Marchtown, Glasgow

Southside story

Marchtown was a Glasgow wine bar that did a little bit of retailing, but now it’s a retailer that does quite a lot of online business. Anthony Reynolds was thinking of opening a second bar this year, but now it’s more likely that he’ll be looking for extra warehouse space instead.

Graham Holter reports

Like a lot of people involved in the Scottish wine trade, Anthony Reynolds has an Oddbins background.

“I was a student for a long time and I worked with Oddbins for 12 years up until 2016,” he says.

“I dropped out for a while and did some other bits and bobs and worked in a few different industries, disliking all of them equally. Then I went back to being a student and got a job in an Oddbins, because a friend of mine worked there and said it was really easy! A shop job that had a bit of personality and wasn’t too much pressure.

“Matthew McFadyen [now of The Good Spirits Company in Glasgow] hired me, so you can blame him. That was in an Oddbins down in an area called Clarkston. I was full-time and loved it so much that I kept it on when I went back to university.

“I went through to PhD level. I started in film and television studies, because I applied when I was a teenager, but I ended up moving more into social sciences and did research into computer gaming cultures.

“By the end of that, and being flighty as I am, the academic world wasn’t for me so I managed at Oddbins for a couple of years, and I then was quite motivated to make something of my own.”

That something turned out to be a Glasgow florist’s owned by old friends Alan and Kimberley Scott. The premises, on the A77, is about a mile south of the city centre and a short walk from Queen’s Park.

“When they moved to a new unit,” says Reynolds, “they offered me this space, which they own, and asked if I wanted to open a wine bar. I said yes, as long as it has a shop too.

“There wasn’t much more planning to it than that. The Glasgow licensing board are notoriously brutal and so, 13 months later, we got our alcohol licence.”

How has Marchtown adapted since Covid-19?
The month before lockdown we noticed an incredible upsurge in customers in general. Then in the week before lockdown when Boris said, “I’m not closing the pubs, but don’t go to them,” it was a bit awkward and a bit difficult, so I actually converted us into a shop that week.

The following Monday was lockdown, but off-licences were not on the essential list at that time and I put everyone on furlough. Then when we were on the list, I just came back myself – I didn’t open the shop, but I was doing collection orders via email, which was slow at first.

It’s now picked up to the point that we have reached normal trading figures – and that’s including the difference between on-trade and retail margin.

This place has always been a shop and a bar and I’m very lucky to have had the shop side because it’s been an easy switch.

I’ve got most of my people off furlough already and we are expanding what we are doing bit by bit. We’ve been lucky to a certain extent.

How big is the wine bar area?
We’ve got about 30 covers, but right now there’s a lot of wine in the way. We’ve become a little warehouse.

Our kitchen area is now a packing area. It’s a little space and we’ve got another area downstairs that seats another 25-ish, but it’s small and enclosed with a one-way staircase and a small corridor,so social distancing is going to be an absolute nightmare.

Do you think you’ll you be reopening as a wine bar on Scotland’s appointed date of July 15?
My plan is wait and see. We’re doing quite well as a shop, so I don’t want to put all the eggs in that [on-premise] basket and be closed down again in a couple of weeks.

There are ethical concerns involved. Obviously it’s incumbent on a business to do well for its people and make sure they have jobs to come back to. That’s the nightmare situation for the hospitality industry right now. The level of sackings from larger chains is going to be brutal.

You have to make sure you have work for people but also make sure you don’t give everyone the coronavirus, so I’m not gearing up for the 15th.

I do worry that the government is making rushed decisions. Things like opening the pubs on July 4 [in England] and calling it Independence Day – and choosing a Saturday – is just madness. I just don’t understand that.

You’ve created a great brand identity for the business. Was the design aesthetic already in your mind before you opened?
I like things that look nice and I had a hand in the design. Kimberley was the one with the sketch pad in the early days.

The colour schemes happened naturally; we literally worked with what was here. We’ve got wonderful old cornicing and we have a beautiful ceiling rose.

This building is very early 1900s and they are wonderful little buildings. The florist had a coffee shop and there was a bar area for making coffee, so I just extended it.

We’re right next to Queen’s Park in Glasgow so there’s lots of greenery around. We’ve got big giant plants, and our lovely wallpaper from Cole & Sons matches those schemes.

And the logo – the stag with the wings? Where did he come from?
Kim made him. I was able to put together an origins story for him. If I’m not mistaken Glasgow has the highest acreage of green space in any city in the UK. We have monstrous parks.
Pollok Country Park is just south of here and except for a tiny bit of traffic noise, you could be in the Highlands.

In Queen’s Park sometimes you see deer, though it’s quite rare these days. So he’s the spirit of the green space that was here when the area was called Marchtown.

What’s the area like now – students, young families?
A mixture. More post student than student and definitely young families. We’re just next to Govanhill, which is a hugely ethnically diverse area and historically always has been. It’s quite famous for having a bad reputation for slum housing. There’s constant flow of social and ethnic groups and they will always leave a bit of themselves so it’s really different and diverse.

I don’t really have a demographic and I don’t plan to have one. I’ve had 18-year-olds in, and 80-year-olds. We’re a good location because we have a nice broad mix.

You’re working long hours. How are you making buying decisions – do suppliers come to you?
The tastings I go to mostly tend to be the ones where you can hit all birds with one stone, so mostly wine fairs.

With the wine scene in Glasgow there’s lots of interesting things popping up. You just find the time when you can.

London … I barely ever get to go. I think I managed to get to one wine tasting in London because it tied in with something else. There’s lots of stuff in Edinburgh and I’m always surprised at that because those tastings are always full of people who have travelled from Glasgow.

What sort of suppliers are you working with?
I work with smaller suppliers. I enjoy the personality of smaller companies. We work with Alexander Wines; Wildflower locally. Alliance are probably the biggest one we work with.

