people from the city centre. This project, along with the website, means we’re reaching new audiences. You’ve got to try new things and, with stuff like this, what have you got to lose? People who aren’t adapting are just dead in the water.”
Bottle & Jug Department, Worthing
In a nutshell …
Branded glassware makes an eye-catching display and, if the price is right, it can be an easy add-on sale at the counter.
Tell us more.
“It’s something I wanted to do for ages. A lot of breweries have their own branded glasses and I love glassware. I’ve got an American-style tankard at home that I’ve had since I was 18 and I love drinking out of it. Initially I was looking for something similar but I couldn’t find that style anywhere. Actually the one I’ve chosen makes more sense than a tankard because I think this shape is more multi-functional – you could have wine, beer or spirits in it so it works across the range of what we sell.”
Was it a difficult project to pull off?
“The main stumbling block for me was the minimum order quantity. It was pretty large, so it was a real commitment. They didn’t come boxed either so I had to source the gift boxes separately.”
Are they a hit with the customers?
“I’ve got them on the table right by the counter and I’ve sold 40 in under two weeks.
“I think I’ve found the right price because I’m selling them for a fiver and I still make a margin. I’ve seen other people selling branded glassware for upwards of £10 but I think that’s quite expensive. £5 is a good price for a stocking filler but also not too much to spend as an add-on gift all year round. I’m going to launch a wine and beer subscription service and it’s a nice item to tie in with that, as a freebie for new subscribers. I have already risked posting a few out – I’ve packed them with plenty of bubble wrap and there have been no breakages so far.”
This feels like a really nice fit for your business.
“The whole Bottle & Jug concept harks back to the Victorian pub era, so the logo feels old but with a contemporary twist. Although I like a stemmed wine glass, I know a lot of people can be a bit nervous of thin glassware. In terms of shape this has a nice wide bowl so for wine it works because you can swirl and get the aromas. It can also accommodate a whole 440ml can of beer!”
You’re not new to creating your own branded products, are you?
“We had T-shirts with our logo on and they all sold out. I have been thinking of getting more done but I keep seeing T-shirts with really cool stuff on them, so I’d like to get in a designer. I could ask the guy who did our mural in the shop – but I think he’s a bit expensive these days.”
pop-up cheese market
Abi & Chris Connolly
In a nutshell …
“Our thoughts are turning to lockdown and general misery, but we can console ourselves with cheese and wine. All being well we’re going to run our cheese market every Saturday up until Christmas.”
Yum, yum – tell us more …
“Our bar, Arch 13, has a very strong wine and cheese focus and we are quite proud of our cheeses – they are exceptionally good.
“Like any other hospitality venue at the moment, our bar has struggled during Covid so we have just tried to come up with something a little bit creative.
“We have about 15 cheeses for sale at the market at any one time and our team are really well versed in which cheeses go well with which wines – so we can make recommendations rather than sticking to the usual suspects, which can often be a bit of a myth. Things like port don’t necessarily always go well with cheese.”
Give us a top cheese and wine match.
“Well, at the moment it’s Rioja month and so we have Riojas on taste every weekend anyway. Mature Cheddar and mature Red Leicester work really well with a red Rioja.
“Birmingham doesn’t have many local cheeses but we try to focus on the UK. The odd French one gets in there sometimes. We have UK alternatives to classic European cheeses, so instead of a Pecorino we’ve got a Spenwood – a hard cheese from Berkshire – and we have British Brie and Camembert styles.”
Does it involve a lot of prepping?
“For us it is quite easy because we already stock the cheese and the staff are already trained.
“Victoria takes everything over from Arch 13 to the Solihull store to set up and there is equipment there, as before the March lockdown we had just geared up to start doing cheeseboards for the newly refurbished upstairs area.
“I would suggest to anyone wanting to do it from scratch to get the cheese in pre-cut and pre-wrapped and have them ready for people to buy.”
That sounds too Gouda be true!
“Well, we did it for the first time a couple of weeks ago – and it exceeded expectations.”
wine vials: tastings to take away
Wolf Wine, Bath
In a nutshell …
Make sampling and tasting easy for customers by decanting a selection of your more esoteric wines into 250ml vessels, which Wolf Wine calls its vials.
How does this work logistically?
“Every week we select a wine at a price point of £23 or over. We put it in our vials and customers can either come to collect them from the shop, or we do free delivery in Bath and Bristol.
