The meaning of Christmas for indies

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Continuing our coverage of the autumn round-table discussion with a selected group of independent merchants, which began in our October edition, the discussion turns to Christmas sales.

The Tower Summit is organised in association with Hatch Mansfield.

 

Graham Holter, The Wine Merchant
Are you running Christmas fairs for your customers? What role will suppliers play?

Nish Patel, Shenfield Wine Co
We’re doing fairs twice a year, one in May and one in November.

We relaunched them this year. I was a bit nervous but we pretty much sold out. We had about 75 customers come. The ticket price is £20 and they get to taste about 100 wines. We are going to add another 20 spaces.

From suppliers, I need their time, and for them to rock up with samples. We do serious trade out of it and to be fair most of our suppliers are very supportive.

Robin Eadon, Dulwich Vintners
I’m not doing one, mainly because I haven’t got round to putting one in place. We have difficulty in finding a space to do it and, where we are, there isn’t really anywhere that’s suitable. If we could find a suitable venue, like Nish, we’d ask for the suppliers’ time and some stock.

Sam Howard, HarperWells, Norwich
We’ve got 160 booked in. We launched ours in September to our mailing-list customers, then we went live on Facebook. We charge £20 a ticket. We generally buy a six-pack of everything on show and then, depending on the relationship with the agency, have some samples on top of that.

Conor Nolan, The Secret Cellar, Kent
We’re doing two winemaker dinners as we find them really successful. We charge £85 and guests get a four-course meal, with wines paired, and they get to meet and greet the winemaker. It’s really good value. For us it’s great local PR. We bring a caterer in for the food.

Graham Holter, The Wine Merchant
Going back to fairs, would you rather have the suppliers in attendance, or just more samples?

Mitch Swift, The Bottleneck, Broadstairs
I’m on a smaller scale, so I wouldn’t need the reps talking to my customers about wine for me. I can do that. On a bigger scale I can see why it would be quite beneficial to have their time.

Nish Patel, Shenfield Wine Co
Certainly at our tastings, with around 70 people, and 12 tables, it’s impossible to manage without a knowledgeable person behind each table.

When we relaunched them after Covid, to keep people more comfortable we split the evening in two and did two sittings for 40. The feedback from customers was great; they loved it because they said they could actually spend time with the person who was pouring the wine and get more information about the product. So we’ve stuck to that format.

James Manson, Hatch Mansfield
I was there, standing in for a colleague, and it was great – it was a really good tasting because it felt like we could really give people a snapshot of what the wine was about.

Graham Holter, The Wine Merchant
Has anyone got figures in their head about what Christmas means financially?

Nish Patel, Shenfield Wine Co
Christmas Eve is the biggest day of the year.The first 24 days of December is nearly 20% of our entire turnover.

Conor Nolan, The Secret Cellar, Kent
Ironically, Christmas Eve for us, it’s like everyone goes to sleep. By midday, they’ve done what they’ve needed to do and they are where they need to be. At Tunbridge Wells and Wadhurst, we close at 2pm on Christmas Eve. Our demographic is older.

Mitch Swift, The Bottleneck, Broadstairs
Last year I stayed open until 10pm on Christmas Eve and it was busy. People were coming in, because no matter how much they plan, everyone forgets something.

Robin Eadon, Dulwich Vintners
We did a 12-hour day on the day before Christmas Eve and then we do a nine-to-six on Christmas Eve. Last year we did record trade on that reduced-hours day. I think there was still some uncertainty as to what was going to happen with lockdown.

Freddie Cobb, Vagabond Wines
It’s on a Sunday this year, so you’ve now got to factor everything into that weekend before – that will be your big weekend. And are people going back to work for four days before New Year’s Eve?

Graham Holter, The Wine Merchant
Champagne supplies were a big problem for a lot of indies last Christmas. Are we expecting something similar this year?

Conor Nolan, The Secret Cellar, Kent
It’s still a problem. LVMH are a nightmare.

Mitch Swift, The Bottleneck, Broadstairs
The biggest frustration I’ve found with Champagne over the past 12 months is that we have customers who only want a certain Champagne, and it’s out of stock so they go elsewhere because they won’t change: that’s what they like. I can’t get it, so they go elsewhere. You just lose that customer.

Conor Nolan, The Secret Cellar, Kent
We had one guy who would only drink Ruinart. We flipped him on to [Taittinger] Comtes de Champagne and that’s all he buys now. But you get other people and you just can’t get the stuff they want. It’s all LVMH.

Mitch Swift, The Bottleneck, Broadstairs
I’ve got a big shelf of about 50 different Champagnes, but we cut down massively. But, as a positive we now stock other sparkling wine so it has broadened my offering, and I’ve been able to educate my customers on how broad that category is.

I went through loads of top-end English sparkling and that did so well and people have stuck with it. Gusbourne did really well for us. However, the one thing with English wine is the margins. So I’ve broadened the range, but actually I’m making a bit less money.

 

Hatch Mansfield Wines

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