You’re into low-intervention wines.

As far as possible yes. However I don’t go in for the only-natural or only-orange thing.

I think there is an extent to which that is a bit of a fad at the moment – that’s not to diminish it or demean it by any stretch of the imagination. It’s just that it can be somewhat restrictive.

For example, back in the day you might hear someone say “I only drink Sauvignon Blanc”, and now you’re getting people saying “I only drink natural wines, I only drink orange wines”, and that’s restrictive.

I’ve seen places online that will only sell long skin-contact wines, murky and dirty and funky and soured and so on. Maybe the fact that we’re a smaller city, we don’t have that yet. It’s an interesting one, but it’s exclusive to the point of exclusion.

What are your favourite wines and your best-selling wines?
If customers ask me, I say I don’t have any favourites – but we all do, and we definitely go through phases.

I definitely have an old-world focus, possibly because at the back of my mind I’m thinking air miles and so on. But I live in Scotland, so it’s got to come from somewhere, right?

It’s very seasonal. We have pretty horrible winters up here so you won’t sell rosé. It won’t happen.

A quarter of what you sell in the winter is white and then a quarter of what you sell in the summer is red – it’s that extreme.

When we were a bar, if we were really well stocked, we’d have 200 wines, which isn’t a huge range. It was always a focus that we would get at least half a dozen to a dozen new ones every week. It’s a pain in the butt when it comes to putting them in the till system and pricing them up but it’s worth it to force you to have new things and have something different so your customers don’t get bored and you don’t get bored.

Is there anything on your list that’s a bit of an indulgence for you?
My indulgence, and it has been for quite a long time, is appassimento-style wines, red and white.

I’m a total sucker for these, which is interesting because I don’t have a sweet tooth. For the longest time working in wine I’d not seen a white appassimento in Glasgow – it’s beautiful stuff.

Something I can’t necessarily always get behind but they go anyway are the big, chunky, oaky, South African whites. Not my style. I don’t mind oaky Chardonnays – I’m all for a big beautiful Meursault or something. But I think South African wine is a slap around the face; there’s no subtlety.

For the first two years we were open we didn’t have a single South African wine in here and that was my wine prejudice, but through a demand from customers and suppliers persuading me …

Is social media a big deal for you? Your Instagram feed looks pretty professional.
We opened in March 2017 and we’ve probably spent less than £100 on marketing. It’s been fairly organic, which is nice.

I always get that suspicious eye when places pop up and within six weeks they’ve got three times the followers we have. That’s not envy, I just wonder what it’s worth – they’ve paid someone to get numbers. It’s just numbers rather than an organic following, and that can be problematic.

Instagram is definitely the one we have the most interest and engagement on. Facebook is fairly strong and Twitter tends to be just re-posts from those. I’m not a social media person myself; I’ve not had a personal social media account on anything.

I do the majority of the social media content and you’ll notice that my face is never there. I don’t like being on it. I always feel like an old man when I’m trying to put stuff online: like, what’s a hashtag?

We picked some royalty-free fonts when we opened the place and my brother is a talented graphic designer who works mostly in advertising and he put some resources together for us.

Are you doing any food at all, maybe as part of the deliveries and online orders?
At the moment we have no perishables on site. In the next couple of weeks, we might bring back the cheeseboards and have little takeaway versions of those. But that would be the extent of it for now.

We’re doing nationwide delivery on cases now – pre-packaged mystery cases. Those only went up about four weeks ago.

I’ve always wanted to do pre-packaged cases and deliveries and things like that, but I’ve never had the time to sit down and focus on it. But lockdown has allowed us that time.

We’re kind of at the point of when we re-open I might need to get another unit to run shipping from, which would be an absurd and unexpected result of a national disaster and pandemic.

How are people hearing about your mystery cases?
I don’t know! It was my plan to put some money into national delivery and it’s happened already, which is nice. It might be because we have a large following on Instagram. We ran a competition on Instagram recently to win a case and people had to tag their friends, that was probably quite useful because it emphasised that it could be anywhere in the UK.

Which couriers are you using?
We are using DPD, which came on a personal recommendation, and they seem to be best of a bad bunch.

While we had the website open for trials to let our friends and family buy stuff, we had cases delivered and there were breakages. I learned a lot about packaging.

I refuse to buy cardboard when we have so much cardboard coming in already. We repurpose all these boxes. I’ve ordered some packing tape which says, “please reuse and recycle your boxes, we did” and on my new version, for the benefit of the delivery drivers, I’ve added “gently does it, fragile, glass and stuff”.

Do you miss the interaction with customers in the shop?
I come across as a very outgoing and confident person, but I would describe myself as an introvert – I love me-time.

I can’t see tastings happening here for a long time. As of this week we will have the door open seven hours, five days a week. So we are still seeing customers.

I get to email people and phone people. It still feels human and still feels like contact. One thing that is a strange adjustment for me, is that when people are buying on the website, you’re not saying hello to the customer, and that feels a little strange.

I like the thought that people think it was special and maybe that’s harder to do online – that’s why I go to the extra effort of writing the tasting sheets to go in with each order.

What plans were going through your mind for the next couple of years and how has the current Covid situation affected your thinking?
I was probably going to open Marchtown II this year, maybe a little further away from this one.
I’ve had time to focus on retail, which is my background. There’s definitely no rush to open a second bar site now, that’s for sure.

Last September we opened a second bar downstairs and we had the licence changed to allow that, as previously it was just for tasting events.

We were able to recoup the money from the refit and we recovered from that, and it’s all paid for, in time to cope with this pandemic. One thing it’s definitely taught me is not to rush into anything – just wait and see. If you’re going to commit to something, try to make sure it’s pandemic proof.

July 2020