Wines of the World has a knack for picking the right place at the right time. Rebecca Evans reports
South London has more than its fair share of independent wine merchants, but Wines of the World owners Anthony Jones and Jason Bellis prove success is all about location, location, location. The pair opened their first shop in Earlsfield in 2005 and a second - in Clapham Old Town - followed in May this year. Having built up a loyal following by sharing their taste for the unusual with their well-heeled customers, the pair are looking to expand further, possibly north of the Thames, during the next 12 months.
How did you get into the wine business?
AJ: I did a degree in estate management, took a job as a surveyor but only lasted two months then I started working for Majestic wine. I worked for Majestic in London, Manchester and Sheffield. I worked for Bottoms Up for two years when the Thresher Group was First Quench, then worked for Oddbins.
JB: I'd trained for three years as a commercial pilot, but had to stop because of health reasons. I was working for a City firm but didn't have any job security. Neither of us were enjoying our jobs and we liked the idea of running our own business so it seemed like a good time.
AJ: There had been a resurgence in independents, and we thought we could provide something that the multiples weren't offering and offer a bit more wine education.
Why did Earlsfield particularly appeal?
AJ: I'd been an area manager for Oddbins and had done a lot of driving around this area. From here all the way to Wandsworth and Tooting there really wasn't anything in terms of independent wine merchants. Earlsfield also has a busy station and there are a lot of commuters . Our only competition is a branch of Threshers which is directly opposite.
Who are your customers?
AJ: They are between 25 and 40, professional people. There's a 50/50 split between male and female customers, which is a higher proportion of female customers than most wine merchants.
JB: That's probably because there's a lot of young mothers living around here who come in quite regularly.
AJ: Our average bottle price is £10 and the average spend is £28.
Describe your range?
AJ: We ship most of our European wines direct from the grower because the margins are better and the wines tend to be more interesting. It's something we've worked hard on. We source wines ourselves directly, which probably takes up 35 to 40 per cent of our time, but others are stocked because people send samples in.
JB: The range is split 50/50 between Old World and European wines. We're just doing a range review and will expand the range of French and New Zealand wines.
What's selling well and less well?
AJ: Our best-selling white is a Pecorino Caldora (£8.99) . We've got a Slovenian Riesling - Faust Rizling - at £10.99, which has been successful. Alsace wines also do well, for example Gewürztraminer from Gerard Metz (£10.99). There's a Côteaux du Languedoc, Bois de Montlobre (£7.99), which is a Grenache/Syrah blend very similar to a Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Dessert wines do quite well, probably because we like them! We sell a fantastic dessert Gewürztraminer from Gerard Metz called Cuvée Virgil (£18.99) and our Moscato Saracco (£10.99) also does well.
JB: Australian wines aren't selling as well as they did. We used to have a whole drop of Australian wine but don't now.
What events do you organise?
AJ: We run a six-week introductory wine course, which is great for building up a loyal customer base. We've held tastings at Earlsfield library, often with winemakers such as David Hogan from Cloudy Bay and Ruinart. We've also held a tasting with Esk Valley in a gastropub.
How do you market and promote yourselves?
AJ: The Guardian did a write-up on us, and then for the next few weeks they came up with a dish and we suggested a good wine match. It's difficult to know how much business that creates. But we have noticed that recommendations from writers in the national press do increase sales.
We also linked up with a local Thai restaurant which had a bring-your-own alcohol policy. We compiled a list of wines to go with the food they do at the restaurant.
How do you maintain customer loyalty?
JB: We've got a big e-mail list with 1,500 people on it and we mail out regularly to advertise special offers and events such as tastings.
What are your plans for the next 12 months?
JB: We plan to open one store, possibly two, after Christmas. It needs to be in a reasonable place. It's always difficult to find a good place, there are always things you'd like to change, like the lack of parking space and parking restrictions in London, which are pretty horrendous. The stores will probably be in south London but if there's another store across the river, we would consider that.
Clapham residents shop close to home
Wayne Blomfield, manager of Wines of the World's four-month-old second shop in Clapham Old Town, says residents' enthusiasm for local shopping makes it the perfect place for an independent. Blomfield - formerly fine wine manager at Oddbins' flagship Battersea store - hopes informal tastings and masterclasses will persuade punters to stay loyal rather than shopping on nearby Northcote Road, something of a wine merchant mecca.
What are the benefits of being based here?
We're in the villagey part of Clapham. People are really friendly and we get a lot of cross-business from the other shops. They shop in the butcher across the road and come in to ask for wine matching recommendations. In fact, about 75 per cent of customers who come in here are carrying a butcher's bag! It seems to fit in with our ethos.
Does your range differ from the Earlsfield shop?
The ranges are similar, but there are slightly different demographics. Earlsfield has got a large South African population so South African wine sells better there. We've got a range of customers. Some people are just getting into wine, looking to spend £5 to £6 a bottle. We've got quite a collection of Australians who just buy beer from us. New Zealand wine is selling well, but Australia is not doing so well. French wine is successful - but you'd expect it to be in this area because of the big, expensive houses and more traditional types of customer.
My co-manager Alex Roberts and I get together with Jason and Anthony once a month and review the range. It's usually a late night with about 60 wines to try.
What tastings and events are you planning?
We have wine open every weekend. It's also good to get customers' reactions to wines you're considering listing . As well as our wine courses, I'm planning to run wine masterclasses within the shop.