How Steve Tattam found his groove

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Winyl is a unique retail idea: a shop specialising in both wine and LPs. For a small Essex town, it’s been a colourful addition to the retail scene. For its owner, it may have been a life saver. Graham Holter pays a visit


For many people, Manningtree is synonymous with witchfinder general Matthew Hopkins, who lived and died here. But it seems churlish to endlessly saddle a pleasant Essex town with associations to a reign of terror that resulted in the murders of more than 100 women.

Perhaps things are changing. Among the cognoscenti, Manningtree is now also that place where there’s that shop specialising in both wine and LPs. Nowhere else in the country has one.

The man behind the concept is Steve Tattam, whose CV is so long you wonder how someone in their mid-50s could have crammed quite so many things into one career.

For about 20 years he worked for Virgin, running Megastores in various parts of the UK, until CDs supplanted vinyl as the format of choice and the fun started to drain away from the job.

“I then went to work in the duty-free in Stansted, and that’s where I started to learn a bit more about wine and spirits,” Tattam says. “Previously my experience of wine was, like with a lot of people, just picking it up at the supermarket, taking it home and hoping you’ve got a good one.

“But working in the airports is an insane job. 6am to 9pm when you have a family just doesn’t work.”

After that he got a job at Borders in Norwich. “Vinyl had gone and died a death, but with the books and reading tables you could sit and relax and listen to music, and there were board games and computer games and nice Paperchase products.”

The next step was managing a cinema. “That’s where I got my licence. When an over-18 film was showing we could sell alcohol instead of ice cream. People loved being able to take beer and alcoholic drinks in while watching a movie.”

There followed a four-year interlude running shops selling outdoor gear, and then a left-field detour into veterinary services, “helping vets to open their own businesses within the Pets at Home group”.

Tattam was coming to the conclusion that the next career move would be his most important one. “You get to a point in your life when you just think, ‘what am I doing?’” he says.

“I’d just turned 50 and had a few trips to A&E with heart concerns brought on by stress and anxiety. It made me stop and ask myself what I enjoyed in life. The answer was working in a record shop and going out and drinking with my mates.”

And so, in October 2018, Winyl opened for business.



Maybe some people would open a shop like this as a hobby. Were you relying on it working financially?
Yes. I did a business plan, and luckily my partner, Whilmari, had some cash she could lend me. I didn’t have to get extra finance. We realised we could make it work as a financially viable business with me earning a minimal salary, but we could build it, and in time it may become something we could develop and later sell. But it’s something I enjoy doing and getting up every day for. Some things are worth more than money.

I’ve always enjoyed putting on a record and opening a bottle of wine. On the weekend we’d listen to music and drink some wine and try to educate ourselves about the wine.

Do you know of any other retailers doing the wine and records combo?
No. There are a few record shops which will serve tap beer, and there is one in Southampton that opened after us and they have tapas out the back. There are fusion stores, which I think is the way to go. I don’t think a pure record shop would survive here – well, some didn’t survive through lockdown, and it goes to show you need something else. There’s one in Bury St Edmunds that serves coffee and cakes, encouraging that dwell time.

How did you find the right premises to bring your idea to life?
We were looking at old wine bars or pubs that already had the facilities, but the rent was higher than I wanted to pay.

The thing for anyone trying to open a small business now is trying to get to the council to drop those rates, if they want to encourage independent businesses. The rates are ridiculous. Once you run the numbers, you realise you can’t afford to open once you’ve kitted it out and bought the stock.

If you go into our big towns there are so many empty units, and they are all being taken by big chain restaurants because they are the only people who can afford it. I’m really happy with the deal we got here with our lease.

What kind of town is it?
We love Manningtree, we love the feel. We’re on the main commuter line, London to Norwich, so we’re an hour from London, 10 minutes from Colchester, 10 minutes from Ipswich and an hour from Norwich.

A lot of people who are moving here are coming directly from London, or we’ve got people here from Colchester, and people from London move to Colchester, so it’s almost a knock-on effect because they want to get out of the big town, but they can still get to London if they want to.

The first Saturday of every month there’s a vintage street market and that really brings a lot of people into town.

It’s a lovely town. It’s been through some ups and downs where things have closed and supermarkets have moved in. But we’re getting more lifestyle things opening and this is where we fit in. We are an experience place where you come in and you can listen to music.

We did have a record deck in here for a while, but we found that we were replacing the needle too often.

We used to do a Sunday singles club, which was quite funny because it was for vinyl singles, but we had a group of ladies turn up saying, “we’re here for the singles club”. We explained it was not that sort of single and they stayed for a drink anyway. Mostly middle-aged men turn up with a bag of records, to be honest. But the women joined in and had a nice time in the end.

How many people live here?
Manningtree’s population is about 945 but we’ve got about 5,000 who live, where I do, in the adjoining parish of Mistley. We are getting more houses. It’s brilliant for the town and the economy.

I’m part of the local business chamber which encourages people to come and spend money here, and we spend money on events like the street market and food market. I’m involved in putting on a festival at the end of June, which will be across the whole town.

How did you set about putting the wine range together?
I went to the London Wine Fair for the full three days and walked about soaking up what was going on. I looked at the labels because I knew that I wanted to have interesting labels because of that affinity with vinyl artwork.

Back in the day, before Spotify, you had to take a punt on picking up a record: “It looks like I might like that record”. I have the same theory with wine. A lot of people buy with their eyes.

I didn’t set myself up as a fine wine store in any way, shape or form, but we want good quality, drinkable wine.

