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Independent Wine Crew joins forces to help each other run better businesses

Published:  25 November, 2013

Finance, sourcing, buying, and adapting their businesses to run cafes and wine bars were the key issues raised by the lastest meeting of the Independent Wine Crew, made up of leading multi-site wine merchants from across the UK, as part of the Harpers Top Merchants programme.

By joining forces to discuss the key trading issues facing the sector, the group of merchants hopes to find ways in which can work together to help each other run more efficient businesses.

The latest meeting, held at Ruth Yates' Corks Out in Stockport, was attended by the directors and owners of the following merchants: The Sampler, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Hennings Wine, Corks Out, Woodwinters and the Oxford Wine Company. Here are the key areas discussed: Here are the key issues raised:


The group discussed which commercial banks they were using and the pros and cons of many of the high-street banking options. Of particular interest were fees related to exchange rates - particularly when looking to buy wine direct - along with cash-management fees, the ability of specifics banks to manage business relationships, and the overdraft facilities available.
For example, two of the Independent Crew merchants are currently trying to decide whether to switch or stay with their current bank. HSBC came recommended by another member who had been impressed with the HSBC exchange rates on offer.

Direct sourcing

Merchants discussed the options of direct sourcing, the successes they have had and the challenges that should be considered before opting to go direct from producers.

EPOS data systems

This is a key issue for independent wine merchants of all sizes, but particularly the more stores you open and the greater the complexity of your business. Members shared the different systems they use, analysing the various pros and cons - and costs. Of particular interest was whether to buy an off-the-shelf package or invest, like Woodwinters has done, in a bespoke system

Independent Wine Crew

Efficient use of retail space and running multi-site businesses

The group discussed the challenges of running multiple shops and when it was right to take the brave decision to close a store if it is not performing. Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants also gave an insight in to running franchise stores. A key focus was switching from retail to on-trade and the challenges and opportunities of running cafés, wine bars and deli-type operations. Equally the commercial benefits and challenges of running Enomatics-style tasting machines in-store.
When discussing whether or not shop space should be used as a retail wine bar, one merchant warned, "You need to have footfall. You need high-street traffic at that location to make it worth it."

Another merchant agreed. "You need to really consider if the space used to serve directly can earn more money being used for something else and whether you have the right staff for it."

Stock management

This proved to be a highly focused issue, with a number of different options discussed regarding best practice, as well as the issue of bonded and non-bonded stock. Of particular interest was how much stock a store should hold, depending on business needs, and how that varies if the business is more weighted towards wholesale.

Human resources and staff relations

Merchants shared the importance of different incentive structures for sales and looked at different approaches on motivating both administrative and sales roles. Also on the agenda was how to find great employees.


This was of varied importance, depending on the nature of their business. But clear issues to emerge included handling client relations, credit and payment terms, managing cash flow, and on-trade exclusivity.

* The Independent Wine Crew was formed, in association with Harpers, by a group of like-minded multi-site wine merchants looking to be open with each other and share business practices - not only for their own good, but for the good of other merchants in the trade. You can read more details from this meeting in the December issue of Harpers. Members of the group at the meeting included The Sampler, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Hennings Wine, Corks Out, Woodwinters and the Oxford Wine Company.