“The price per vial changes, depending on the wine, but it hovers between £9 and £14. It’s basically poured into the bottles so we are advising people to consume within a day or two.
“We might look at those counter pressurised taps where they inject argon into the bottles prior to us pouring. We are in our 16th week of doing this now and we haven’t had any issues so far.”
Another good idea sprung from the Covid economy …
“Yes, especially during lockdown there were a lot of people who wanted to try new things but sometimes that’s a lot to spend. When you can’t speak to customers face to face, it’s hard to get that rapport. An online transaction is much harder and it’s a less intimate sales relationship.
“Our wine vials are a way of showcasing some of our more expensive wines and to make them more accessible. Each vial is a large glass of small-production, high-quality, special wine, so it’s nice for people to treat themselves and try something new in the comfort of their own home.”
Is it a guided tasting?
“We’re not doing a live/virtual tasting with them at the moment – I’d love to be able to but we just don’t have the time or manpower. Maybe when things settle down a little bit we can make it more interactive. There’s lots of potential to do more with it and roll it out beyond our neighbourhood.”
The wine vials are very Insta friendly.
“Every year our wolf logo gets redesigned by a new artist – it’s how our branding works. I’m a big advocate for supporting artists. We’re on our fourth wolf – and one of the artists helped us out with the artwork for the labels. People really dig what we’re doing.”
MAKE SPOTIFY PLAYLISTS PART OF YOUR IDENTITY
Parish Wines, Walthamstow
In a nutshell …
Invite your customers to compile a Spotify playlist of their favourite tunes to share in-store.
Tell us more.
“Because Parish Wines is set in such a residential area, we thought this would be a really great way for us to reach members of the community. So I started by seeking out people I know who live in the area and asked them to do a one-hour playlist and send it to me with a link on Spotify, along with a picture and what they love about living here. We get to learn about our community – what ticks their boxes – plus we gather a load of great music, almost crowd-sourcing it, to put into our playlists in the shop.”
Has anyone surprised you with their musical tastes – maybe thrown in a bit of death metal halfway through?
“We haven’t had anything off-message yet, but it is up to them really. I give them a brief to put something together that they’d like to listen to while enjoying a glass of wine. For some people it’s pretty chilled, and for others it veers more towards the party vibe.
“Often the musical journey starts at one end and gets more lively at the other. The music in our growing playlists is definitely very broad: there’s old music, more contemporary sounds and music from all over the world.”
Are there complications with licensing or other considerations?
“We just pay PRS as everyone does, so it doesn’t affect music licensing. My background has taught me that music is a really important part of the experience as a whole and we’ve installed Sonos speakers to allow us to play the music with a nice, clear definition.
“Getting the volume right is very important: it sets the tone for how the tables behave. If it’s too quiet, people think they have to whisper, but at the same time it shouldn’t be so loud that you have to project your voice to be heard.”
What’s the reaction from your customers?
“It’s proved to be popular. Walthamstow is full of creative professionals and people are starting to ask us if they could provide a playlist, which is fantastic. We create a visual using the image they provide to share on our social media and if they go on to share their playlists on their social media and mention us, then that’s quite powerful.”
Armchair travel video tutorials
Grassington Wines, North Yorkshire
In a nutshell …
Exploring the heavenly match of travel and wine through short wine tutorial films, based on travel books selected by the local bookshop.
Tell us more.
“I was chatting with Linda from The Stripey Badger, who told me about her Armchair Travel Book Club. She selects a range of travel books to promote to customers and we thought it would be a good idea to drink your way round the world too. The first continent she chose was Africa, so I made a video presenting a range of wines from the Waterkloof Estate. To talk about a country’s climate and culture is a good way in to talk about their wines and how they are made.”
Sounds ideal. We don’t fancy getting on a plane right now.
“Exactly! It was an idea that came from our lovely local community being on lockdown and it’s nice to at least read about other countries, even if you can’t actually go there right now.
“The local pub has also got involved and will be making different food to complement the selected books, and the local travel agent is also making short films about the countries and regions featured in the books.”
You look quite comfortable in front of the camera. Was it hard to do?
“Oh, I can talk about wine for ages. It only has to be between five and 10 minutes, so you just need to give people a flavour.
