Following a major refit of the premises, Accolade decided to tap directly into the retail trade, and maximised the space by using part of the ground floor to create a specialist wine retail shop to serve the local community and accompany a new direct-to-consumer website.
The result is a beautifully appointed, spacious shop, branded 1853 Wine Club in honour of the year that Hardys, Accolade’s biggest brand, was founded. At its helm is store manager Gautam Nagpal, who is keen to focus on the local trading aspects of the business. ”Weybridge doesn’t have a fine wine shop,” he says. “We’re trying to create a cellar-door experience for our customers. We have almost 200 wines on the shelves, with 16 of those in Enomatics to encourage customer trial.”
So how does this work with the likes of Majestic and Wine Rack just up the road, both of whom buy from Accolade Wines? “We work very closely with them, we don’t want to undermine them and we stock a very different portfolio,” says Tom Wallis, Accolade Wines sales director. “It wouldn’t make any sense to upset them, or undercut them. You won’t find stacks of Echo Falls and Kumala on the shelves; there is definitely a premium feel here.”
Wallis is pragmatic about the new venture. “It gives us the opportunity to showcase the sheer breadth of our portfolio at the more premium end. It’s not about price. It’s a great showroom for our top-end brands, and also provides a shop window for our key events – for example, when fifth-generation winemaker Bill Hardy is visiting the UK.”
England fast bowler Stuart Broad, an ambassador for Hardys and a keen wine enthusiast, has also hosted tastings at the shop.
What started as a cellar-door experience for Accolade Wines’ staff and Weybridge residents as part of the relocation of the UK head office from Guildford, is now evolving into a burgeoning local wine shop.
Nagpal runs two wine-tasting evenings a month focusing on a specific theme, and offers a selection of cheeses and charcuterie from local producers and delicatessens. The shop also runs free tastings of the wines in Enomatics every day. Of the range of almost 200 wines, 90% are Accolade brands. A selection of local beers from nearby Addlestone Brewery is also listed.
In addition, the company has launched a direct-to-consumer website, www.1853wineclub.com, which distributes nationally, with no minimum order, free delivery for orders over £30, and 48-hour delivery in mainland UK. Orders are fulfilled direct from Accolade Park, the company’s vast warehouse and bottling plant in Bristol.
Once again, the focus is not on Hardys VR, or Kumala, but on the premium tiers, such as Eileen
Hardy, Houghton and Leasingham. The website also provides a sales window for small parcels of stock, which might otherwise not find an obvious home.
“This is all about engaging with a new consumer base, including knowledgeable and enthusiastic wine drinkers who may have tried our top-end wines in duty free, or in white-tablecloth restaurants, or even on visits to our wineries, but who haven’t been able to buy these wines in UK retail,” says Wallis.
The 1853 Wine Club offers its members the opportunity to sign up for allocations of small, rare parcels of wine which are not widely available. It also enables the wine giant to take a step closer to its consumer base, by making a broader range of brands more directly accessible.
The website will allow Accolade to establish a direct relationship with their consumers via e-commerce and newsletter communication, thus engaging with wine drinkers in a manner which is impossible via retail shelves. The next step is to ramp up the scale, content and social media side of the website, which Nagpal is working on with the marketing team.
However, the website is also an embryonic platform for bespoke trade outlets, enabling customers to purchase directly the less-widely distributed Accolade brands. Wallis says: “We’re looking at developing more trade business that will work for us, without overlapping with any existing customers.
“Accolade Wines is built to sell large containers to a small number of customers,” he adds. “However, we also have some exclusive, often small parcels of stock, which don’t go through our network of wholesalers. We are taking this very gently. We’re not treading on anyone’s toes.”
With Diageo and Fells already operating direct-to-consumer websites, albeit in a very low-key way, the 1853 Wine Club website model is not unique. However, teamed with a one-off bricks-and-mortar showroom, and the might of the Accolade Wines portfolio behind it, it’s one to watch.