It occurred to me that there was something we could do more than just the funky wine labels. We went for dinner with friends who were vegan and I didn’t know too much about vegan wine or food, and that triggered something, so I started looking into that.

In the end we opened up with three suppliers. One was Morgenrot; we had the Loxarel range from them. They were vegan, biodynamic and the labels were great as well. They were towards the top end of what my price point was.

We worked with Myliko as well, from Manchester, and Lea & Sandeman. The guy from Liberty said to us that they were supplying too many people in the area already, so he put us on to Lea & Sandeman. We don’t place any orders with any of them right now.

How does the range look these days?
We have 50 wines in the shop. Sometimes we work with a supplier for a bit, but the wines aren’t shifting so we have to drop them.

We change our range frequently for different seasons. I picked up a new supplier at SITT recently, Vineyards Direct. We’re doing a French wine tasting on the back of that. I got a couple of Bordeaux and Provence rosés and I wanted to launch them properly, so I got a couple of other things from Alliance to do a tasting.

Now we’ve got the cellar [Tattam recently acquired the next-door unit to create a wine lounge at ground-floor level, with storage and events space below], I can take on a bit more volume, and Alliance have always got new stuff coming on. Their rep, Alex, is very good and always so responsive.

All our suppliers know the sort of thing we want; they know it has to be vegan. Organic where we can get it, or, if not certified, then organic and sustainable principles.

It’s got to be made by people who care. It’s got to have a funky label, it has to look good on the shelf and I’ve got to like it.

Would you refuse to list an LP if you didn’t like the cover?
That would be interesting, wouldn’t it? There is definitely an affinity with LP artwork and wine label art and, before streaming, the artwork on albums really did have to try and give a clue to the style of music.

This isn’t always possible with wine, which is why we do make careful selections and make sure that we like the juice as well as the label. We do make recommendations – “if you like this, you might like this” – on both wine and vinyl.

There are some great new labels coming out and it seems a lot of wine producers are making more effort, although there is always a market for more traditional labels and a strange snobbishness that a funky label must mean the wine isn’t very good.

We hold our tasting events in the Winyl lounge, where we can try out great wine with more normal labels and tell the story, so we have options.



How much crossover is there between your record-buying customers and your wine-buying ones?
We have a few customers that don’t drink wine or are under-age, and some that don’t have a record player. The majority of our customers, I’m happy to say, have a toe or even a whole leg in each area. If they don’t, we try and convert them through some free tasting or convincing them not to sell their old records, but to get a record player instead and then buy more.

The evening service does appeal more to wine drinkers out for a post-work, pre-dinner glass, but then that can also help decision-making in buying some vinyl. We have had customers who buy a record and don’t actually have a player, just because it’s brought back so many great memories.

Are the margins better on vinyl than they are on wine?
They’re about the same: 35%. HMV could push 45% on their margins but they get a deeper discount because of the amount they buy. We hold a lot more stock of records than we do wine: 50 wines against 1,200 records.

How are you coping with rising costs?
We’ve had to put our prices up, which I don’t like doing, but we’re being squeezed from all sides. It’s not just the cost of the wine but our power and the transport of getting everything to us.

When we change the ranges it’s an opportunity to ease the price a bit without making a statement about it. We normally wouldn’t make a statement about it, but this time we did say, “look: the last opportunity to buy at these prices”.

I would say that everyone said they understood, and people always say how surprised what good value the wine and the vinyl is. I don’t have staff to pay so I can keep the margins low.

People have worked hard to earn their money, so I subscribe to the fact that I’d like you to buy from me because I’m a reasonable price, you get an experience, and we have a loyalty scheme. You get money back once you’ve reached 100 points – you get a fiver off – so there are lots of reasons to come and shop from me.

You take environmental responsibilities seriously. Tell us a bit about that.
We’re very eco-conscious. We’re a plastic-free champion in the town. We reduced all single-use plastics, we’ve got a cork recycling station and we worked with Borough Wines for a bit with the zero-waste bottle return. It worked until our rep changed and then the relationship just fell away. It was a great concept and we had gone a little way to looking at their on-tap wine as well.

We have to do business in an eco-friendly kind of way, otherwise we’re all screwed.

Record Store Day has become an important event. Could a similar idea work for independent wine merchants?
The thing with Record Store Day that makes it really work is the limited releases that are out on one day. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. How you’d do that with wine, I don’t know.

There is a movement saying every day is Record Store Day, so you should use your independent record shop every day, otherwise they’ll shut down.

I think celebrating independent shops and encouraging people to use us because they are going to get good advice and quality is definitely the way to go. Celebrating Malbec Day and Chardonnay Day and things like that are really worthwhile. We always support those days.

We tried Beaujolais Nouveau Day for the first time last year and we sold two thirds of the bottles we had on the day and the rest over the next week or two.

We have Wine Wednesdays, which we always post about, often with a new wine we’re getting in, and it works with the live music as well. We have bands coming in here and it gets people in to have an experience.

How many people can you seat in here?
A dozen if you’re seated comfortably. We have been rammed with about 20, 25 people and people standing outside. We have, on Record Store Day, shut the street, put a stage in and had live music out there.

There’s a cellar downstairs in the wine lounge next door. It’s gone down really well and for private events it means we don’t have to shut the shop. We do tastings, sometimes with a host, which is a better way of doing it.

It sounds like everything’s worked out exactly the way you hoped.
If I’d carried on doing what I was doing with the stress I put myself under, I don’t think I’d be doing that well.

This has almost saved my life, and despite the ups and downs of life in general, I’m doing what I enjoy. I’m surrounded by music and good wine, and I’m surrounded by great people in the wine and record industries.


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