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Leading independents hit out at major wine suppliers for their "lazy" service

Published:  04 July, 2014

Leading independent wine merchants have stepped up to the plate today to strongly criticise the quality of service that they are receiving from many of the major UK national wine suppliers and distributors.

Members of Harpers Independent Wine Crew, made up of award winning multi-site merchants, have called on the national players to up their game, improve the quality of service they receive and most of all abide to the channel management strategies they have for their prescribed exclusive independent only wines.

Independent CrewIndependent Crew membersWorking together: the Independent Crew members get down to business

It was noticeable, they said, that of all the major national players only PLB has signed up the Harpers Best Practice Guidelines established nearly three years ago through open talks between merchants and suppliers on how they could work better together. The guidelines particularly ask suppliers to commit to channel management strategies and ensure independent only wines remain so.

The list of complaints from the Crew members is damning: "lazy" wine buying";  lazy" sales reps that do not their own products, or the independent businesses they are serving; poor quality wine ranges full of commercial wines; increasing prices and breaking sales contracts for new vintage wines; leaking independent only wine to multiples and specialists; and going direct to their on-trade wholesale customers.

Doug Wood of WoodWinters accused major suppliers of wanting "their cake and eat it" and regularly broke promises about serving key customers direct. He has switched his supply from one major supplier to another source because of wines being sold direct in to his customers.  "I was absolutely gobsmacked when they did that and it really, really hacked me off," said Wood.

He said he had become disillusioned with the independent wine ranges from some major suppliers. "The list looks lovely but huge amounts of it are just sugary muck," he said.

Ruth Yates of Corks Out said she was increasingly frustrated by the number of major suppliers who will come and visit her business in the north west and not even know how many stores she has or where they are. "They have not done their homework. Often they will sit down and expect me to start talking to them about my business as though I am selling to them," she said.

Doug Wood and Ruth yatesRuth Yates and Doug WoodTalking IT: Doug Wood of WoodWinters talks Ruth Yates of Corks Out through his bespoke IT system

Matthew Hennings of Hennings Wine said it was an issue the major suppliers did not seem able to fix. "They probably wonder how they can we do more with the bigger independents, but the problem is they are going to find it very difficult," he said.

Talking IT: Doug Wood of WoodWinters talks Ruth Yates of Corks Out through his bespoke IT system

Hal Wilson of Cambridge Wine Merchants, agreed: "They know they have a problem in growing business with companies our size."

"Too many are going direct to the restaurant or pub around the corner," added Ted Sandbach of the Oxford Wine Company.

He was not sure the major suppliers realised the impact non-negotiated price increases, particularly with a new vintage, has on the reputation of their businesses. He explained: "It is infuriating. You agree a price at the beginning of the year and are selling it out to the trade and then suddenly because of a vintage update it is £3 more a case."

That would then have a knock on effect with the relationship they have with their customer they have agreed the initial trade price with. "If you have agreed a trade price for a year then you end up losing £3 a case,"  said Sandbach.

He urged the managing directors and chief executives of the major suppliers to look far more closely at how their businesses were serving independent merchants.

"The top brass at these companies probably don't get to hear the kind of concerns we have. The reps do. But they don't and the chance to talk to each other would be very productive and help us all long term," said Sandbach.

The Independent Wine Crew ultimately calls on more major suppliers to talk openly to the sector about their independent strategy and show their commitment by signing up the Best Practice Guidelines.

* Subscribers can read the full report from the Independent Wine Crew meeting in the Independent Merchants and Analysis sections or here,

* You can read Harpers editor, Richard Siddle's comment piece on this issue here