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Wine merchants celebrate national Independents' Day with sales boosts of up to 30%

Published:  04 July, 2014

Independent wine merchants are going from strength to strength in the UK, with a straw poll showing sales up by between 20% and 30%.

The news comes as small retailers across all sectors come together to celebrate the fourth annual Independents Day,  organised by People 1st, to bring national focus to the great work local shops are doing in their community. Previously run by the National Skills Council, it has received cross party support at Westminster.

Independents dayIndependents DaySmall retailers across the country are celebrating Independents Day to bring a national focus to the great work that local stores are doing in their communities

To mark the occasion spoke to a number of influential wine merchants to find out what is driving sales in their stores and found many are turning to direct imports and tastings to drive revenue.

Doug Wood, of WoodWinters which operates two stores in Scotland, told it was on track for a 20% sales increase this year.

The business has been growing its direct imports in the last two years - now they account for over 50% of sales, and Wood would like that to reach 75%. Wood said the company is now bringing in 18,000 bottles of wine from Spain every six weeks and either retailing directly or supplying to other independents across the country. Its Spanish wine is now sold in Oxford and London.

It is getting its website e-commerce ready after a five-year hiatus is taking steps to complete the ISO 9001 qualification in order to streamline business practices. "Not many indies have done it, but it allows the whole business to come together and talk about the best way to do things and create processes to stand by." He said larger hotel groups it deals with on the wholesale side now look for ISO accreditation.

WoodWinters has also revamped its tasting strategy. It now offers deli-style food and wine pairings having teamed up with the local deli, which Wood happens to own. "We can get 32 people in and we do tapas and charge around £25 per head. Before we were making no money on tastings." It generally runs the tastings itself, without winemakers, and has had a recent focus on aged aromatic wines like Fiano and Godello.

Rupert Pritchett of Taurus Wines in Surrey said the firm has been "flat out" with weddings and parties recently, despite many couples putting off weddings during the World Cup. Pritchett said sales for the first six months of 2014 are around 25% greater than last year, but attributed some of that increase was due to a nearby merchant closing.

Small retailers across the country are celebrating Independents Day to bring a national focus to the great work that local stores are doing in their communities

Pritchett does not sell online, and is not considering expanding to a second shop. "I've got a long-established team, and really good customers. The average sale is £200."

"It's a very clean and pure way of doing business. We've got 16 parking bays and people just pull up and buy a boot load of Pinot Grigio, which we pop into their 4x4. We don't do deliveries - I don't see online as being particularly attractive."

Independent wine merchants are posting strong sales risesIndependent wine merchants are posting strong sales risesLe Vignoble in Plymouth, which has seen sales grow 30% in the first three months of 2014, recently won the Harpers Award for Best Top Merchant of the Year (Up to three stores)

Down in the southwest Yannick Loué, founder of Le Vignoble in Plymouth, said sales are up 30% in the first three months of the year, bearing in mind it has only been operating for coming up on two years. It has gained trust among its customers through winning local awards last year, and going national in 2014 - it recently picked up the Harpers gong for Best Independent Merchant (under three stores).

Sparkling wine is enjoying strong growth, says Loué, otherwise, the use of Enomatic machines, which allow customers to sample 36 wines, is really driving exploration and new trends. Tastings are also an important part of the offering, with customers now paying around £20 per head, of which they can get about £10 back on wine spend. Le Vignoble is already importing one fifth of its wines directly, but is targeting 50-75% of its wines being bought direct. He said this has been challenging form a cash flow perspective, but added, "if you don't take risks in business, you shouldn't be in business". Loué has ambitions to grow the business into a mini-chain, with a second outlet opening by the end of 2015.

If you're an independent who'd like to share your successes on Independents' Day, email Gemma McKenna

You can follow the national activity surrounding Independents Day by going to, or following it on Twitter (@IndieDayUK and #IndieDay) and via Facebook.