But that’s exactly what former trainee area manager Andrew Lundy has done with the three shops in Edinburgh he bought from the collapsed chain.
Two former Wine Racks are trading as Vino in Edinburgh’s Grange Loan and trendy foodie mecca Broughton Street, and a third, larger shop opened in Comiston Road last month.
“It’s quite obvious the writing was on the wall for Threshers,” says Lundy. “I’d had it in my mind for a while that I was more than capable of running my own place and I had been putting little bits of business plans together in my mind for some time.
“Right up until the end we weren’t sure if the whole business was going, or just some of the business, and that would affect which premises we went for. Within a week of losing my job we had put bids in and got three shops.”?The entrepreneur is particularly keen to tap into Edinburgh’s local and tourist market – something he feels Wine Rack and Bottoms Up failed to do.
“The shops had the right demographic and, being local, we knew the area,” says Lundy. “We were coming out of a big business that probably wasn’t even trying to cater for the local market, whereas we know what the people round here want. I used to fight constantly with head office about the spirits range. We were in Scotland, in the city centre of Edinburgh, and our malt range was worse than the supermarkets’.
It is a niche he says works particularly well during the busy Edinburgh Festival season in August.
“Business picks up during the festival. We did a lot of stuff at the International Book Festival – it was a great way to get our name out there. The festival brings in foreigners looking to get a bottle of malt whisky they can’t find at home and hopefully that is what we will be able to provide for them.”?As well as an innovative malt selection, Lundy has put the Scottish stamp on his shops, with a range of Scottish beers including those from Brewdog and Stewart Brewing. He also stocks Thistly Cross, Scotland’s only cider, and even a local gin.
“Edinburgh Gin has only been going about a month or so,” says Lundy. “It is a fantastic product and so specific to Edinburgh – we are displaying it here but it won’t work in Glasgow. The flexibility is a big thing for us. We have the freedom to do things like that, which we didn’t have before, and that is what is so exciting.”?Vino has even managed to put a local twist on its wine selection by stocking a range from Languedoc producer Domaine Sainte Rose, which was set up by Edinburgh couple Charles and Ruth Simpson after they moved to the south of France.
“They are friends of my father-in-law, and the staff are really buying into the fact it is a local couple and that you can get behind what they do. It is a great selling tool for the guys and we are selling bucketloads of it,” he says.
The chain is sourcing about 40% of its wine range directly – “most of the Italian range you wouldn’t see anywhere else”, says Lundy – and is using “the usual suspects” including Corney & Barrow, Enotria, Alliance Wine and Bibendum Wine for the rest.
Lundy singles out Hatch Mansfield, whose staff he says have been particularly supportive: “They had their fingers burnt by Threshers but are out there fighting for the business that came out of it – more credit to them, because others aren’t.”??
“We made a conscious decision: you can say you are a responsible retailer, but if you stock Buckfast, Frosty Jack’s and Special Brew, in my mind you are not a responsible retailer,” says Lundy. “We don’t do that.”?He has also put his managers and assistant managers through the WSET Advanced certificate at a course run by former First Quench worker Jimmy Smith at the West London Wine School.
The chain’s Comiston Road shop – a former Bottoms Up – is one of the biggest First Quench had in Edinburgh. As well as wines and a tasting area, the shop has a selection of books and aims to be a place where people can spend time browsing. “There is a lot of space, and there is no rule that says it has to be filled with shelves and shelves of wine,” explains Lundy.
Online sales are in the pipeline and Lundy is marketing Vino on Facebook and Twitter. So is he planning to grow the chain in the future? “It would be lovely to expand, but we have to make sure we have a sound business first – I’m not going to rush into anything. We are being very sensible about how we do it,” he says.
“My goal is that customers are so happy to shop with us they keep coming back. That is what the off-licence business is all about – it is customer
oyalty that keeps you going.”