When I worked at Majestic, a rumour circulated that a plucky manager once led a strike by standing on the roof of the Shepherd’s Bush store and shouting slogans through a loudhailer. Apparently, that story is still going – and someone recently told me they’d heard the protagonist was me.
Sadly that’s untrue, although I’m delighted to be misremembered so heroically.
During my tenure, such an occurrence was not inconceivable – but now it seems distinctly unlikely. The current incarnation of Majestic is 23 years old, and these days it’s all grown up.
A strong national chain such as Majestic is a positive feature of the UK wine trade. We expect it to be a much-needed brand to rival supermarket dominance, without compromising our beloved independent sector, while also delivering wine education both for its staff and customers. It’s a tough reputation to live up to, but it seems to get it mostly right.
However, when it released a statement describing ‘challenging trading conditions’ this March, it looked like a rare wobble. To find out more, I asked chief executive Steve Lewis about what has changed since I left the company in 2007.
The most significant change has been growth: there were 139 stores when I left and there are 206 now, while pre-tax profit has increased from £16.2 to £23.7 million. Such rapid expansion is bound to influence a company’s culture, so to ensure it isn’t eroded, Majestic has made a wallet-sized leaflet detailing its values to give out to all staff. It’s an ironically corporate way of promoting a personable ethic – but this is the reality of bigger business. The Christmas staff party is no longer one big communal bash, but several smaller, regional affairs.
Distribution and head office are relocating separately when they vacate the current headquarters in a few months’ time. The green shirts I wore have changed to grey. The Majestic I remember may be evolving, but it’s all in a worthy cause – to reach more and more of the market.
In turn, that means more people getting access to a wider range of wine. Its customers tend to trade up too, maintaining an average bottle price of £7.71 for still wine across the company.
Besides, the basic formula for its success is unchanged: good wine, knowledgeable staff, free parking and free delivery. Then there are the promotions. These have been reformatted recently, moving from generic regional discounts to a more arbitrary selection of offers. It feels less clearly defined to me – but is no doubt based on what customers want.
None of these changes seem to explain those challenging trading conditions – which may well be no more than a blip.
Majestic has its critics, but its success at bringing better wine to more people should be admired. In fact, talking about the secrets of Majestic’s success actually made me nostalgic for my green-shirt days. Standing on the roof with that loudhailer.