The forecast for indies: it’s going to be pouring

Over the past couple of years there’s been a lot of talk about the “hybrid” wine shop model. Merchants aren’t just selling wines for customers to take home with them. They’re inviting them to take a seat and enjoy their purchase on the premises, sometimes with a plate of charcuterie, and occasionally with a free-jazz musician providing some added entertainment.

As we reported a few months ago, most new entrants in the specialist independent trade are going the hybrid route – indeed it’s hard to know whether some should really be classed as wine bars that happen to have a retail element. But when you look at the market as a whole, it’s clear that these businesses are in a minority.

Our reader surveys of 2016 and 2017 reported that just 28% of indies sold wine for consumption on the premises. This year, that figure has jumped to nearly 36%, with a further 4% saying they will switch to the hybrid model in the coming year. Fourteen per cent of respondents are still weighing up the idea.

There will still be room for the classic wine merchant model. But how many more years will it be before such retailers find themselves in a minority?

Read part two of our 2018 reader survey analysis, produced in partnership with Hatch Mansfield, in the April edition of The Wine Merchant.

The new wine bar at Connollys in Birmingham



The judges have judged

Another judging day has come and gone. Almost 700 wines have been put through their paces by a team of 21 independent wine merchants and soon our Wine Merchant Top 100 winners will be announced.

This year’s judges came from as far afield as Orkney, Manchester, south Wales and the Isle of Wight. Between them they represent a pretty good cross section of the independent wine trade.

We worked them hard, and there were some tough decisions to be made. And we’re confident that the wines that they enjoyed the most – whether they turn out to be Top 100 winners or the Highly Commended wines that just missed the cut – will make for interesting tasting on our stand at the London Wine Fair.

We’ll unveil the winners on May 21. Watch this space!

judging for web

You can specialise in more than just wine

Michael and Jess for web

Michael Smith and Jess Scarratt    (picture by Simon Booth)

People are visiting Hastings these days to take a look at its award-winning pier. It’s pretty good. But not as impressive as the wine shop just around the corner.

We say “wine shop”, but Borough Wines, Beers & Books is much more than that, as its name suggests. Not many merchants host gigs in their basement featuring a bloke playing free jazz on a sax while hitting himself on the head with a tray, or welcome Faust and their angle grinder for a midweek performance.

Jess Scarratt and Michael Smith embody a truth that is becoming more self-evident in the UK trade: there’s no such thing as a “typical” independent, and attempts to analyse the sector through generalisations and averaging-out will only ever take you so far.

For some merchants, wine has to be the focus, at the expense of all other distractions. For others, it’s simply part of the mix, but that doesn’t have to mean that such retailers lose their specialism. You’re allowed to specialise in more than one category.

Borough Wines, Beers & Books is very definitely a wine specialist, as a glance at its range will attest. But its owners are interested in other things too. And so, it would seem, are its customers.

Read our profile of the business in the February edition of The Wine Merchant.


Independent numbers continue to grow

The Wine Merchant issue 65The number of specialist independent wine merchants in the UK has hit a new high.

There are now 855 shops operated by 624 businesses, according to the latest data compiled by The Wine Merchant, a net increase of 31 premises on the figure recorded in January 2017.

That figure is below the net growth of 40 shops seen in 2016, but encouraging news for an industry which is feeling the effects of the weaker pound and faltering confidence in much of the retail sector.

Twenty-three new wine merchants appeared last year, with the rest of the growth accounted for by existing businesses opening new branches. There were a number of closures, but these were easily outnumbered by the number of openings – and for once several indies were sold as going concerns.

Although last year’s Wine Merchant reader survey found that just 28% of independents sell wine for consumption on the premises, 13 of the 23 new entrants have some form of on-premise offer, which may offer clues about the future direction of the trade generally.

Just over half of the new shops – 16 – appeared in London, while three were opened in Wales.

Analysis in the January edition of The Wine Merchant.