“Linda’s son James did the filming and it was his first time, so he had to learn about editing and all those things. There’s a slight hum in the background so I think next time I need to turn the fridges off!”
Have you had to get stock in especially?
“You could go crazy and really go for it, but I’m using what I have. The next continent we are covering is Asia and it’s not just about wine. I’m going to talk about beers from China, for example. I always have a sake in stock so I’ll include that. The wines that I will show for Asia will be from Lebanon because I have them in stock and also Turkish wines. I went to Turkey with The Wine Merchant, so I’ll talk about how amazing that was.”
Has this got life after lockdown?
“I know that Linda has half a dozen books that go with each different continent so we could go back and revisit. If it takes off I can see it being part of the Grassington Festival, which we hold every year in a marquee in the square. Once people can congregate again, I can see us talking about books and travel and food and wine, so it might play a part in that.”
get on your (cargo) bike
Forest Wines, Walthamstow
In a nutshell …
Reduce your carbon footprint by making deliveries by cargo bike, but you might want to make sure you get one with an electric motor.
How long have you been employing pedal power for deliveries?
“We started bike deliveries in the borough in 2014 shortly after the business opened and long before it became trendy, so we have been on the road for the last six years using a range of trailers and bikes.
“We are keen to keep things aligned with the green ethos of our business, and when our online orders and local demand increased during lockdown, a large capacity bike, with a help of an electric engine, fitted the bill perfectly.”
What sort of capacity does the electric battery have?
“We generally do deliveries in east London so in terms of battery life I don’t think I could take it down to Brighton. But we comfortably do 60 to 70 drops on the busiest day on a single charge, so it’s quite a powerful machine. We currently operate a free next-day delivery service in E17 and E10 postcodes, seven days a week, and we travel farther out on weekly deliveries in east London.”
Has it been easier having to cope with less traffic during lockdown?
“The local authority encourages cycling. We were one of the first test areas for making cities greener and communities healthier, so the local residential streets are closed off for traffic. For us it’s much easier to navigate by bike than to use a vehicle.”
It’s all very well in the sunshine, but will you power through the wet and cold?
“Absolutely! We have a rain cover, so the cardboard boxes and the goods don’t get wet. You wear a raincoat and you can get dry at the end of the day. There are days when you don’t want to be cycling to Hampstead Heath, but the local deliveries will be always be done on the bike.”
We’re in awe of you. What’s the reaction been from your customers?
“People are very happy when you turn up with wine anyway, but when we deliver a bit farther afield people are quite shocked we get to them on a bike. It’s a good promotional vehicle for us because we definitely stand out from the crowd. Our local customers have named the bike the Forest Flyer.”
Start an Art Club
Duncan Sime and Ola Dabrowska
In a nutshell …
This art club originally started as an on-premise activity and has become a way to stay engaged with customers during lockdown.
Tell us more.
“It was mainly Ola’s idea as she has studied art,” says Duncan. “She got together some spare art supplies that we had around the house and encouraged people to come and join her in the shop every Wednesday and enjoy a glass of wine while painting and creating.”
How have you made this work during lockdown?
“There are a few social media groups knocking about based on recreating famous artworks at home. So we adapted that idea and asked customers to recreate their favourite album covers. Our contribution was an interpretation of a Beastie Boys album cover. That’s me, Ola and our eight-year-old in the back garden – we’re quite proud of that one! It’s been a great thing to do on social media, especially Instagram. But it’s quite a commitment to do it every week, so we’ve just decided to do it once a month and make it a bit more interactive by involving prizes.”
Ooh, prizes. What’s up for grabs?
“We’re working with Dabbawalla, a local business that makes amazing curry and Thalis. First prize will be a meal for two made and delivered by Dabbawalla, plus a bottle of wine from Kwas. Second prize will be a £20 voucher to spend in our web shop. It’s about helping each other out at the moment and if we can have a bit of fun with the art side of things, and we can help another business in the process and customers can get to win something, that’s ideal. I’d rather pay for a bit of investment into a prize than pay for a Facebook promotion.”
What are you asking customers to do to be in with a chance of winning?
“We’re asking them to design their ideal wine label, using any medium they like. There will be extra points for inventive wine names too – we’re looking for good puns. They have seven days to get creating and send their entries in via our social media channels. Hopefully people will rise to the challenge and engage with us.”
Here’s the one we published in April 2020.
Here’s the one from March 2020.