Inspiring Independents: Lancaster Wine Company

18 June, 2015

The Lancaster Wine Company has been open just two years and has already chalked up one of OLN’s Drinks Retailing Awards – it was named Newcomer of the Year in 2014.

Barry and Fiona Howarth, who both previously worked in off-licence chains and local independents, have pulled together a comprehensive wine range covering all the major countries and regions, with tiers to make it accessible to mainstreamers and great value and experimentation for those spending a little more.

The shop, a little way outside the centre of the Lancashire city, also has a great range of British and international beers in their own room, premium spirits in all the major styles and liqueurs, fortifieds and dessert wines.

On top of that it sells cigars, gifts, hampers and baskets, local oils and vinegars, chocolate, biscuits, jams, chutney, honey, patés, Cartmel Sticky Toffee pudding and local cheeses.

There are also regular tastings large and small across all its product categories and a lively Facebook page.

Sum up your shop in one sentence: An Aladdin’s cave of exciting, innovative, personally selected wines, beers and spirits from the UK and around the world, offering quality and value for money.

What sets you apart from other drinks retailers? We have a hand-picked eclectic range of personally chosen products sourced from attending many portfolio tastings throughout the year, along with enthusiastic personal customer service, knowledge and advice.

Who is your fiercest competitor? Supermarkets with their silly offers and loss leaders – and online case sale companies who cater for the apathetic buyer.

And how do you maintain an edge over them? We work hard to engage, build and maintain a good relationship with our local community by offering a wide range of shop and external tastings, free local delivery, imaginative case deals and attractive shop offers.

How do you keep customers coming back? Keen competitive pricing and an ever evolving range of products, promotional offers, along with a pleasing and inviting environment to spend time to browse and shop, with helpful and well-informed staff on hand to help and advise if needed.

What area of the business is performing best at the moment? We have seen a very encouraging increase in customers making personal visits for case sales, along with the French and Australian categories which are performing well.

What’s your biggest challenge as a retailer? Sourcing the right quality and value for money wines at an appropriate price to attract customers, especially at the lower end.

Give us your top retailing tip: Keep the range fresh and interesting and make your store attractive and inviting, so customers want to return time after time.

What has been your biggest business mistake? Making a rushed decision to lease a shop refrigerator with lots of hidden extra costs instead of purchasing it outright.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever been given? When building your business do as much as you possibly can yourself – help can be costly and eat into your margins. But also over time learn how best to use your own time and skills and recognise when cost-effective help is needed.

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English wine: a happy harvest for Christmas

All across England and Wales, vineyards are being harvested. Down winding country lanes come armies of welly-wearing conscripts wielding secateurs and buckets, ready to reap the rewards of our vines. Happily they come, their cheeks ruddy with pride. Half an hour later they’re crawling over muddy clods with lacerated hands, drenched in claggy juice and cold sweat, as if ploughing through an endurance race.

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